Staff Report for The Island Eye News
The Town of Sullivan’s Island’s municipal election is on Tuesday, May 7. The Island Eye is interested to know where the candidates stand on popular issues and has invited each candidate to answer the final three of six questions. The first three questions and responses can be found on our website, IslandEyeNews. com.
Candidate’s answers are reprinted here as submitted, in alphabetical order by candidate’s last name.
- The Town of Sullivan’s Island has several capital improvement projects that have been deferred, delayed or not addressed, that will need financing in the very near future. How will you prioritize capital improvement projects and what are your ideas for determining additional revenue sources?
Our island needs to be more prudent in establishing reserves to cover the future maintenance and replacement of capital assets, while simultaneously expanding regular maintenance expenditures to better maintain the quality of our parks, beaches and access paths in face of increased daytripper traffic.
As of our most recent Audit, our town’s capital asset depreciation totaled $700,000 per year. Our capital reserve fund currently totals $414,500. This clearly doesn’t work. Each year we should set aside an amount close to our annual depreciation to fund the future maintenance and replacement of capital assets. Is it a surprise that buildings need new roofs, fire trucks need replacing and infrastructure needs overhauling periodically? No.
How do we free up some of our budget and establish reserves while also paying for expanded town services? We need to stop spending on pet projects. We need to generate additional revenues from daytrippers to pay for the increased maintenance and policing burden. We need to generate sustainable revenue from town-owned property. We need to work better with our generous private citizens who have too many times in the past raised money to help improve the island only to be discouraged by a difficult or fickle council.
This question simply amazes me. Essential major capital projects are currently underway. You have seen the swarm of trucks this year, fixing sewer lines island-wide. Readers of the Mayor’s Column in the Island Eye News know that high priority capital projects are now funded and making steady progress. The Sewer Plant upgrade is engineered and nearing the start of construction. The Fire Station, supporting vital fire and rescue services, is undergoing a badly needed update. Water and Sewer, Fire and Rescue, are not often dinner table conversation, but make living on our Island possible.
Stormwater drainage projects are also moving forward. FEMA-funded engineering plans for Stations 17-19 are near completion, with a FEMA construction grant pending. A joint project with DOT is in development for Station 26½-28½. Of course more needs to be done, and financing is always the hard part. Some suggest paid parking as a significant income source, but a detailed study of costs versus income for Sullivan’s Island says otherwise. Paid parking is commercialization, is costly to implement and manage, and comes with numerous unwanted consequences for residents. We must optimize all streams of Town income, pursue grants, and focus on priority needs.
We have recently completed many of the Town’s long overdue capital projects or have a strategy in place to complete them over the next few years. The most pressing projects- retrofitting the water/ sewer system and the inflow/infiltration systems are fully funded and underway. We have also completed the new Town Hall, purchased a new ladder truck, resurfaced all tennis/basketball courts, upgraded the recreational facility, added sidewalks in the commercial district and made storm water repairs.
Unlike our neighboring beach communities, we chose several years ago to limit the number of short-term rentals. While this decision significantly reduces our ability to collect more taxes, it has been instrumental in creating the residential atmosphere that we enjoy today. Property taxes are our primary source of revenue and for the first time in awhile, council increased taxes last year to help offset the cost of the capital improvements. I am sensitive to the impact raising taxes has on our residents and would oppose doing so again in the near term. Since we have accomplished so much over the last four years, we need to monitor our spending and determine what we need rather than what we want.
Prioritizing capital improvement projects is a function of need. Under the umbrella of the Water and Sewer Committee, of which I am chair, there are numerous projects in various stages. Wastewater treatment plant up-fit is in the permitting phase. The remainder of the inflow and infiltration (I&I) project is nearing completion. The replacement of the sewer line at Poe Ave. and Citadel St. has just been completed. A change order for running a new sewer line along Station 20½ St. was approved last week.
I was honored to represent Council over a two-day period as the Town played host to both Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s in our effort and ultimate success securing the most favorable rating possible for the bonds we sought. Combining public monies with future sales of select Town owned lots provides necessary funding.
Other capital projects that fall outside the definition of need and more along the lines of quality of life (such as beach access) are ripe for private/public partnership funding.
Stormwater management (the infrastructure of which is owned by SCDOT) provides a prime example for inter-governmental partnerships. This includes looking to FEMA for favorable grants that offer up to 75% of funding for qualifying projects.
Governing effectively requires foresight. Currently we can’t pay for some basic needs let alone future needs. Having little in reserves is troubling, there will always be issues that need addressing. Street flooding and drainage are serious island-wide problems. I’ve been in contact with the DOT District Engineer and there’s no work being done on Sullivan’s Island.
Problems must be communicated to the DOT for work to get done, the current Council hasn’t given residents guidance, relief, or resolution. Solutions to our current problems and basic needs are critical before spending on nonessentials like building the presently proposed fishing pier. Questions like how to pay to replace our successfully patched sewer pipes in the future need to be answered.
Sound for now, they were given a 25-year shelf life. We must elect leaders who put residents’ quality of life first and prioritize our vital needs today and for the future.
I have raised a lot money for this Island, decreasing the burden of expenditures on parks/public spaces, creatively and effectively. Ask anyone who knows me; I’m not afraid to ask people to give. I’ll tap new and creative sources, including underutilized grants, to fund necessary projects.
- With Charleston’s exponential growth and the increase of daytrippers to Sullivan’s Island’s beaches and commercial district, how will you address traffic flow and parking throughout the island, specifically in the commercial district?
Our island is one of three beach destinations for the Charleston area’s 775,000 residents and its 7 million annual visitors. The ever-growing population and tourism volumes present numerous challenges to maintaining the beauty, livability and character of our island. We need to think and act pro-actively to protect and preserve what we have.
Unfortunately, summertime traffic is not new. My wife Kate started the Co-op in 2012 (since sold) after one summer afternoon it took me 1½ hours to simply drive across the causeway to Publix. That said, we can improve our situation by employing traffic officers to direct beach-bound traffic to go left or straight at the Middle Street / Sta 22½ intersection instead of routing 100% of traffic through the busiest block of the commercial district. We need to establish and enforce specific drop-off / pick-up zones for ride-sharing services (Uber/Lyft).
To keep the island livable for residents, we need to expand golfcart parking at beach paths and near the commercial district. The parking that was removed along Middle Street in the 22½-23 block should be restored as golf-cart only. Parking on Middle Street in the commercial district should be targeted to patrons through a 2-hour time limit.
The current parking system, on one side of the street only, which I spearheaded during my previous election campaign, is up and running effectively for our residents and visitors. It avoids the complicated details and implementation problems that our neighboring towns experience. Although designed to improve traffic flow and safety island-wide, it also reduces parking spaces by half. My inclination, within the commercial district, is to also focus on safety. We need a safe sidewalk from Dunleavy’s to Sandpiper Gallery. Parallel parking will improve traffic flow, now blocked by the cars backing out. This is the most dangerous portion of our roadways. I would also prefer that I’on Ave., from Station 17 to Station 18, become a one-way street. It is effectively a hazardous single-lane street now. I’on Ave. near the commercial district is often too congested to safely provide two-way traffic. We must increase the use of County Patrol officers to direct traffic by hand at Rifle Range Road during peak summer traffic. Town Council has recently increased allowable hours for Town traffic control officers and provided them with the T2 wireless ticketing system. This increases the speed and accuracy of ticketing by typing in a license plate number.
Addressing the parking issue was a top priority in the last few years.
With the relatively new parking plan of one-side only parking, we now have dispersed parking throughout the Island, which has alleviated pressure on many neighborhoods. Emergency vehicles can now travel freely through streets that were once unnavigable. With this plan, when the spaces are full, we have reached capacity –it creates a cap on the number of people that can come to the beach at one time.
In recent years we have added golf-cart parking. This has been very successful and we will add more of these designated areas in the commercial zone and at beach entrances. Sullivan’s Island is partnering to complete Battery to the Beach, which will encourage biking to the Island.
Our commercial area congestion is limited to a small area, Station 20½-22½. As everyone knows, traffic flow can get bottled during peak season, when it rains, or during bridge closures.
Traffic police can help facilitate traffic flow, but there is no silver bullet. Short of limiting the number of people who enter the island–which I do not support nor would be possible–it’s the price we pay for living in paradise.
Since available parking has increasingly become a matter of convenience rather than an actual issue I feel it important to point out that Sullivan’s Island is about three miles long and not a quarter of a mile at its widest. The entire Island is walkable. I am of the mind that having to walk three blocks does not rise to the level of inconvenience.
I was involved in crafting and implementing the well thought out plan that is now in place. With input from the Chief of Police and the Fire Department, we devised a parking plan that allows for the safe and expeditious passage of emergency vehicles, Island wide. Parking is free to residents and visitors alike and the plan in place comes with none of the headaches that our neighboring communities face with paid parking, annual stickers, and enforcement of differing rules based on location.
All of that said we must continue to look at ways traffic flow can be improved to include re-zoning lots within the commercial district such that more surface parking is created.
Balancing the desire for more commercial district parking with traffic flow and residential concerns is of paramount importance when addressing this issue.
We have freely given access to all who visit Sullivan’s Island and rightfully so. We are lucky in that our Police Department does a good job controlling traffic given the current routes.
I will address this issue in 4 key ways:
- Designated golf cart parking at all beach paths and in the commercial district would give residents much easier access. Currently, there are only 4 designated spots for golf carts in the commercial district. Adding more will alleviate congestion and further reduce our carbon footprint.
- I will sit down with the SC DOT and determine a long-term strategy to relieve bottleneck pressures in the commercial zone.
- I will explore utilizing the lot behind the Post Office as designated parking for commercial zone staff. This would free up the spaces on Middle St., which are generally tied up for hours with staff parked in public spaces.
- I will ensure the burden of policing and cleanup from visitors will not be a financial burden to our town. It could even be a source of income via paid parking.
- This is a two part question:
- a) Do you acknowledge the existence of global warming and climate change?
- b) As a coastal community, how can Sullivan’s Island best position itself to protect homes and infrastructure from the effects of global warming and sea level rise?
This is a funny question to me and seems more at home in a Presidential election.
Yes, according to people who know more than me, climate change and global warming are real. Actually, I recently stopped eating meat due to its harmful environmental impact.
Although rising seas and global warming are things that we will have to contend with, the reach of our Town Council is fairly limited on the stage of geo-politics. We need to focus efforts where we can make an impact – right in our own backyard. For an island so focused on the environment, we are surprisingly behind the times.
IOP and Folly Beach passed plastic bag bans over 2 years before Sullivan’s. We rely solely on volunteers to remove littered plastic and dog waste from our beach. We don’t ask, nor require, people to keep off our sand dunes (which, going to the original question, are our only real protection). We build beach access paths through, instead of over our dunes. We can do a lot to make our island a better place for residents and the environment. The problem is, we get so wrapped up on single issues that we fail to address anything else.
As a native islander, close attention to weather and climate is ingrained.
There is certainly an increase in tidal and stormwater flooding and more frequent hurricanes in our future. Fortunately, climate change is built into Island standards for planning and construction. The current water and sewer upgrades meet higher flood standards. The renovation of the Fire Station will increase its storm rating for wind, rain and flood. The planned sewer pump lift stations will operate reliably under flood conditions. We are also fortunate to have the accreted land between us and the ocean. Proper care and management of this area is crucial for the benefit and protection of the Island as a whole. Root systems stabilize the soil better anything else can. This land lowers our flood insurance rates and saves the high costs of repeated beach nourishment projects that neighboring islands experience. We simply must think in this way because, as a barrier island, we will always face the brunt of oncoming storms and flooding. On the human side of readiness and preparation, I am very proud of our Town staff. With demonstrated professionalism and years of experience, they stand ready for emergencies. We are thankful to have them.
Climate change is a very big threat to our island. Our newly completed Comprehensive Plan now includes a section on climate change outlining how to address sea level rise, storms and flood risk. We need to develop a resiliency plan that focuses on naturebased solutions and green infrastructure, which have been proven to be most effective. Well-informed land use planning should be at the center of our mitigation efforts, looking at where we build and how we build. In the last few years we have developed a building ordinance addressing storm water run-off. We need to continue assessing current ordinances to ensure that we protect our existing infrastructure and that new construction supports our overall mitigation goals. In the last few years we have become hyper focused on improving stormwater management and its impact on island flooding. We need to continue doing this, including discussion around protecting open space to manage floodwater. We are very lucky on Sullivan’s Island that we have the accreted land, which buffers us from increased flooding and helps reduce our insurance rates. No resiliency efforts/plans will be easy or quick but will be necessary to tackle an ever-increasing risk to our island.
Taking the long view there is no way to protect homes and infrastructure from the effects of sea level rise. There will come a time when future generations no longer call Sullivan’s Island home. It is for this reason I advocated for and saw the passage of an ordinance that allowed a residential lot to be placed under the permanent protection of an easement in exchange for the owner agreeing not to build a house and to limit construction to a small storage type facility. Retreat from the coast is the only viable long-term solution.
Residents know our Island is facing rising sea levels, higher tides, and increased frequency and severity of rain events. Residents want some relief and forward thinking to protect property in the shorter term (being however long Mother Nature allows us to live here). For this reason I am spearheading the up-fit of our wastewater treatment facility and collection system; seeking ways to create redundancy in our water delivery system; taking a lead role in addressing stormwater (see today’s ad); and protecting our accreting land and fledgling maritime forest as a first line of defense to rising seas from aggressive management.
- Climate change is real. The science is irrefutable.
- We can protect our island and community by doing our part to help reverse the effects of global warming:
- I will encourage efforts to reduce our carbon footprint and live a more environmentally sustainable way.
- I will urge Charleston County to fix our broken recycling system and send less waste to landfill. Our current recycling program is vastly inadequate. In the last months, 100% of our recycling is being buried in the landfill polluting our land, air, and water. Landfilling of waste releases methane, an extremely harmful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere leading directly to global warming.
- I will explore significant grant money available through NOAA Coastal Resilience, Department of Interior, and EPA, to name a few, to fund sea rise defense practices. Sea rise effects are already visible on the back of our island during King Tides where there is often property flooding. Sullivan’s Island alone cannot stop sea level rise, but we can do our part to bolster our resiliency on the marsh and beachfront.
- I will leverage The Department of Natural Resources’ citizen volunteer programs to preserve our salt marshes as sea levels rise.
The Municipal Election Commission of the Town of Sullivan’s Island will conduct The Town of Sullivan’s Island Municipal Election on Tuesday, May 7, at the Sunrise Presbyterian Church. The polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. The following offices shall be included in this election: Three Council seats – 4-year term.