August 2011

August 2011: Mayor - Hilton Head and Bluffton

Author: Drew Laughlin and Lisa Sulka | Photographer: Photography by Anne

The Tide is Turning on Hilton Head Island

Over the last year or so, some said that the tide was on its way out on Hilton Head Island. We were losing the Heritage Golf Tournament; we were losing visitors; our residential and commercial structures were getting tired; and nothing was being done about any of it! Anyone who has experienced the awesome power of the tides knows that the force they create is difficult to navigate against. Residents of our island, town officials and town volunteers, the business community and active residents chose not to go with the tide, but to meet it head-on. Here’s how the tide is turning:

The Heritage Classic Foundation Board, for example, led by Chairman Simon Fraser along with Tournament Director Steve Wilmot, worked tirelessly for two years with the PGA, local, state (Governor Haley), and federal officials to secure a title sponsor for the benefit of our island. The odds were stacked against the effort.

The Hilton Head Island Town Council chose to make securing the Heritage a top priority and ultimately committed to a five-year funding plan as a third sponsor, if you will. For our commitment, advertising on CBS and the Golf Channel will promote the island and more. The number of people involved in trying to land sponsors was widespread, and it supports the notion that we all recognize the tournament’s importance to the community’s non-profits, students, and business community. The last Heritage was non-sponsored and had to rely on its last nickels and dimes along with town support. It can be said that the tournament faced a riptide, but thanks to the Heritage Foundation and community, it was one of the best tournaments ever. Navigating against the odds and tide for two years wasn’t easy, however, the job was done and the fortitude showed by all represented the will of this island like no issue in recent history.

Advertising/marketing efforts are producing results, and we’re seeing higher occupancy and rental rates. From 2010-2011, we’ve seen a slight uptick in the number of business licenses issued by the town. We’re seeking ways to improve cell service island-wide. Additionally, the island has received numerous accolades published in national magazines.

In order to foster greater flexibility and simplicity in our land management ordinance (LMO) to aid in revitalizing our community, Council created a citizen committee that will make recommendations to help chart our future. Council is seeking ways to make our island more attractive and encourage private investment. Changing the LMO in such a way that it balances protection of our natural resources and aesthetics with development and redevelopment may feel as though we are swimming against the tide, however, swim we will until the job gets done. Opportunities for major changes exist at the Coligny Circle area and perhaps the Mall at Shelter Cove.

While we’ve faced and are facing challenging and hard issues, we’ve proven we can turn the tide, no matter the issue.

As in the past two issues of CB2, I am discussing each of our five goals that were updated in this year’s strategic planning retreat. Goals one and two are: Celebrate the May River and Livable, Sustainable Community. This month I will speak about goal number three, Town Government: Excellent Services, Financially Responsible.

Objectives include balanced budgets providing resources to support defined services and service levels; town services delivered in the most cost effective, efficient manner; more diverse revenue sources for funding town services and infrastructure; improved customer service and satisfaction by town government; and to keep reserves consistent with town policies.

Some accomplishments pertaining to this goal include: – Adopted a long term plan and focus – Achieved a balanced budget in tough economic times – Received our first municipal bond rating: AA—Standard and Poor’s – Refinanced our tax increment bonds, saving $644,000 in interest – Set high customer service standards – Funded our law enforcement center without a tax increase – Restructured growth management and engineering departments to increase effectiveness – Received the CAFRE award for the third year in a row—the highest award given to a government entity in the area of finance

In addition, the town will be issuing its first popular annual financial report (PAFR) this October to inform citizens about the Town of Bluffton—its operations, services and programs, and its financial condition. The report will summarize the financial information presented in the comprehensive annual financial report (CAFR), and will be prepared in a user-friendly manner. This can be a tool to attract new residents and local businesses to what makes Bluffton a great place to live and work. Sections on local demographics as well as information on local schools, hospitals and transportation will be included. Also listed are sections on area parks and nature trails, listings of public interest spots, including art galleries, museums, and local festivals. The report will also highlight services provided by the Town of Bluffton and spotlight what has been happening here over the last year. Our report will be posted on the town’s website,, and will be available at Town Hall as well.

  1. I am confused. Nothing new for those that know me, but is there a new sponsor or not? If not, then how has all this “proven we can turn the tide?”

    — Jeff SKI Kinsey    Jul 30, 08:37 am   

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