A Note From Our Mayors
Author: David Bennett & Lisa Sulka | Photographer: Krisztian Lonyai
A Note from David Bennett
The Math, the aftermath and what counts
Yes, December is the month of giving, but isn’t it almost certainly the month of counting too? Perhaps you can count off what you’re counting on for the remainder of this memorable year. Days? Presents? Calories? As for me, I’ve been doing the math of the aftermath and being mindful of what I’m counting on and what really counts. You too can count on the resources, which your town has set aside for such a time as this. You can count on each other to clean up, clear out and come alongside those in need, restoring our island to a beauty surpassing its previous standard, and you can count on me to press on to complete the priorities we have in place and determine a path forward for other important initiatives.
The count is still on for the total cost to your town for Hurricane Matthew recovery. Current estimates peg the Hilton Head Island’s post-FEMA reimbursement outlay at approximately $20 million (without consideration of any special holiday season gifts of state cost-sharing, which is likely; so, in the spirit of the season, please contact your state officials for details.) However, with some strategic cash management, the expenditures are currently being funded from established reserves such as the approximately $26 million in the combined General Fund Operating, Beach Preservation, Real Estate Transfer Fee, and Disaster Advertising accounts. As for our borrowing capacity, the town’s use of debt financing has historically been astoundingly low, and if that weren’t conservative enough, the town has self-imposed a borrowing cap at 80 percent of the state statutory level, just for the possibility (now the reality) of disaster recovery expenditures! The count? We could borrow an additional $37 million dollars, $23 million of which would be unhindered by the self-imposed cap. At our current high bond ratings and the low interest rate environment, this would be an inexpensive source of funds, which we don’t anticipate needing.
One of my favorite seasonal gifts is certainly the community generosity I’ve witnessed these last weeks since our storm, not even mentioning our fine public and civil servants, whose efforts are simply indescribable, we have all counted upon each other’s talents and resources; and surely for-profit, nonprofit and faith-based organizations such as Kroger, Harris Teeter, Piggly Wiggly, Publix, the Serg Group, CRAB, Island Recreation, Community Foundation, the Heritage Classic Foundation, the Hilton Head Area Realtors, United Way, Red Cross, Hilton Head Presbyterian Church, Grace Community Church, Deep Well, Neighborhood Outreach Connection—I cannot possibly count them all. But doubtless you’ve both served and been served by them, and they have come through for us. I count on them to continue to assist those who need it most.
Finally, please count on me to continue to press on and complete the priorities that your Town Council, together with your town staff and citizen volunteers, have established and labored upon these past two years. We must also commit resources to other imperative issues, which we as a community face. I have my five, which I count off on one hand. They have been near and dear to me since taking office in December of 2014. Four of the five, namely accountability and transparency, road and sewer infrastructure, planning and visioning for our future and prioritizing the maximum potential for historical, cultural and artistic island assets, are each reaping the benefits of Town Council, staff and citizen focus and efforts. Affordable housing and workforce availability appear on this short list too, and they are on deck for concerted attention in 2017. I’m counting on our citizens’ continued participation in the advancement of these initiatives, because you and I can count on this: All our successes are ultimately our fine residents’ gift back to our community.
A Note from Lisa Sulka
The recent Hilton Head Island/Bluffton Chamber of Commerce State of the Region was a huge success. Over 650 community and business leaders were in attendance, and it was great to hear about the state of our county as well as our neighbor Hilton Head Island.
I wanted to follow up on one item I spoke about, and that is the next generation of Bluffton and the positive impact local mentoring programs have had on our students. It is amazing to see the high school students’ enthusiasm for our town and towards their studies, and it is showing in the statistics from the school district.
Bluffton is definitely growing, with two high schools, one pre-K-8, two middle schools and five elementary schools—and all of our schools continue to raise the bar. Okatie and Red Cedar Elementary are proud to be two of South Carolina’s best schools, named “Palmetto’s Finest.” The remaining elementary schools are always ranked very high from the district’s and the state’s “School Report Card.” Bluffton High School is the district’s AP performer with 71 percent of our AP students scoring high enough for college credit in 2016. This high school was also named seventh best high school in South Carolina by US News & World Report, and twelfth most challenging high school in South Carolina by The Washington Post.
I give a lot of credit for these statistics to the many volunteers who have provided constant focus and mentoring to these students over the years. Groups like the Rotary Club, Boys and Girls Club, Real Champions, First Zion Missionary Baptist Church of Bluffton, Officer Lauren Brown’s mentoring group, and many more have all given their time to help our students. I see the efforts of this hard work in our high school students today. Take a walk down the halls of either May River or Bluffton High, and you will see young people who are energized and focused on doing their best in their studies and in the community.
One of the programs taking place at Bluffton High is “Molding Men of Bluffton.” This is an idea from the football coach, Ken Cribb; I, along with Mike Covert, Kevin Sevier, Matt Hart, Ron Kirby and Bridgette Frazier joined his efforts. The premise for this is that the community and business leaders in our town feed the varsity players each Wednesday, and along with the meal, they hear a message from one of the participants. I have been so impressed by how these young men respond and engage with these people with whom they would normally not come in contact. This is a program I want to take to May River High next year, and believe it is important for all of our schools to adopt. If you want to be a part of this program, or if you want suggestions on how this can be implemented in another school, don’t hesitate to contact me. I am happy to advise.