May River protection emerges as top goal during Bluffton retreat

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May River protection emerges as top goal during Bluffton retreat

By CASSIE FOSS cfoss@islandpacket.com 843-706-8125
Published Saturday, January 23, 2010   |  604 Words  |  news

If one theme emerged from Bluffton's first goal-setting workshop and retreat, it was this: Celebrating, preserving and protecting the May River and working to improve its water quality is a top priority for Town Council and staff.
"We're all on the same page with this," said Mayor Lisa Sulka.
Bluffton's elected officials and town employees met Friday and Saturday at The Inn at Palmetto Bluff for a consultant-led planning session to create short-term plans and a long-term vision for the town.
"The priority is to preserve and protect the river and have a funding mechanism in place that will support these initiatives," said Town Council member Fred Hamilton. "I was already convinced, but I'm surprised and pleased that it was the same for other council members."
Participants also reviewed accomplishments from the past year, focused on creating a mission for the town and came up with topics for future workshops.
Hamilton said the Buck Island and Simmonsville roads sewer and affordable housing projects were some of the major successes of 2009.
The town spent a total of about $15,000 on the retreat, Town Manager Anthony Barrett said. The cost at the inn was $5,000, including meals for staff and council and lodging for elected officials and Barrett.
"Palmetto Bluff has been wonderful to work with and has been kind enough to discount their prices at the six-star resort," Barrett said .
The town spent an additional $9,700 to hire Lyle Sumek, the consultant who led Hilton Head Island's retreat last year, to guide the brainstorming exercises and help participants set short- and long-term goals. His fee included travel and preparation time, pre-retreat interviews with elected officials and staff and a working session with staff, Barrett said.
Funding for the retreat will be charged to the operating budget of each town department, and assistant town managers will earmark the funds, he said.
Elected officials and town staff identified overall priorities for the coming years in order of importance. The May was number one. Others included:

  • Creating a livable, sustainable community
  • Ensuring town government has excellent service and is financially responsible
  • Economic expansion and diversification
  • Upgrading town infrastructure and facilities.
    Town Council members also drew up a list of top priorities for this year. They include:
  • Expanding sustainable, primary job opportunities for local residents
  • Addressing water quality in the May and creating regulations to protect it
  • Updating the town's zoning code
  • Leveraging town resources through grants and partnerships
  • Improving community outreach and information
  • Continuing with plans for a new Law Enforcement Center
  • Continuing improvements to the historic district's infrastructure and streetscape projects
  • Working with other Lowcountry governments as well as the county and utility companies who provide municipal services to improve services to residents
  • Promoting and taking action on a strategy to build community unity
    Among the high priorities for the future are:
  • Attracting new businesses that are consistent with town plans
  • Reviewing the town's debt, financial policies and maintenance fund
  • Considering community policing programs
  • Supporting minority-owned businesses and creating opportunities for them to thrive
    Council members were also interested in continuing plans for affordable housing units and developing Project East at Buckwalter Place.
    Town council will decide if they want to hold a public summit to get input from citizens before the plan is drafted.
    A meeting will be held in February to present the plan to the public.