Budget Conversations. The Case for Sanitary Sewer

Ask anyone in my family, I relish a good ride. Here on Hilton Head Island, we enjoy a fine array of excursions on ocean’s waves, calm inlets and marshes, leisure paths, wooded trails, and even through the air on Ziplines and parasails. During March, I will enjoy some unique rides. I have the honor to sit in a 1966 Lincoln Continental for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and anticipate a grand trolley tour at the Heritage Library’s Hilton Head Island History Day. As your new mayor, perhaps the most compelling trip this month will be the commencement of the fiscal year 2016 budget cycle excursion.

Together, you and I, the Town Staff and the Town Council will embark upon a multi-month journey of discussions and workshops to advantageously prioritize spending, culminating in the Town’s FY16 Budget effective July 1st, 2015. Be assured, I have deliberately acquired knowledge about funding sources, requirements, Town operations and other topics necessary to engage in this process. I have sought input, advice and assistance from wise, talented citizens who volunteer time and expertise to research, gather data, and interview key people and organizations in matters pertaining to the success of our community. It’s vital to work with real tools and knowledge, not fuzzy numbers and fear.

Last December, Town Council established priorities, including delivery of sanitary sewer service to citizens who desire it. Why are sewers a priority? What should be the Town’s role and goal for those un-served areas of our community currently draining sewage into the ground upon which they stand? If a universal and sound sewer system protects the environment, are we remaining true to our environmental stewardship legacy when sewage seeps into our sandy soil in high seasonal water table areas?

As a developer, I know sanitary sewer access promotes economic activity. It increases values of real estate (our Town’s largest economic driver) and invites additional improvements. These in turn increase available housing choices.

Providing sanitary sewer access to citizens who desire it is the right thing to do. But budgeting only the average annual amount of Town committed capital spent over the last seven fiscal years will result in the completion of this project by roughly 2039 (assuming no increase in cost of labor and materials). And, Hilton Head Island has limited large tracts of land remaining, which makes the “Growth Pays for Growth” sewer policy we currently follow insufficient to complete the sewer system.

What are some real options? A State Revolving Fund currently has sufficient capital to lend to our PSD’s to complete our sanitary sewer project as quickly as we secure necessary easements and design and install the improvements. Terms are 2% interest with a 30-year amortization. This equates to an annual cost of less than $400,000 with no impact on local property taxes. Additionally, the Hilton Head PSD may contribute some required capital, further reducing the cost. This is a priority we can accomplish!

Finally, I invite you to ride the internet with me! I’ve established a website you may use to stay in touch and participate in surveys.

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