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Sullivan’s Island Election Questions: Part 1

Staff Report for Island Eye News

The Island Eye News has partnered with the League of Women voters, to facilitate a candidates forum via Zoom for Mayor and Town Council. The forum will be Tuesday, April 13 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.  Below are the first three of six questions for all candidates in the upcoming election.

The remaining set of questions and answers will be printed in the following issue.

PAT O’NEIL 

Q: Should parking on public roadways and rights of way within the Town of Sullivan’s Island remain free? 

YES, it should remain free. Charging for parking runs counter to our Island culture of openness and public access. It also would feed the (incorrect) assumptions by many people in neighboring communities that we want to keep them off the Island, assumptions that sprang up following our necessary pandemicrelated restrictions. We don’t now have the staff to manage paid parking, and the information we were given from a potential vendor of such services suggested they would charge far too much for those services. So at this time I do not support it.

However, I believe in “never say never”. In 2019, the Town (i.e., taxpayers) spent more than $800,000 to accommodate and protect visitors to the Island, nearly all of whom are daytrippers. 

Our 2,848 Island parking spaces are almost all on road rights-of-way owned by the SC DOT, which provides precious little upkeep. So maintenance of the road shoulders rests largely on our Island taxpayers’ shoulders. The Tri-County population is growing exponentially, as is the visitor impact on beach communities. We need more support from the County and State to manage this. Otherwise, down the road we may have to consider some degree of paid parking in some areas at sometimes. We need to keep our options open. This is why the bill introduced by Sen. Grooms to prohibit beach communities from ever charging for parking is so ill-conceived and dangerous. If I go to Columbia to speak with Sen. Grooms about this bill, I will have to pay for parking. Why should it be different for beach communities?? However, if we ever have to consider any paid parking in the future, this must be a careful, unrushed, highly transparent process with abundant opportunity for public input.

            Q: The current Town Council accepted a mediated settlement to allow for the management of the accredited land on Sullivan’s Island front beach. Was this the correct decision? What steps should be taken by the next Council?

No, it was legally mandated deforestation. In the October meeting, I offered an amendment to delay the decision; it was voted down 4-3. I offered an amendment to include the votes of each Councilmember on the agreement; it was voted down 4-3. I voted against the agreement; it passed 4-3. At our March 16 meeting about the revised implementation plan, almost every citizen who offered public comments was strongly opposed. I was also opposed and voted against this work plan; it passed 4-2. It has been asserted, falsely, that the alternative to the settlement agreement was to cut everything down to three feet.

NOT SO. The Supreme Court had merely remanded the case back to the original court to hold a trial on the complaint. It has also been falsely claimed that voting against the settlement agreement was inconsistent with voting to attempt mediation.

Again, NOT SO. Attempting mediation does not require acceptance of any particular proposal that might come out of that effort. Under its terms, this agreement cannot be undone or fought by a new Council. However, this makes it critical that we do everything possible to prevent any additional damage to what’s left of this unique, priceless natural gift.

Q: What are your priorities for the necessary maintenance on public facilities such as Town Hall, the Fire Station and the Water and Sewer Department?

Those are great examples of critical facilities that were badly in need of renovation or construction. Since I became Mayor, we broke ground, completed and moved into the new Town Hall and Police Station; began a massive rehabilitation of our Wastewater (Sewer) Treatment Plant, nearing completion; designed and contracted the replacement of all of our wastewater lift stations, underway; and initiated design and contracting of a complete Fire Station renovation and construction of a much-needed maintenance and storage building. Why have we had to play catchup in our public facilities? Going back 15-20 and more years, there simply wasn’t the money to do what needed doing. Since then, our property tax base has grown tremendously. Further, in 2018 and 2020, we obtained substantial funding resources via two issues of Installment Purchase Revenue Bonds, at unusually favorable interest rates (reflecting the Town’s very high ratings by Moody’s and Standard and Poor). This has helped with the just-mentioned projects and will allow us to address other necessary infrastructure work. We also now budget $100,000 annually for building repairs. Further, at the end of every fiscal year, at least 20% of any unexpended operating budget funds goes into a Capital Improvements Reserve.

CHAUNCEY CLARK

Q: Should parking on public roadways and rights of way within the Town of Sullivan’s Island remain free?  

The decision to go to paid parking would be a last resort option. In a recent council meeting the town manager reported that the cost to SI for hosting off island visitors is in excess of 800,000 dollars per year. That cost is currently covered by the town budget via resident taxes.  As demand for service for visitors (safety personnel, police, rescues, trash pick up) goes up so does the cost to the town and ultimately to our taxpayers. Residents will need to decide which is their preference, paying more in taxes,  paid parking, or some  other yet to be identified funding sources.

Q: The current Town Council accepted a mediated settlement to allow for the management of the accredited land on Sullivan’s Island front beach. Was this the correct decision? What steps should be taken by the next Council? 

The Supreme Court gave the town two options: 1 Go to lower court for ruling or 2 Mediate a compromise.

 Under the advice of the Town Attorneys, Council voted to mediate to avoid the real possibility of the entire accreted land being cut to 3’ and the Town would have been liable for damages and nuisance. The costs would have been substantial and a middle ground compromise lost. The outcome of mediation is that  both parties are equally dissatisfied, but both parties have met in the  middle and the cost burden for the work has shifted from the town to the beachfront residents. It’s time for the Council and community to come together and move forward with the many other issues facing the Town.

Q: What are your priorities for the necessary maintenance on public facilities such as Town Hall, the Fire Station and the Water and Sewer Department? 

As good stewards of our town assets, there must always be a plan in place for maintenance. By way of example, Town Hall will need paint and  the AC may need an overhaul.  There should always be a  prioritized inventory of all future town projects that should include a budget and a long-term maintenance plan.

We need to keep our eye on our future needs.

The following list is just some of the projects on our horizon:

 • Storm and flood control

• DOT easement repair

• Traffic control

• Park improvement

 • Commercial area improvement

• Boardwalks and beach paths

 • Burying power lines

TIM REESE

Q: Should parking on public roadways and rights of way within the Town

of Sullivan’s Island remain free?

 In 2019, as the chair of Public Safety, I started a conversation regarding how we handle the increase of visitors to the Island with regard to access, safety and costs associated with providing parking, accessible beach paths, trash services, enforcement of the Town’s ordinances and safety and rescue services when needed . I felt I was doing my job looking into what our other island neighbors were doing to combat the population explosion in the Charleston area. The position I was elected to required me to make sure we weighed all our options and presented them. As the Town Administrator mentioned at the latest Town Council meeting, it costs the Town (and it’s taxpayers) around $850,000 a year or 10% of the Town’s annual budget to support beach visitors. It is estimated that we see about 5,000 visitors per day during the warmer months and currently we do not receive any funding from the State for those who visit the state beach or park in the state right-of-ways. It comes down to a revenue sourcing issue to support the daily visitors to our Island. Either we as taxpayers continue to pay an additional 10mils or $850 a year in property taxes per household to support our visitors, or we seek funds from the State or adjacent County governments to off-set our expenses. The Town needs to be able keep the ability to control our potential revenue sources (Home Rule). And yes, paid parking needs to be a revenue source available to us in the future as our annual expenses continue to rise and more folks come to enjoy our Island.

Q: The current Town Council accepted a mediated settlement to allow for the management of the accredited land on Sullivan’s Island front beach. Was this the correct decision? What steps should be taken by the next Council?

I do agree the mediated settlement was the correct decision as I was one of the four council members who voted to settle the 10 year lawsuit that went all the way to the State Supreme Court and was remanded back to Trial (please go to the Town’s website to review their summary writ and watch the court decision).

Upon the recommendation of the Town’s attorneys the majority of Council agreed to try and mediate a settlement instead of risking going directly to Trial and potentially suffer a devastating loss by having the entire maritime forest cut to three feet at the Town’s expense as desired by the Plaintiff’s.

A potential settlement plan was agreed to by both the Town and the Plaintiffs at the conclusion of a five-month mediation process. Instead of signing the agreement at the conclusion of mediation, the Town requested a separate Council meeting (October 2, 2020) to discuss it in public and vote on it. Yes, it was a 4-3 vote in favor of settling the 11-year lawsuit with both sides giving concessions to make it work. This is a Lawsuit Settlement not a Management Plan for the Accreted Land, period. I do respect the views of those who feel the accreted land should remain in its natural state but when the Supreme Court of South Carolina states “Contrary to the holding of the court of appeals and the trial court’s findings, the 1991 deed is ambiguous in terms of the Town’s maintenance responsibilities, the court of appeals erred in affirming the entry of summary judgement for the Town. As a result, we remand this case to trial court for further proceedings.” As an elected official and steward to our Town’s resources and finances, I made the difficult but correct decision to settle through the mediation process than risk losing even more severe damage to our beloved Maritime Forest.

Q: What are your priorities for the necessary maintenance on public facilities such as Town Hall, the Fire Station and the Water and Sewer Department?

I am proud to be part of the current Town Council that made the decisions to move forward with replacing some of the Capital Assets that were at the end of their usable life-cycle such as the Town Hall, Fire Station and Wastewater Treatment Plant. I am committed to keeping them maintained and functioning for the next 50 years through establishing capital reserves in the Town’s budgeting process moving forward. As a member of Town Council, I will continue to focus on providing the financial resources to keep the Town’s Historic Assets in better condition and develop a longterm strategy and implementation plan to address Stormwater Management that impacts the livability on our Island.

SCOTT MILLIMET

Q: Should parking on public roadways and rights of way within the Town of Sullivan’s Island remain free? 

I am not in favor of paid parking on Sullivan’s Island. 

To do so would begin the process of expanding commercialization outside the existing commercial district. We do not want to go there. Pressure to enact a paid parking plan seems to have abated as those in favor were faced with an outpouring of local resistance.  The citizenship should continue to express  its opposition to paid parking so the issue

falls off of the radar.  A parking proposal that I would favor is one that increases the number of parking spaces for golf carts (perhaps along station 22 ½) to ensure residents are not squeezed out of enjoying the benefits of their Island home.

Q: The current Town Council accepted a mediated settlement to allow for the management of the accredited land on Sullivan’s Island front beach. Was this the correct decision? What steps should be taken by the next Council?

The decision to “manage” the accreted land was arrived at without sufficient facts or input from the voters. The grievous outcome has resulted in a town divided. I was not and am not in favor of the process or the settlement that will decimate our Maritime Forest. So egregious was the process that led to this disastrous outcome, there was the need for the “agreement” to be revisited and revised by the Council on March 16. This revision followed the same flawed process with no more facts or transparency, potentially allowing even more cutting and destruction of the accreted lands. The legal agreement regarding the Maritime Forest technically does not allow either party (plaintiffs or the Town Council) to impede implementation of

the plan.  However, the citizens of Sullivan’s Island should insist on regulatory authority (DHEC/ OCRM / Army Corp of Engineers) oversight and compliance every step of the way, now and in the future.  Citizens have the opportunity to limit the destruction of the Maritime Forest and the protections it provides by ensuring the regulators are actively involved on an ongoing basis.  It is imperative citizens stay involved and Protect our Island Home!

Q: What are your priorities for the necessary maintenance on public facilities such as Town Hall, the Fire Station and the Water and Sewer Department?

I will focus on what I believe are the most important infrastructure issues facing Sullivan’s Island. Council decisions regarding storm surge, flooding in the Station 18 and 28 drainage basins (and other areas of the Island), and overall infrastructure projects will impact residents for generations to come. A comprehensive, but costly plan is required to address these issues.  Obviously the town should and will work cooperatively with SCDOT, Charleston County, Federal sources et al, for funding, but Sullivan’s Island should also study and consider self-funding via the use of its valuable AA / AA2 credit rating. With interest rates still at historic lows and inflation beginning to rise, a long term municipal bond could be issued and repaid over time with “cheaper dollars”.  Funding could also be used to bury above ground power lines, helping to preserve service following storms and alleviating the need for massive cutting of trees every 5 years. The same underground conduit could be used for fiber optics and other modernization programs. There may be tax implications of this solution – but if resident want to continue to enjoy the Island Home we all love, we may need to consider self-funding much needed infrastructure projects. 

KEVIN PENNINGTON

Q: Should parking on public roadways and rights of way within the Town of Sullivan’s Island remain free? 

Yes, it should be free BUT taxpayers should also take into account:

• The town does not reliably fund the maintenance of our beach paths or the right-of-way parking spaces from the annual operating budget.

• That the amount needed is roughly equal to $1000.00 in taxes per household per year and that is not an insignificant portion of the town budget.

• We have never planned for the growth of the surrounding areas let alone planned for funding the impact to the island that is clearly seen with the increase in visitors every year.

• It is apparent that funding from the state or county is an unlikely source to defray these public costs.

• As a result, in the absence of paid parking, we either tolerate the current condition of the parking and beach paths or we, as residents, pay to fix it, or find alternative solutions.

We should not allow the debate to be framed as an effort to discourage visitors. 

The debate should be focused on the best way to improve the experience of our visitors and our residents.

Q: The current Town Council accepted a mediated settlement to allow for the management of the accredited land on Sullivan’s Island front beach. Was this the correct decision? What steps should be taken by the next Council?

Whether this is correct or not there is a 30-year history of facts that are too detailed to include but do shape my thinking on this issue. Regardless, six of our seven town council members when given the facts of our current legal standing found the best approach was to resolve the settlement through mediation.  

Mediation is about compromise and settling a legal issue without going to court where the outcome is an unknown. As advised by the town attorney, if we had gone to court it could have been nothing for the town and all for the plaintiffs. After the mediation was settled a work plan was developed by an independent engineering firm in tandem with regulatory agencies.

Changes were made to the agreement and the outcome resulted in more restrictions on what should be cut and how it should be cut.  Again, to me this seems like how the two parties continued the compromise.

Regulatory agencies will be reviewing the final plan and if they consider it an environmentally sound plan, that should allay any fears.  I believe we have to let the agencies do their job in good faith.   The next council should fully support the outcome of this process and play their role in fulfilling the Town’s obligations in a straightforward timely manner.

            Q: What are your priorities for the necessary maintenance on public facilities such as Town Hall, the Fire Station and the Water and Sewer Department?

We need to create reserves for the ongoing maintenance for all of our assets to optimize their useful life and or to serve their public purpose. 

It would also benefit us to prioritize, with plans and timetables investments across a long list of ignored assets, like:

 •  Battery Thompson is now going to get a coat of paint after years of neglect.  Battery Logan is overgrown, in disrepair and unsafe.  I think

historic properties deserve better treatment.  I’d like to see us walk the talk about historic preservation on our town owned properties. 

• Sullivan’s historic cemeteries barely get mowed, much less any tree trimming, benches or any historical tributes to honor this sacred land.  Making public spaces like this an enjoyable place to visit, learn and appreciate is an opportunity to further cultivate and preserve history on the island.

• Stith park flooding has long been a problem making it unusable after any type of rain event.  How about addressing the storm water issue? 

• The “mound” behind Stith park is a historic battery that is eroding.  If it is not addressed it will forever negatively impact the integrity of this landmark. Does this not matter to the town?

• Lastly, the old town hall has become uninhabitable and the firehouse has fallen into such disrepair that we basically have had to start over.

 Going forward, we need to put prudent management practices into place for all town assets; new and historic, to maintain and preserve what we have. I recognize it is hard to instill the discipline to adequately account for depreciation and establish reserves in the face of taxpayer expectations that we keep operating budgets tight. I would like to try so that when we make investments, we understand up front the long-term costs of maintaining their useful life if an asset or experience if they are public spaces.  It’s really simple.  We need to get back to the basics and act not talk!

GARY VISSER

Q: Should parking on public roadways and rights of way within the Town of Sullivan’s Island remain free? 

Parking should be free.

As part of the Planning Commission we addressed this twice, first as part of resiliency in our 10 year revision of the cities strategic plan.  This blank-sheet rewrite is required by the state for every municipality and that “element” of the planning was very important for such a finite resource on such a small island impacted by many visitors. 

Second we addressed it as part of public safety to avoid the tragedy of injury without emergency vehicle access.  We received input from our SI Fire and Rescue and it seems evident that measures taken to limit parking to single street side was an essential measure.  We monitored parking for four years as other islands went to paid alternatives to insure it wasn’t moving huge crowds onto Sullivan’s. 

So far it’s very successful but we should continue to monitor and adjust. 

This is simple, not everyone can visit Sullivan’s at the same time, we just need to insure the safety of our community and visitors and continue to seek support from Charleston County in our efforts.

 Q: The current Town Council accepted a mediated settlement to allow for the management of the accredited land on Sullivan’s Island front beach. Was this the correct decision? What steps should be taken by the next Council?

 I do not agree with the initial agreement, I do not agree with any process that limits public public input into the decision and I do not think accepting the latest modification to the plan improves our island. The issue is resiliency and the protection for every home and the lives of our community.

Anyone who experienced Hurricane Hugo knows the force of wind and floods and anyone who is honest knows the accreted land vegetation improves the protection for everyone, beach front or back. This is about much more than bugs, birds and beasts. Every island and coastal community in South Carolina would love to have the protection that Sullivan’s Island intend to destroy. The only word to describe this is stupid.

Q: What are your priorities for the necessary maintenance on public facilities such as Town Hall, the Fire Station and the Water and Sewer Department?

I spent over 40 years in the water and sewer industry so I’ll admit to my love of clean water from the tap and toilets that flush reliably and are safely discharged. We have invested in several projects to improve the reliability of our water mains and to eliminate I&I that caused us to exceed our discharge permits. We are currently upgrading our waste water lift stations and including fixed emergency generators for the first time. There is no finish line in water and sewer, we will always need to insure we have sufficient water for fire protection and of the highest quality to protect our families. The town wisely spent first on many of these water/ sewer projects before turning our attention to the town hall and now to the renovation to our fire station. I look forward to seeing them to completion. 

Justin Novak

Q: Should parking on public roadways and rights of way within the Town of Sullivan’s Island remain free? 

Parking on our island’s roadways and rights of way should remain free to residents and visitors. Sullivan’s Island is a relaxed, small town beach community where both residents and visitors have long enjoyed a slow pace and sense of community. We should not sacrifice our island’s charm by seeking to deter visitors, raise revenue, or clutter our island with parking kiosks and enforcement personnel employed by private companies. Although our community incurs costs in welcoming visitors, there are other ways of offsetting those costs without damaging the core of our island’s appeal, such as not spending to study unpopular initiatives. Island-wide paid parking is also unlikely to generate the revenue promised.

Its proponents’ estimates include consistent revenue from spaces too far from the beach or commercial area to be utilized regularly. And a more limited, commercial area paid parking program would only harm local businesses in non-peak seasons, jeopardize hospitality tax revenue, and incentivize parking in residential areas. Paid parking is also unlikely to deter visitors during beach season. There is simply too much demand for beach parking for those coming to enjoy our wonderful beaches, restaurants, and community.

Q: The current Town Council accepted a mediated settlement to allow for the management of the accredited land on Sullivan’s Island front beach. Was this the

correct decision? What steps should be taken by the next Council?

Town Council should not have settled this longstanding dispute of great public interest during a special meeting held with little notice where residents had limited ability to meaningfully participate.

What’s more, this critical meeting occurred in the midst of a pandemic and state of emergency when residents’ attention was distracted by a threat to the safety of family, friends, and neighbors. This type of decision-making process sets a dangerous precedent and inevitably leads to distrust and division. The maritime forest, like our island’s other natural areas, is an integral part of what draws people to this special place.

It is in our long-term interest to preserve and protect what makes our island exceptional. In moving forward, we must ensure that the settlement agreement is implemented in a manner that as much as possible protects the ecological integrity of this incredible natural resource, which provides a place of respite to residents and visitors, a haven to the beautiful birds that populate our island, and much needed protection from flood waters and storm surge. The consideration of any future measure that impacts our natural areas, which are indispensable to our community’s identity, must occur with the

utmost open consideration and public deliberation.

Q: What are your priorities for the necessary maintenance on public facilities such as Town Hall, the Fire Station and the Water and Sewer Department?

Our town is in the process of completing a long-term plan to renovate our public facilities to better serve the basic needs our community, including the recent completion of our modernized town hall, the ongoing renovation of our fire station, and the long-overdue updating of our wastewater infrastructure. These necessary improvements should position our town to continue to provide critical services to our residents. We must also take steps to preserve and utilize other publicly owned structures while respecting the history and character of the island. In addition, we must address the chronic flooding issues that impact numerous areas of the island, including along Atlantic Avenue, Bayonne Street, and Marshall Boulevard between Stations 24 and 29. We should also explore the feasibility and cost- effectiveness of replacing our island’s overhead powerlines with underground powerlines to further secure our critical infrastructure from damage during storms and mitigate against our energy provider’s careless cutting of the trees that line our island’s streets.

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