By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Sr. Staff Writer
Mayor Pro Tem John Gregg presided over the Oct. 22 meeting of the Seabrook Island Town Council. To hear it told, the mayor was off on a long-awaited cruise that will take him through the Panama Canal. However, his heir apparent hardly missed a beat; parliamentary procedures were dispatched with the usual efficiency. It’s hard to imagine how Gregg had enough breath for all the reporting required by the multiple hats he has worn in the mayor’s absence.
The mayor pro tem reported Seabrook’s earnings for the month of September came in at just over $47,000, for a running total of about 58% of annual projections. The two biggest sources of revenue came from local option sales taxes, $28,000, and the town’s investments, just over $8,000. Expenses, however, topped $80,000, 48% of the budget’s running totals, with the biggest single expense falling under the heading of “professional services.” The four components of that category – legal, accounting, engineering and other – comprised nearly half the outlay for the month, which caused a downward blip in the town’s general fund to $4.966 million.
Gregg deftly switched hats and dove into his report as chair of the Public Safety Committee. The group met earlier in October, and a task force is still plugging away to resolve logistical and legal considerations associated with a potential earthquake. Seabrook based one of its emergency preparedness exercises on such a scenario, and it raised a number of concerns. There’s not a lot of warning with earthquakes, which could eliminate access to the island at a time when staff isn’t available. The proposed remedy involved producing an inventory of residents willing and qualified to help – for example, those with medical and forestry backgrounds, familiarity with backhoes and chainsaws and experience with commercial kitchens. Steps for getting help to the island and what to do until they arrive will be incorporated into the town’s comprehensive emergency plan, Gregg reiterated. He concluded his report by saying the Disaster Recovery Council is busy producing a report of the town’s response to Hurricane Dorian, which will also be woven into the town’s CEP.
Council member Skip Crane reported that the town’s communications team conducted a test of both ham and handheld radios. All of the town’s equipment is functioning as designed. He also said the town’s Development Standards Ordinance Committee has met twice since the last Council meeting, and efforts to bring the town’s DSO up to speed continue to build momentum.
Council member John Wells made the observation that the Seabrook Island Property Owners Association owns the land on the inside lane leading to the island’s gatehouse. He suggested there was enough land there to accommodate the permanent LED sign discussed during last month’s Council meeting, though he’s sure the issue has potential to be a political football. Wells, who is not running for a third term, thanked the Council and residents for the opportunity to serve the community he loves.
Wells said you need look no further than the award in the lobby to see what a special place Seabrook is. The trophy was awarded to Seabrook by the Municipal Association of South Carolina for its participation with the Lowcountry Marine Mammal Network under Wells’ leadership.
Council member Jeri Finke made a motion to approve funding for a new cache of brochures for the Seabrook Island birders group. The only problem was that she hadn’t received the estimates she needed to determine how much to request. She said the 500 printed last year cost around $685 and made a real difference in raising awareness last summer but added that 1,500 brochures would be needed for the summer of 2020, given the updated beach ordinance. Gregg suggested a “not to exceed” clause, Finke amended her request accordingly and asked for $1,800. It was also revealed that the money could be drawn from the current budget instead of allocating funds from the next fiscal year. The motion passed unanimously.
Gregg led the mayor’s report by reminding residents the new beach ordinance, including new times and areas for dogs to be on or off leash, is now in effect.
- Dogs are allowed only between boardwalks 1 and 9.
- Summer is April 1 through Sept. 30, and dogs must be on a leash from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Winter is defined as Oct. 1 through March 31, and dogs may be off leash at all times.
- Dogs are always required to be on leash northwest of boardwalk 9.
Gregg made note of Seabrook’s recent collaboration with the Johns Island Task Force. The grass-roots organization of volunteers is working with the city of Charleston and Charleston County to reach an agreement on the urban growth boundary – which entities will control how much development beyond what point on Johns island.
Nov. 1 recognized as Mary White Day
Gregg proclaimed Nov. 1 to be Mary Whyte Day.
“The Town, in conjunction with SCOPE50, is recognizing Ms. Whyte for her dedication and commitment to serving the people of Seabrook and the Sea Islands. … The Seabrook Island Club will host a celebration of Ms. Whyte’s many contributions starting at 3 p.m., which will include a presentation of her latest work: We the People – Portraits of Veterans in America. … Over the past several years, Ms. Whyte has traveled America, painting a watercolor portrait of a veteran from each of the 50 states,” said Gregg.
Asked for comment, SCOPE50 President John Reynolds indicated that Gregg had successfully captured the essence of the event.
Town Administrator Joe Cronin opened his contribution with the final beach patrol report of the 2019 season (townofseabrookisland.org/beach-patrol. html).
He also informed residents that:
- Five responses have been received to the town’s RFP for a new auditor. Three have been selected for review, and a decision will be made before the end-of-the-year deadline.
- The Council will hold its annual holiday “drop-in” on Dec. 12, from noon to 2 p.m. at Town Hall. There will be food, beverages and live music and the Toys For Tots collection is always a favorite. Alas, no mention was made of reviving last year’s ugly holiday sweatshirt competition.
Gregg then teed up a presentation of the budget.
His highlights included;
- The Council anticipates a total of over $1.52 million in revenue next year, an 8.4% increase, from two income categories:
- Unrestricted income of $1.331 million will come primarily from business license fees, sales tax and franchise fees.
- Restricted income of over $200,000 from state ATAX, county ATAX and the alcohol tax.
- The Council expects to spend something less than its income on staff, landscaping, contracted services such as beach patrol, professional services and utilities associated with Town Hall.
- Cronin moved to add $60,000 to the 2020 budget for:
- Exterior painting at town hall;
- A concrete pad for roll carts at Town Hall;
- New drapes for Town Hall;
- New signage at Town Hall.
The measure passed its second reading unanimously.
Seabrook resident Joanne Fagan offered the first contribution to citizens’ comments. She said the Seabrook Island Property Owners Association sent a letter of support for the proposed MUSC clinic and wondered if the Council was planning to follow suit. Gregg said a certificate of need is required for the plans to move forward, and the Council intends to do everything it can to facilitate the project.
Gina Good asked how the new beach ordinance was going to be enforced now that the beach patrol is on leave for the winter. There was a moment’s hesitation before the Council responded that calling Town Hall with complaints or observations is the best route until the beach patrol is back on duty.
Seabrook resident Frank Stare was back for the second consecutive month seeking redress of his request to the Seabrook Island Utility. Successive storms have eliminated the natural barrier between his house and the plant, and he has asked SIU to put some of it back. The buildings, tanks and associated noise are right in his grill with the trees gone, and he is looking for an ombudsman.
The area is outside the town’s purview, was the collective answer from the Council. SIPOA owns land nearby, but not in a place to help, and SIU representatives declined to make their unofficial denial public until they made it official with a letter to Stare. (This reporter followed up with Stare in a phone call on Oct. 25 and was told to expect more on the topic).
Asked what the over/under was on Mayor Ron Ciancio coming home with a Panama hat, Gregg demurred.