Bluffton council approves 2012-2013 budget

gmartin@islandpacket.comJune 12, 2012 

Bluffton Town Council unanimously approved a $16.3-million budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 at its monthly meeting Tuesday.

The budget maintains services and increases the size of the town staff slightly without raising property taxes.

It also includes a 3-percent "cost-of-living" raise -- the first in four years -- for the town's 99 employees.

The raise will cost about $90,000 and begin in the first pay period of December.

The budget also allocates money for May River water-quality improvements, streetscape upgrades in Old Town, and sewer-line extensions on Buck Island Road.Town manager Anthony Barrett "came into this county and could have easily said, 'We need to raise the millage,' " Mayor Lisa Sulka said before the budget vote. "But he knew our feelings, and worked tirelessly along with his staff ... through probably the worst times we've ever seen to really tighten the belt."

Later, Police Chief David McAllister, who will retire in August to take a job in security in Atlanta, proposed two amendments to the town's municipal code, which will be discussed at an upcoming council workshop.

McAllister advocated a new ordinance against loitering, which he said was becoming a problem.

"We've had a variety of complaints from various businesses claiming that people are on their property and they don't want them there ... and it's just kind of causing some angst," he said, citing Publix as one business that recently posted signs near its entrances to combat the problem.

McAllister said the current code leaves his officers with few options other than issuing a trespass violation -- which would ban violators from visiting the business in the future -- a punishment he said often is unwarranted.

"That's sort of bringing a hammer to deal with something that might need something a little softer," he explained.

McAllister also proposed what he called a "disorderly or nuisance premise" ordinance to penalize owners of property where fighting or unruly conduct are frequent. Owners of property to which officers are called three or more times within six months for separate violations may receive a written notice to "abate the nuisance" within 30 days or face misdemeanor charges.

In other action, Susan Thomas, vice president of the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce's Visitor and Convention Bureau, updated council on the upcoming installation of four billboards along Interstate 95 that promote Bluffton as a tourist destination. She characterized the efforts as targeting "affluent consumers."

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