A Note From Our Mayors
Author: David Bennett & Lisa Sulka | Photographer: M.Kat
A Note from David Bennett
Welcome may, graduation month!
And congratulations to all who are celebrating this achievement at our area’s fine schools. For each of you, this May of 2015 will be remembered as a month of new beginnings. As you look forward with buoyant expectations toward your future, the air is filled with pride and promise, and you envision the world of opportunity ahead.
Last December, as I stepped into my role as your Hilton Head Island mayor, I felt much of that same optimism. I wanted to refresh the course of our town. Together with your Town Council, much has already been initiated to develop and pursue the excellent community we desire, and I will continue moving forward with the same commitment and mindset that “we can do better.”
I believe we can set a clear and definable vision—one that offers a possible future that’s worth striving to achieve—one where both environmental quality and sustainable economic prosperity live hand-in-hand. These last few months, I, along with knowledgeable islanders and the Town Council, have been reviewing and vetting a number of different processes, which could be employed to bring us together as a community to develop this unified vision. All of these processes use “best practices” for obtaining and synthesizing public input, and each have been successful in other locations.
Over these last months, I have learned that several items will be supremely important as we establish a vision for our community. Most notably, broad-based public participation and support will be essential. As well, our foundational discussions will need to address:
1. Our Values: the core beliefs that will shape the vision and our day-to-day decisions and actions;
2. Our Mission: the role the town and, indeed, each of us will play in creating our preferred future;
3. Our Strategies: those methods we will use to achieve our vision.
When I consider the importance of a unified, community vision, one of the first words that comes to mind is sustainability. This is a critical buzz word today for discussions about the environment; but the environment, as crucial as it is, represents only part of what I am envisioning. To me, sustainability is about the legacy that we’re leaving behind to the next generation, and whether it will be a lasting one.
Since my election, I have heard the refrain that if we, as a town, actively pursue economic development, then we risk throwing our legacy of environmental stewardship under the bus. I reject that notion. Environmental stewardship and economic balance and prosperity are not mutually exclusive. In fact, today’s ripened environmentalism has much to do with sustainability, a healthy economy, local sourcing and protection of natural habitats. It is all about using the things of nature as they are meant to be used and enjoyed without abusing or consuming them and leaving a deep and destructive footprint.
For example, there are so many new, green standards and advancements such as in buildings and parking lots that replace the older, less environmentally friendly structures, that these innovations can actually be an improvement for the environment. Just ask yourself: when was asbestos banned? Forty years ago? Would anyone argue that it ought not be removed and replaced? What about sewage from leaky septic tanks that leak into our ground water?
There are scores of low environmental impact opportunities available. Arts, cultural and historic tourism offer excellent opportunities for us to investigate alongside our new Economic Development Corporation and its’ capable executive director, Don Kirkman. My conversations with Don lead me to conclude that he understands who we are as a community and fully realizes that a sustainable economy can be achieved without hurting our precious island environment.
By way of example, a close friend of mine recently had a stroke, but Hilton Head doesn’t have a stroke unit. How much of an environmental impact would that addition be? How much of an economic one? These are the kinds of questions that must be asked and issues that need to be addressed.
I sincerely believe that when citizens come together around a clearly defined and articulated vision, which best serves the whole community, those things which once seemed impossible may become reality.
Just as at a graduation, I am filled with feelings of optimism about our community. I envision a world of opportunity ahead. It’s a vision focusing on the best of what our island represents, combined with the necessary steps toward making it better.
But, we can only achieve it with your participation!
A Note from Lisa Sulka
Updates from Bluffton
A couple of months ago, Town Council, staff, chairs from our various committees and commissions and the public sat together and went over the accomplishments of the prior year, to get ready for our upcoming year of goals. The two-day event was well attended, and staff took many notes. Over the next month, we will be getting back together to summarize what was discussed and formalize our plan for 2015/16. We went over, in great detail 10 sections that fall under our five town goals. They were: Finance & Budget; Capital Improvement Project Program; MS4 Implementation; Parks, Roads & Historic Preservation; Community Development Program; Beautification Committee: Marketing & Business Development Strategy; Don Ryan Center for Innovation; Bluffton Public Development Corporation; and Beaufort County/South Carolina State Agencies/South Carolina Legislative Coordination.
It was great to have all of the above sitting together discussing these issues in detail and also getting feedback from the public. From this, Council was able to make some decisions about pathways forward in these areas that affect our budget. One in-depth section is our Capital Improvement Project Program. While the list we have in place is full of worthy projects, most are unfunded; so, much discussion revolved around how to fund, where to rank them, etc. While we know that total funding of all projects is not secure, we all agreed to keep the projects on the CIP list and work towards finding money to pay for them. Some notable items that you will see more information on soon are: renovating town hall, lighting plan and implementation, and Buckwalter Place MCIP infrastructure.
One section, MS4 Implementation, is an initiative that will affect every mile of our county. This is a federal and state mandate that regulates the discharge of storm water through its Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (hence the acronym MS4) conveyances to waters of the U.S. or State of South Carolina. To receive the required permit, the town must establish and have approved by SCDHEC, an MS4 program which contains six minimum control measures. These would include: public education and outreach (the town is currently doing); public involvement and participation (our May River Watershed Action Plan Advisory committee); illicit discharge detection & elimination; construction site runoff control; post-construction runoff control; and pollution prevention/good housekeeping. While we are on track with this, we are working on an unfunded mandate from the federal/state governments. This will have associated costs and will affect our budget.
More information on the strategic plan will be forthcoming over the next few months, so stay tuned. And please stay involved and informed—that is how we create a strong Bluffton.