By Emma Woodham, Staff Writer for Island Eye News
On Tuesday, Nov. 21, the Sullivan’s Island Town Council met for its regularly scheduled meeting with all members of the council in attendance. Prior to the discussion of official business, Mayor Pat O’Neil proposed two resolutions to council: one to recognize and commend Lieutenant Don Harbaugh and Firefighter Adam Ivan for their quick actions that saved the life of Sullivan’s Island Fire Department Captain William “Curt” Gibbons and one to recognize Acting Police Chief Chris Griffin for his brave actions in saving a motorist from a burning car.
Mayor O’Neil pointed out that Lt. Harbaugh and Firefighter Ivan were two men who were in the right place at the right time when Captain Gibbons suffered from a sudden cardiac arrest while on duty. Gibbons was present for the meeting and thanked Lt. Harbaugh and Firefighter Ivan for their quick actions. “If it wasn’t for these two guys here, I literally wouldn’t be here,” Gibbons said. Acting Chief of Police Chris Griffin was then commended for his brave action in rescuing a driver from a burning vehicle in September with little regard for his own safety. Chief Griffin was off-duty and driving along I-526 when he saw a vehicle strike a median wall and catch fire. With the help of Charleston County Police Officer Matthew Tulla, who at the time was off duty, he pulled the driver from the car before it was fully engulfed in flames. Mayor O’Neil pointed out that this a demonstration of how public safety officers run towards danger instead of away from it.
Motions were made to approve both resolutions, and both passed unanimously. Following the resolutions, the floor was opened to comments from the public. Jane McLaughlin of 840 Middle Street was the first to speak, and she asked the council for some grace on her future water bills. McLaughlin’s husband was diagnosed with lymphoma in the summer of 2015 and underwent numerous treatments before recently passing away. During the time that he was sick, McLaughlin’s water bill was automatically debited from her bank account, and she only just recently realized that her bills seem to be unusually high. Her most recent bill was over a thousand dollars. She asked the council if her bills could be looked over to see if any error occurred and, potentially, for grace on future bills.
Councilmember Bachman Smith chairman of the Water and Sewer Committee took a copy of her most recent bill and promised to be in touch with her regarding the issue. Next to speak was Rick Reed, representing the Battery Gadsden Cultural Center, and he stated that the town needs to do some maintenance on the historical structure to make sure the building doesn’t fall into disrepair. He asked that the council be aware of the work that needs to be done to maintain the integrity of the structure. Reed also presented the concept of a senior living village on the island that would focus on socialization, health, and exercise. He asked if some sort of survey could be conducted to see what the interest would be for this concept. Alice Morrissey of 1652 Thompson Avenue asked that the council’s attention be drawn to the field between 16 ½ St. and 17th St. and the boats and trailers that are often parked there. She stated that a sign prohibiting parking in the field for long periods of time is posted but that people continue to ignore the warning.
This space has often been used for ballfields and even bird nesting, and Morrissey hopes something can be done about the boats and trailers that are parked in the area and asked the council to save the field from becoming a “trailer park”.
Following citizens’ comments, Emily Sobczak of Greene, Finney, and Horton, LLP presented the results of a financial audit for the fiscal year ending on June 30th, 2017. GF&H encountered no significant difficulties in dealing with town management while performing the audit, and went over the current balances in the different accounts, pointing out that the city’s biggest form of revenue—property taxes— haven’t yet come in. During the fiscal year, one of the biggest expenses noted was the new Sullivan’s Island Town Hall. Sobczak reviewed certain benchmarks that the town should continue to maintain and added that the town is doing quite well, according to the results of the audit. Mayor O’Neil thanked Ms. Sobczak and GF&H for all the hard work and effort that went into the audit. Following the conclusion of the audit report, the minutes from the last meeting were approved unanimously. Mayor O’Neil asked that a resolution regarding the beach renourishment project be put on hold until the next meeting.
It was also noted that the Town of Sullivan’s Island has reached financing terms with BB&T regarding four budgeted items for the Water and Sewer department, and Councilmember Smith moved that council approve the terms presented. All members of the council voted in favor. A resolution approving the establishment of rates and fees for the Building and Planning Department for the Town of Sullivan’s Island was discussed next. Andy Benke, City Administrator, said that there will be a 2.5% increase to the rates and fees. A motion was made by Councilmember Chauncey Clark to approve the resolution and was seconded by Tim Reese. All were in favor, and the motion passed. Next on the agenda, the first reading of Ordinance 201705, an ordinance amending section 10-20 of the Code of Ordinances for Sullivan’s Island to revise business license fees. Benke stated that this revision mirrors the permit fee increase. Councilmember Sarah Church moved to approve the first reading, and Councilmember Mark Howard seconded. All members of the council voted in favor. Benke then asked if there could be a special meeting for a second reading so that the third reading could be done at the December meeting in the hopes of having these rates implemented in January. The meetings will be scheduled. In his report, Administrator Benke stated that DHEC has extended the time for public comments on the recently presented beach lines until April 6. He added that the FEMA cleanup is finished, except for new pilings at the boat ramp. The boat lift that washed ashore between Stations 9 and 10 is still there, and the owner is facing some consequences if it isn’t removed. DHEC can take care of this matter, but it may take longer than the town wants. In the Finance Committee report, Benke noted that building permit revenue is ahead of schedule. Water and Sewer revenue is a little higher than anticipated, all the other revenue streams are tracking normally, and everything appears to be on budget. For the Water and Sewer Committee, Councilmember Smith reported that financing options for the Water Treatment Facility are still being discussed. Councilmember Clark stated that the Public Safety Committee has nothing new to report, but that they are still seeking solutions to the issues of boat trailer parking, Uber drop-offs, and emergency access at the beach paths. Councilmember Church with the Recreation Committee announced that the Town’s Tree Lighting will be on Dec. 1 and the Gingerbread House Decorating Party on Dec. 3. She added that Farmers Market dates for 2018 will need to be decided soon. Councilmember Mark Howard with the Facilities Committee brought up the previously mentioned need for some work to be done at Battery Gadsden because of mold and mildew issues, adding that a lot of furniture had to be thrown out recently because of these issues.
Councilmember Clark also asked if the old town hall could be discussed at Facilities meeting, too. In the Administrative Committee report, Councilmember Tim Reese noted that it’s been a long time since dog license fees have been updated. Currently, the fees for residents of the island are $25 and $35 for off-islanders. Councilmember Reese proposed raising the fee to $50 for off-islanders, hoping it will offset the costs off dog bags and other items needed for the pets who come to the island. A city ordinance would have to be amended in order to make this change. Reese wants to implement the fees beginning in 2018 and said that he feels it’s time for those who visit Sullivan’s Island with their dogs to pay a little extra. “I think it’s time for off-island folks to step up,” Reese said.
Councilmember Church opposed the raising of the fees for off-islanders, stating that she thinks it is too high a price. “I think that it’s unreasonable. It’s already sort of an insult to people coming from off the island to ask them to pay more,” Church said.
The next meeting of the Sullivan’s Island Town Council will be on Dec. 19