Highlights from the Town Council Meeting on January 23, 2018

Mayor Ron Ciancio began the meeting with approval of the minutes of recent meetings and a review of the Town’s financial statements for December 2017.  The Town had $4,736,291 in total assets and $43,375 in total liabilities at year-end, and total fund balances were $4,693,926, over $370,000 higher than the prior year. Next month, the Mayor plans to ask Council for approval to move some of the revenue generated during the last fiscal year to the Emergency Reserve Fund. Total revenue for the year, not including $400,000 transferred from the General Fund for the Seabrook Island Road Project, was $1,268,585, about $42,000 higher than last year; total expense for the year, again not including the $400,000 transferred from the General Fund, was $928,457, $113,333 under budget and about $63,9134 higher than last year.

Councilman John Gregg reported that the Public Safety Committee considered a draft proposal for debris management standby services, adding that the current contract with Philips & Jordan will expire this September. The committee also considered action items resulting from the recent Disaster Recovery Council exercise. (The January 10 DRC meeting had addressed hurricane response training, and January 11 was an exercise of hurricane response procedures.)

FEMA has notified the Town that there will be no further meetings on its Public Assistance Requests. Mr. Gregg expects that projects for which the Town has requested reimbursement funding (debris removal and emergency preparations, with the bulk of the request related to the Utility Commission’s expenses) will now be forwarded to FEMA for processing. He closed by announcing that the next Public Safety Committee meeting will be on February 12.

Councilman Skip Crane reported that the Communications Committee met on January 9 to continue developing its strategy to increase social media followers of the Town’s activities. As one example, the Committee is starting to communicate updates to the Town’s website content (e.g., posting of approved meeting minutes) via Twitter, other social media, and Tidelines. One near-term activity is to review the statement of work for VC3, the company supporting the Town’s website, in order to ensure that VC3 is required to stay current with versions and new releases of the software used for the website platform. Also, with help from the Town Administrator, they will audit the Town’s website to identify broken links and links to pages with no content so that these issues can be addressed. Upcoming meetings of the Committee will be on February 6 and March 6.

Mr. Crane closed with a reminder that Town Council will hold a Strategic Planning Session on February 22, under leadership of Bill Taylor of the Municipal Association of South Carolina.

Councilman John Wells reported that the Accommodations Tax Advisory Committee is scheduled to meet on January 29 to review three items presented by Town Council: funding for fireworks at the fourth of July celebration, funding to support the Beach Patrol, and funding for an educational program to monitor dolphin strand feeding on Seabrook Island beaches and the Kiawah River inlet.

Councilman Wells reported on two projects related to activity on the beach. The first is the Seabrook Island Dolphin Education Project.   An organization known as the Lowcountry Marine Mammal Network (LMMN) proposes to send monitors to Seabrook Island on a weekly basis (two hours before and after low tide) to observe dolphin behavior and educate residents and visitors on the importance of maintaining a safe distance from strand feeding dolphins. The organization would (i) distribute educational literature regarding dolphins and strand feeding, (ii) record incidents of interference with strand feeding, a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and (iii) use interns and volunteers so that the beach will be covered seven days a week for a fifty-two week period.   The cost to the Town to participate in this program would be $10,132.

The second part of the project, also proposed by LMMN, is an observational study to see if having an “educator” on the beach is effective. LMMN would provide an “observer” on the beach to monitor the actions of the educator, the beach goers, and the dolphins to see how effective the educational program is. This part of the project would not start until 2019. Funds would come from a grant, and all LMMN asks at this point is permission for access to the beach.

Mr. Wells said that Council will consider budgeting $10,000 for the LMMN project at the February meeting. He added that his February Seabrooker article would provide information about the LMMN project and would describe the issues that we have faced in executing the Seabrook Island Road project.

Councilwoman Jeri Finke reported on behalf of Community and Government Relations, extending thanks to Mayor Ciancio for his time and efforts in relation to Berkeley Propane’s inability to deliver fuel to customers and for his communications to provide Seabrookers with information about options available to them.

Mayor Ciancio discussed a number of subjects:

  • Regarding Offshore Drilling, he noted that Seabrook Island had gone on record many months ago in opposition to the inclusion of the Atlantic, Mid-Atlantic and South Atlantic Planning Areas in the Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2017-2022. When the 2017-2022 Program was finalized in January 2017, it specifically excluded the sale of offshore leases in the Mid-Atlantic and South Atlantic Planning Areas. In July 2017, the Trump administration issued a request for information and comment on a new five-year National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2019-2024, which would replace the National OCS Program for 2017-2022. At that time, pursuant to Council’s authorization, the mayor filed written comments on behalf of the Town opposing the inclusion of the Atlantic Planning regions in the new program.

The mayor reported that we are now in the second stage of that multi-step 2019-2024 program, preparation of a Draft Proposed Plan. The Notice of Availability of the Draft Proposed Program and request for comment was published in the Federal Register on Monday, January 8, and the mayor asked Council for and received authority to file comments in opposition to the Draft Proposed Plan as the Town has done in the past. The mayor said he had asked Councilwoman Finke to assist him in preparing those comments.

The mayor noted that, when the Obama administration approved the 2017-2022 Five Year Plan, it also denied a number of pending geophysical and geological permit applications to conduct air gun seismic surveys in the Mid- and South Atlantic Planning Areas.  The applications had been made to the Department of Commerce which, under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), is authorized to allow the incidental taking of small numbers of marine mammals by firms engaged in a specified activity such as seismic testing if National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) finds that the taking will have a negligible and impact on the species or stock(s) and if the effect of the incidental taking can be mitigated. The mayor reported that, in June of last year, five of the companies that were denied permits for seismic testing in January 2017 appealed the denial of those permits. Pursuant to that appeal, the NMFS published notice in the Federal Register to issue “Incidental Harassment Authorizations” (IHAs) to allow these companies to “incidentally take” during their seismic testing efforts.

On the assumption that the IHAs will be granted, the South Carolina Law Project, a public interest 501(c)(3) organization, has proposed litigation against NMFS challenging the granting of IHAs in the waters off of South Carolina for seismic air gun testing. The mayor said the he and Councilwoman Finke participated in a conference call with representatives of coastal communities initiated by the City of Beaufort, during the course of which the coastal communities were asked to join in the proposed litigation as “named plaintiffs” to demonstrate a united in opposition to the issuance of the IHAs. The mayor said he anticipated that a number of communities would participate in the litigation. All expenses and legal fees will be borne by the South Carolina Law Project. The mayor’s motion to participate in the discussed litigation was unanimously approved.

  • Regarding a proposal from Glaser & Co. to provide Audit services for 2018-2019 with a 3% increase in audit fee, the mayor recommended approving services for 2018 only. He said that, while Glaser has been the Town’s independent auditors for a number of years and has done a very good job, in his view, as a matter of good governance, it is appropriate to change audit firms on a periodic basis to bring in a fresh set of eyes.  The mayor said he had consulted with SIUC, which also uses Glaser’s services, and it concurs with his proposal. Council passed a motion to approve Glaser & Co. for 2018 only (for the audit of fiscal year 2017) and to seek a new auditor beginning with fiscal year 2019.
  • Regarding the proposed revisions to FEMA Flood Maps that would change the ground elevations that are the basis for our flood insurance designations and rates, Mayor Ciancio reported that FEMA had published notice in the Post & Courier on January 11 and 18 that the period for appealing the proposed map revisions had begun and would end on April 18, 2018, 90 days after the second publication date. The mayor noted that the sole basis for appeal is scientific information that the “flood hazard determinations” (either a base flood measurement or the boundaries of the identified Special Flood Hazard Areas) are scientifically or technically incorrect due to a mathematical or measurement error or changed physical condition.

During the 90-day period, property owners have a right to appeal to their municipality or an agency that is publicly designated by their municipality. On motion presented by the mayor, the Charleston County Building Inspection Services Department was designated as the agency to which Seabrook Island residents would file an appeal regarding the Environmental Determinations set forth in the proposed flood map or related study.   The appeal is ultimately resolved by a Scientific Resolution Panel. The mayor said he had asked for Charleston County to brief council on February 1 regarding the actions council must take to adopt the map, and asked Councilman Crane to make sure that the Town adequately informs residents regarding the appeal process and deadlines.

Mr. Crane added that the Communications Committee has been charged with developing a plan for educating residents on this subject well in advance of the April 18 appeal deadline. In addition to publicizing a website link to the revised FEMA map and instruction on how to submit an appeal, the Town will invite Carl Simmons, Director of Building Inspection Services for Charleston County, to visit Seabrook Island and answer Property Owners’ questions.

  • Regarding revision of the Town’s Employee Information Handbook, the Mayor noted that the manual was written in June 1999, amended in 2001 and 2004, and amended in 2017 to address retirement policy. He proposed to appoint an ad hoc committee consisting of Councilmen Gregg and Crane and Town Administrator Cronin to do an in-depth review of the Handbook and recommend any changes appropriate for making the manual consistent with current law and in conformance with generally accepted policy and practices regarding employee behavior and benefits. He set a deadline of May 2018 for the committee’s final report. The motion passed unanimously.

Town Administrator/Zoning Administrator Joe Cronin began his report by recognizing Lynda Whitworth’s many years of contributions to the Town. She joined the staff in March 1999 as Administrative Assistant and has taken on many additional responsibilities through the years. Mr. Cronin extended thanks to Ms. Whitworth for her valuable contributions and announced her promotion to License and Permit Specialist, effective January 1, 2018. Mr. Cronin closed with an announcement that he is working on dates for 2018 Shredding events which will be held in March and October.

Utility Commissioner Jim Bannwart reported that SIUC’s wastewater treatment performance for December met all permit requirements, adding that this completes a full year of treatment with no permit violations. Net income for December was negative by about $16,000, but income for the full year was positive at $89,000. Installation and certification of a second pump station back-up generator has been completed.  At last week’s meeting, the Utility Commission approved purchase and installation of a third back-up generator; completion of this project is projected for the Spring.

Mr. Bannwart provided some year-end statistics on Utility Commission performance:  Wastewater flow for the year averaged 422,000 gallons per day in 2017 compared to 396,000 in 2016. Total wastewater flow for 2017 was 154 million gallons compared to 144 million gallons in 2016. Water delivered to customers in 2017 was 273 million gallons compared to 268 million gallons in 2016.  Finally, just under 67 inches of rain was recorded at the plant for 2017, compared to 56.5 inches in 2016.

Mr. Bannwart closed his report by noting that the operations staff was busy over the preceding two weeks as SIUC staff responded to issues related to temperatures below freezing. Just over 30 housing units experienced water line breaks.  In addition, on January 15, a contractor working for Comcast hit a 6-inch water main while excavating for cable installation. The leak was isolated, cutting off water to about 38 housing units. Repairs were made the next morning, water service was restored, and a boil-water notice was issued for the housing units affected by the outage. Lab results the next day indicated the water was safe for consumption and the boil-water notice was rescinded.

Town Administrator Cronin introduced Ordinance 2018-01, “An Ordinance Amending the Development Standards Ordinance of the Town of Seabrook Island, South Carolina; Article 4.0, Establishing of Zoning Districts and Map; Section 4.10, Official District Map; so as to Clarify the Effective Date of Amendments to the Official District Map.” He explained that these DSO updates are designed to clarify which sources of information (i.e., Zoning Map hanging in Town Hall and documentation of zoning changes approved during the year for individual parcels) are to be used in responding to zoning inquiries. Motion to approve the First Reading of the Ordinance was passed.

Official minutes of this meeting will be approved at the next Town Council meeting (February 27, 2018) and published shortly thereafter on the Town’s website.

Tidelines Staff

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