Perhaps it’s not a miracle, but it is unexpectedly good news.
Despite the shutdown / lockdown / stay-at-home orders impacting the whole country, the Town of Pawleys Island had a better April for A-Tax revenue than it did last year.
Town Council members had asked Administrator Ryan Fabbri to provide them with an estimate of anticipated loss in revenue, because so many rental reservations were cancelled. Instead of a loss, however, Fabbri told Council members during the Monday, May 18 “virtual” meeting that revenues for the month of April were up over a year ago.
Fabbri has talked with people from several property rental companies.
“Most everyone said most of their reservations have been rebooked, so most folks have told me they don’t expect much of a loss,” Fabbri said. “There’s a possibility we don’t lose any A-Tax (Accommodations) revenue for this year.”
“As of now our General Fund balance will be about $1 million at the end of the year,” Fabbri said. “If everything goes as expected, we will have about $453,000 in the Beach Fund.”
“That’s good,” Councilman Guerry Green said, “but what happens if we have a second round in the Fall?”
Mayor Brian Henry said a rental company he talked with told him they are up, compared to a year ago.
Councilman Ashley Carter said “My house is booked solid for the entire summer, except for two weeks around July 4 which I block out. I get calls about every day from people looking for rentals.”
Henry said, “I hear you Guerry. I share that concern. I think Ryan has supplied a good bit of data. I think people are anxious to get out. You saw it this past weekend, with the number of people that were out there. Traffic Saturday was on fire, in a good way. It’s encouraging,” he said.
In his police report, Chief Mike Fanning said “We had complaints, but we didn’t issue any citations. We didn’t have any repeat offenders.” Fanning was talking about people who had gathered in groups and weren’t following the six-feet-apart social distancing guidelines.
There was also a larceny of a bike, but it was returned.
“We had multiple tickets for parking” over the weekend, Fanning said. There were three arrests for narcotics, calls for parking and for a disturbance. “It was a pretty busy weekend.”
“As soon as we opened up the beaches, the weather has been good. There are only X amount of places to park on the island … If there are no places to park, they have to leave.”
Council members approved paying an invoice from CSE (Coastal Science and Engineering) for the month of March for $47,426.02. This is for their work overseeing the beach renourishment project.
Seaspray Homes LLC did some repair work to the Old Town Hall, and Council approved paying their bill for $5,192.
Council gave first reading approval to an ordinance to amend the budget. That’s a sort of “housekeeping” ordinance to reflect the ways money has been spent since the budget was approved in December.
New emergency ordinance
Council members gave their approval to pass a new emergency ordinance for the Town of Pawleys Island.
“This simply replaces the original emergency ordinance,” Fabbri said. “It extends (the emergency provisions) for 60 days.”
Town Hall was opened back up to the public on Monday. The new ordinance “allows us to close or change hours if need be. Also, it says we follow or comply with the Governor’s executive orders.”
In another action, Council agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Town and Santee Cooper.
This is in relation to the underground wiring project that was completed about two years ago.
In past years, Santee Cooper – the state-owned utility – has paid a franchise fee to the Town. Under the MOU, Santee Cooper will keep the franchise fees over time until the money the Town owes the utility is paid back. Santee Cooper had covered up-front costs for the underground wiring project. This MOU allows that debt to be paid off through the franchise fees, rather than the Town having to use its fund balance to pay the costs now.
“Condemnation of property” for appraisals
Council members voted unanimously to invoke the Town’s power of eminent domain in order to get surveys and easements on four lots near the South End of the island.
Rocky Holliday asked that Fabbri go over the purpose of the easements and what the Town has done about getting the easements.
At one point, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was going to do the beach renourishment project. That ended up not happening. As the Town got closer to getting beach renourishment underway, the Town asked the 113 property owners in the affected area to agree to an easement for doing the work of putting sand on the beach.
Most agreed right away, Fabbri said, but there were a few who didn’t want to agree. As of Monday, only four of the 113 property owners had not agreed to the easements.
Fabbri said he’s been working with these property owners and others for more than a year, and all but these four have agreed to the easements.
He described it as being somewhat like an insurance policy.
The Corps has said that if the easements are obtained, then in any future storm event or erosion, the Corps would do such future project and the Town would only have to pay the local matching fund amount. Without the easements on all the properties, the Corps will not agree to that future beach renourishment project.
The Corps will pay for a sand fence and sea oats for the current project.
“The real value comes in the sense that we would be an Army Corps project,” Fabbri said.
Hurricane season is coming.
“If we were to have a hurricane this August, say, and it were to wipe out all of our work,” the Town would have to pay for fixing it.
“If we were in the Army Corps program, they would restore our project to the way it was when we finished a couple of months ago.”
“It’s like an insurance policy. It would not cost us a cent,” Fabbri said.
Town attorney David Durant said it would be good if the property owners would voluntarily sign the easement agreements, but he can’t make them sign. “So, we have to avail ourselves of this process,” Durant said. “It’s not a ‘taking.’ It’s more of an added value. That’s pretty much what the property appraisal would say.”
“I need to go ahead and advise these folks, that we are going to condemn their property for easements. It doesn’t take their property. It adds value to it,” Durant said.
“If everyone in town signs but these four homeowners, it will cost everyone in town” for a future restoration project.
Council member Sarah Zimmerman said, “I think it’s also important to say, once we have the easements, it’s good for how many years?”
The agreement with the Corps is for 45 years, Fabbri said. “It also includes periodic renourishment, every nine years, on a 50-50 cost share basis.”
Green asked about communicating with these people.
“I’ve spent a considerable amount of time on this,” Fabbri said. He’s talked with the homeowners and these four haven’t signed the easements.
“These last four, these are people that I’ve been talking to for a year and a half. This has been something we’ve been talking back and forth,” he said.
“They don’t owe us an explanation. But, they don’t see the benefit. They won’t sign.”
“This is our last resort.”
Henry said he’s also talked with the people and had the Army Corps talk with them as well.
“They’ve made their decisions. We have to make ours.”
“I don’t take this decision lightly,” Henry said. “But, we have an obligation … One of the most important things we’ve talked about, is how are we going to pay for beach renourishment?”
“This is an immense opportunity for us,” Henry said.
Council members unanimously approved the resolution to proceed with the legal action and exercising eminent domain for the easements.
In other matters, Council:
• Agreed to have a Fourth of July Parade
• Will have a Town Council strategic planning session, tentatively set for Saturday, June 13. People may come to that meeting if they want to, Henry said.