Bluffton council retreat makes some progress, to reconvene

achristnovich@islandpacket.comMarch 9, 2012 

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Bluffton Town Council got through four of five talking points during its annual retreat Friday before deciding to stop and reconvene later this month.

Members discussed creating more jobs and businesses, town sustainability, cleaning up the May River and improving government services.

Council has yet to discuss the fifth topic -- infrastructure and facilities. Officials need to talk about all five topics before voting on the top 10 priorities for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts July 1.

The first action the group took Friday was to rank the five talking points in order of importance.

Economic growth topped the list while the May River -- which was no. 1 at the 2010 retreat -- was ranked third.

Discussion ran longest on the jobs and businesses category and included questions on how much the town should rely on tourism and special events for revenues.

Councilman and Bluffton BBQ owner Ted Huffman said merchants count on the business generated by tourism and special events.

"Festivals are part of our soul and just as important as the May River or any other priority," he said. "Tourism around here is going to change real soon if the casino (in Hardeeville) happens. ... As a merchant in old town, I love the day trippers."

But some members said it was about more than festivals.

Members said they wanted the Buckwalter Place plan to play a larger role in bringing new technology-based businesses to the area. The town has partnered with CareCore National and Clemson University to open a business incubator at Buckwalter Place

"We can't drive the city of Bluffton on those festivals," councilman Michael Raymond said. "I think we should be the economic engine for this county."

Council also heard a presentation on the May River Action Plan by town engineers Bob Fletcher and Ron Bullman. Fletcher said town staff came up with a rough, 12-year plan to complete more than 40 watershed projects. The total cost is expected to be between $20 million and $40 million, Fletcher said.

Town manager Anthony Barrett stressed the importance of narrowing the focus in attacking problems on the river.

"I want to talk about what we can be committed to next year to kick this off," he said. "We need to be aware that we're getting into real dollars here and we're not just talking about it anymore."

The retreat began at 8 a.m. Friday, but by 5 p.m. members had gotten to few specifics.

Council set March 21 as the tentative date to resume the discussion.

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May River protection emerges as top goal during Bluffton retreat, Jan. 23, 2010

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