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Bill Rauch

How to be a great mother-in-law

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The funeral service for my mother-in-law, Peggy Sanford Peyton, was held last week.

I’m certain there are a lot of guys who in their private-most thoughts have been good with seeing their mothers-in-law put 6-feet under, especially in those cases where in her later years the mother-in-law had moved in.

I’m not one of them.

In the course of the recent services and receptions and other gatherings since Peg’s (we called her “Peg”) passing, I’ve been asked about how it was to live with her.

Here’s the secret to her success. 

Peg spent a couple of years as a single woman in New York at the Juilliard School during World War II, and four years as a single American woman completing her schooling in Paris in the years immediately after World War II. She didn’t speak much about those years, but I suspect she saw a lot of life at a crucial time in her life then. Being a sophisticated person means a lot more than knowing which dress or necktie to wear, when to pick up which fork, the difference between prosecco and rococo and Chopin and Cezanne. It also means having seen situations that look good go bad, and finding to your surprise things that start badly that end up well.

That was Peg. A sophisticated woman, she had seen too much to be caught off-base. She was devotedly non-judgmental.

What she wanted from life was just, well … life. Peg loved parties because she loved action. That’s what brought the glint to the eye. 

There’s more.

As a grandmother, she understood that her children and their spouses were already fully-baked. So she concentrated on her grandchildren, of which as her years increased she had many. In this pursuit Peg had one speed only: full blast positive. In her eyes her grandchildren could do no wrong. One sobbing in wet pants and diapers, the other caked in mud and spitting mad, these were the very best children in the firmament.

There’s more.

Peg pitched in. Even when you knew she hurt (and she would never say she did) she would clear tables, fold laundry, put things right. It was easy to say to her with utter sincerity that she’d put in her time raising four children, that now it was time for her to rest and for the children and the grandchildren to pick up the slack. It didn’t matter. If there was something to be done, Peg was on it. But she never kept score the way some people — especially children — do. It was never “Well I just emptied the dishwasher, so how about you feed the dogs.”

Not once.

Then there was the piano. When it comes to live-in grandparents, war heroes should occasionally tell war stories, ballplayers should when the time’s right play ball with the kids, great cooks should from time to time show the uninitiated around the kitchen, and musicians should in moderation play their favorite music. A concert pianist, Peg could knock out Chopin, Bach, Mozart and Rachmaninoff tunes right up to the end. If her memory sometimes let her down, her piano never did.

We’re the worse for your leaving us, Peg. But there’s a coming home party and a bunch of your long-lost pals awaiting you where you’re going. 

Bill Rauch was the mayor of Beaufort from 1999-2008. Email Bill at TheRauchReport@gmail.com.

The Greenies are at the gates but interim solutions falter

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By Bill Rauch

Last week — which slipped by largely unnoticed — was a pivotal week in one of the great dramas of our time.

To begin the story modestly, driving home I noticed that one of my neighbors is installing solar panels on his roof. The word has also circulated recently that a solar farm is going in where there is now farmland at the end of the road. Sailing in the northeast last summer, we saw what was described as a highly successful wind farm off Block Island in the Long Island Sound. Driving through the west we saw wind farms that went on for miles.

Even SCE&G is now on board. They’re building a 6,156-panel solar farm on land adjacent to their headquarters in Cayce, according to a news release the company issued last week. The facility will come online in November, the company said.

Energy generation from sustainable sources is working.  And not just because of subsidies and tax breaks. The technologies, while continuing constantly to be improved, are now financially feasible.

But there’s still one big problem: when the wind dies, or the rains come, or night falls, the generators stop. And the technology that would permit the storing of sufficient energy — the batteries with the capacity to store and provide adequate power when the generators are off — power enough to energize our homes and businesses aren’t there yet. A Bloomberg New Energy Finance report published last week predicted $239 billion will be spent worldwide on lithium-ion batteries by 2040. This money will go largely to batteries we charge during peak times to power our homes and businesses and cars during the off-peak times, the report said.

Those technologies, when taken together — wind, solar, lithium-ion batteries — will begin to move us in a substantial way away from our current fossil fuel dependence.

But that is then and this is now.

The scientific community says in virtual unison that now is the time to get off the fossil fuels that provide inestimable comfort to our lives. Study after study finds there is a clear nexus between fossil fuel use and sea level rise. And the seas are demonstrably rising. Heeding the warnings, the Democrats in both the U.S. Senate and the California General Assembly are calling for a full transition to renewable energy sources. 

The greenies are at the gates.

Marked sea level rise threatens chaos in ways unimaginable. What if not chaos would result from the federal government, for example, announcing that in the out years FEMA won’t continue to offer flood insurance for oceanfront lots? Who of sound mind thinks the private sector might then step in to save the day? How many trillions in real estate values would be lost that day? And that’s just in the USA.

Regrettably wind and solar — now each growing like gangbusters — aren’t ready yet to pick up the slack. Neither certainly is their infant clean energy cousin, biothermal.

That leaves clean coal and nuclear that might provide the clean bridge to the clean future, which is what prompted me to write about this subject today. Their respective prospects each took a beating last week.

South Carolina Electric and Gas (SCE&G) and its partner, Santee Cooper, are billions of dollars over budget and only about 38 percent complete at their jointly-owned state-of-the-art V.C.Sumner 1&2 nuclear plants near Jenkinsville in the Midlands. SCE&G has already raised their rates across the board by about 20 percent to pay for the beleaguered project. The company’s customers (us) now pay more for a kilowatt hour of electricity than any other public electrical utility customers this side of Las Vegas. To make things worse, now SCE&G and Santee Cooper’s contractor for the project, The Westinghouse Electric Company, recently sought bankruptcy protection. SCE&G and Santee Cooper told the Public Service Commission last week that they’ll take until Aug. 10 to decide whether to go it alone building the two new reactors, or scale the project back to one new reactor, or scuttle it altogether.

The company’s customers have already pitched in $1.4 billion of the $7.7 billion they (we) are now scheduled to pay under a recently-negotiated settlement agreement. If the utilities scrap the project, that money (our money) is gone. It was invested in a dinosaur farm. 

Meanwhile, last week the largest “clean coal” facility in the U.S. announced it would no longer burn coal to generate electricity, and that it would instead power the plant with natural gas. The Southern Company and Mississippi Power, the plant’s owners, will not turn on the “coal gasification” portion of their long-heralded Kemper County Power Plant, the companies said in a joint statement. This was the technology that was supposed to make coal clean. Now gone like the dinosaurs.

So if nuclear and clean coal aren’t going to provide the needed cleaner bridge to the future, what might?

Last week it was also announced that dichloromethane levels have doubled in the stratosphere since 2004. 

What are they and why do they matter?

Dichloromethanes are the little-regulated active ingredient in adhesives and industrial strength solvents that are used for stripping paint and degreasing kitchen, factory and automotive equipment. According to a British study reported on last week in the scientific journal Nature Communications, the dichloromethane gasses that are released when these adhesives and solvents are used both deplete the ozone layer (which had been reportedly healing itself as of late) and — the study says — they also trap heat in the atmosphere that contributes significantly to global warming.

Since wrestling the chlorofluorocarbons to the ground at the beginning of this century, we’ve needed a new villain, a villain less central to our collective comfort than are the fossil fuels. Dichloromethanes may be it. Limiting their use might help buy some of the time needed to improve, build and distribute the batteries so that the energy derived from wind and solar can be stored.

Maybe there’s still hope we’ll avoid the chaos.

It was plenty hot enough in Beaufort last week. We lathered the boys in SPF 50 sunblock before they went off to their soccer camp. And, yes, the tides seeping silently up into the yard were plenty high enough too. 

Bill Rauch was the mayor of Beaufort from 1999-2008. Email Bill at TheRauchReport@gmail.com.

To run or not to run? That is the question

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By Bill Rauch

’Tis apparently the season for prospective candidates for local public office to make up their minds whether it’s “Go” or “No” for them in the upcoming election season.

I know this because I have heard from several who are making up their minds.

Depending upon how experienced they are and how well I know them, my advice has varied a little, but not much.

Here’s the short course.

If there’s something you believe the community needs, and you have the fire in your belly to clear all the hurdles to get it for them, then run. Tell the voters what you’re going to do for them, how you’re going to do it, why they need it, and how they can help you. If they agree, they may give you the job.

The candidates who step into office with clear direction find the job the most rewarding.

Next in line in terms of personal satisfaction are the ideologues. These are the ones who know precisely what the world needs — e.g. government spends too much, or society will be better if the poor get a firmer hand up, or the environment needs protecting at all costs — and they won’t be deterred by alternative arguments. Since ideologues know they are always right, they derive relatively little angst from the difficulties of leadership and thusly find satisfaction in it.

Then there are those who bring with them a special skill set that they believe — probably correctly — the government needs. They may be experienced in running government or in the proper protocols at the intersections of government and business. Or maybe they know from long experience the workings of state or federal agencies that implement transportation, or environmental or business development policy. 

These candidates are problem-solvers, and government can always use problem-solvers.

These are the ones, listed in the order of the satisfaction they’re likely to gain from their service, who should run. Let’s call these three groups — the directed, the ideologues, and the problem-solvers — collectively the “above the line” groups.

These are the ones who are most likely to get things done for their constituents. And, betraying my own prejudices a little, to me getting the things done that the constituents want done is what it’s all about. 

Then there are the three groups who should not run. Members of these groups will seek to disguise themselves as members of the “above the line” groups, but when you query them closely you may find you are not fooled and they in fact belong more appropriately to one or more of the three “below the line” groups.

What are the “below the line” groups? 

First, it’s important to know that their members are just as eager — perhaps even more so — as the above-the-liners.

A few of those who seek elective office do so because they want to enrich themselves. Sometimes they make a little money, but then they get found out and defending themselves often costs more than they made. Certainly it costs them their reputations. Most importantly, since it is not their priority, they accomplish little for the constituency.

Others run because they seek fame, and while they may gain some celebrity the question will soon become, “For what?”  If there’s no “there” there, then they become known as what? An empty shirt. 

Finally the most frustrated of all the below-the-liners are the ones who wish to be loved. Some of those you serve will be obsequious around you of course because they naturally — and justifiably — fear the government, and now you are the government’s face. But not all.

The stark tragedy for this group is when they meet a hundred people and 99 smile at them and say kind things, the one they remember is the one who sniffed at them.

And there are always more than a few of those.

These slights may cause these officials sleepless nights, but what about their constituents?

Getting things done in government means inevitably someone somewhere will be made unhappy. There are no solutions that benefit absolutely everybody. Accordingly, the ones that want to be loved by everybody don’t accomplish anything for the constituency. 

Ultimately they are then unhappy because someone slighted them, and the constituency is unhappy because time and again when the official was about to get something done, he flinched.

Bill Rauch was the mayor of Beaufort from 1999-2008. Email Bill at TheRauchReport@gmail.com.

This is why I live in Beaufort

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Young Henry Futch

Photo above: Henry Futch in 2003. Photos courtesy of Diane Futch.

By Bill Rauch

Henry Futch was just 5 years old when he left Beaufort in 2004.

But the boy and Beaufort went through some tough times together, the kind of tough times that bring out the best in the best.

When Henry was 4 and in Mrs. Clancy’s class at the Sea Island Presbyterian Pre-school, his parents learned he had a rare form of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. 

Initially the doctors said the cancer was just in his throat, but then they said it was Stage 3/4 because it was all over the boy’s kidneys too.

Henry’s mom and dad, Diane and Lee Futch, then Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort’s comptroller and a very recently retired squadron commander at MCAS-Beaufort respectively, moved little Henry up to Charleston to the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) to fight the fight. The doctors there said, “We think if he can survive the chemotherapy treatments, he’ll survive the disease.”

The fight to eradicate the 4-year-old boy’s cancer  — including sky-high chemo doses and many, many blood transfusions — went on for about six months in late 2002 and early 2003. 

“We had always gone to church and prayed before meals,” Diane Futch recalled last week, ”but this strengthened our faith. It brought our lives into perspective. Our faith brought us the strength we needed.” 

Beaufort joined in. 

One Sunday school class all reached into their pockets and pooled their change, which they gave to Henry’s mom explaining: We know how it is at hospitals, you need lots of change for those vending machines. Others brought covered dishes by, or took treats with them when they went to Charleston to check on Henry and his family.

Col. Harmon Stockwell, MCAS-Beaufort’s commanding officer, cut his comptroller innumerable breaks during this period so that she could be at her son’s bedside.

Henry was hanging in there, the doctors reported.

The Futches lived at Burckmyer Beach and their neighbors there, organized and drilled by that consummate doctor’s wife (and doctor’s mother), Sue Collins, became family. 

“I can’t tell you how the community embraced us … supported us,” Henry’s mom said last week. “I cannot imagine going through something like that anywhere else.” 

In the midst of his treatments Henry came home for Christmas. He was very weak. But as always, he was upbeat, smiling and optimistic.

Clancy’s husband, Beaufort Police Chief Matt Clancy, who was in 2002 a major with the department, arranged to get a police department uniform for Henry and an official-looking police ID with Henry’s name and photo on it. 

With Santa riding shotgun in his PD SUV, the day before Christmas Matt Clancy drove out the Futches’ house at Burckmyer where Santa fitted Henry out with the uniform and ID, and Major Clancy swore in Officer Henry Futch. Then the group went on patrol over to the Lady’s Island Airport where they had arranged for the PD’s plain clothes victim advocate to run a stop sign.

It was up to Officer Futch to decide whether to throw the book at the offender or give him another chance. Characteristically citing the joy of the Christmas season, Henry wrote the stop sign runner a warning.

Then it was back to business in Charleston — but now always in uniform.

Rank, as we all know, has its privileges. The Burger King by MUSC extended to Officer Futch their first responder discount, and the nurses and doctors snapped off salutes to him when they passed him in the corridors.

About six weeks after Christmas the boy turned the corner. The doctors said he was clear, and he’s been clear ever since.

Where is Henry now? On a hunting trip with his dad to mark his graduation last week from the Cedar Creek School in Ruston, La.

Set to report later this month, Henry Futch has accepted an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., where by tradition he will be sworn in by one of his U.S. Marine Corps-retired parents.

Bill Rauch was the mayor of Beaufort from 1999-2008. Email Bill at TheRauchReport@gmail.com.

Henry last week as he graduated from high school.
Henry last week as he graduated from high school.

Taxpayers got snookered on Lafayette Street

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Lafayette St.

Photo above: The Lafayette Street Cottages as they appeared last week: no curbs, no sidewalks, no street lamps.

By Bill Rauch

The PALS baseball season is in full swing and the Beaufort Police Department is doing their job patrolling the parking at Pigeon Point’s Basil Green Complex.

That’s news because this year there is no parking there. In 2012, the city of Beaufort sold — no, excuse me, GAVE AWAY — the city-owned Lafayette Street parking area back in the days when the mayor’s message of the season was that the city needs “workforce housing.”

It did and still does.

It has taken five years to see the buildings go up there, and over that period there have been many excuses offered for what finally became a political fiasco. But now this baseball season with buildings on the old parking site there’s no place to park. Adding insult to injury, the buildings are not, as was promised, either “workforce” or “affordable.”

There is still one townhouse there available … for $279,500, according to the Beaufort County Association of Realtors’ Multiple Listing Service. A couple of the ones that are now under contract were sold for $300,000-plus, real estate professionals say.

The median sales price for a Northern Beaufort County home in April 2017 was $217,500, according to the Beaufort County Association of Realtors’ website.

So what do we know about what went wrong with the city’s workforce housing project that turned out to be a luxury housing project?

First, for reasons that have never been adequately explained, the city put the project out to bid and then when the bids came in they didn’t take the high bid. In doing so they left at least $50,000 of the taxpayers’ money on the table, according to people who are familiar with the project’s bids.

That’s just the beginning.

The property that was the subject of the bidding was four adjacent Lafayette Street lots, or nearly an acre, facing on a park. If the city had wished simply to liquidate the ball field’s parking area, they could have auctioned it off and gotten up to $200,000, real estate professionals say, especially considering that those bidders would have been assured by the city, as were the bidders who answered the 2012 Request for Proposals (RFP), that the four lots could be subdivided into six.  

The city took the haircut (in that they received nothing for the land, the transaction might better be described as a “head-shaving”) because its leadership thought — or at least they said they thought — they were subsidizing a workforce housing project, meaning broadly that the townhomes to be built there would be affordable for nurses, or firefighters or teachers. 

The 2012 RFP is replete, for example, with affordable housing guidelines, definitions and other related financial information.

The city clearly provided the $200,000 subsidy so that the end product would be affordable. 

But bona fide workforce or affordable housing price points would be 35-45 percent of what the Lafayette Street units are selling for.

A 2014 city press release that was bragging on the results before the final sales prices were known tells it all: “City leaders, through the Beaufort Redevelopment Commission, in 2012 sought proposals from developers to create affordable and appropriate housing on the then city-owned vacant land.” 

As the project bogged down and became increasingly embarrassing, later portrayals sought to spin the project as one that was initiated by the city’s Redevelopment Commission, but the 2012 RFP is careful to state that “Final approval (of the bids) rests with the members of the City Council of the City of Beaufort at their sole discretion.”

Apparently there were no timelines or purchase price ceilings placed on the deeds or into the final contract of sale. Or if there were, there’s been no word to date of any lawsuit to be brought by the city to recover damages based on those breaches.

The 2012 RFP also called for streetscape improvements — e.g., streetlights, curbs and sidewalks — but there’s no sign of them either.

With all the expertise that is available to City Hall, real estate professionals ask, how could the city have gotten such a simple transaction so wrong?

The taxpayers may care, or maybe they’re used to it.

But the Basil Green fans really wish they still had a place to park when they go to watch the youngsters play ball.

Bill Rauch was the mayor of Beaufort from 1999-2008. Email Bill at TheRauchReport@gmail.com.

Woods Bridge crash reminds us there’s no traffic plan

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Oyster Bluff construction photo

Photo above: Walmart’s coming. So are more F-35’s and D.R.Horton homes — as pictured here last week at Oyster Bluff. But where’s the traffic plan?

By Bill Rauch

Last week a pick-up crashed on the Woods Bridge and knocked the bridge out for a day. As Port Royal Town Manager Van Willis likes to say: “When the Woods Bridge is down it’s chaos over here.”

“Over here” is the Port Royal approach to the McTeer Bridge, the only way on and off the islands when the Woods Bridge is down.

Never mind that the Beaufort mayor’s blog said the city council was “smelling the roses” last week. Good for them. The rest of us were bumper to bumper in the chaos and smelling one another’s exhaust.

Sure, the 1971 classic swing bridge is going to go down once in awhile, and there’s going to be some chaos. That’s not the problem.

The problem is new rooftops are going up fast on Lady’s Island, and there’s no action plan that addresses how the additional 2.4 cars per house will get across the Beaufort River. No plan. Not even a glimmer of a plan. The plan, if you can call it a plan,  is that there will be increasing chaos.

Let’s be clear. This issue is not new. There have been plans. Several.

Forty-six years ago in 1971, for example, the South Carolina Highway Department promulgated the BEAUTS (Beaufort Area Transportation Study) Plan that called for a by-pass — or “ring road,” as they call such things in Europe — all the way around  Beaufort, including a bridge at Brickyard.

But the powers that be at the time found the Brickyard portion of the plan infeasible. Bridges are costly, right?

Then, a generation later back in the late 1990s the Beaufort County Council member who then represented Lady’s Island, Mark Generales, got motivated. Standing up for his constituents, he said the afternoon traffic off the Woods Bridge in the afternoons was “intolerable.” 

The McTeer Bridge, Generales proclaimed, must be four-laned.

Never mind that the South Carolina Department of Traffic’s engineers, the county’s in-house traffic experts, and the Beaufort City Council all expressed their preference for the bridge at Brickyard instead, Councilman Generales had his way and the parallel bridge at McTeer was built only to find that the experts had been correct and that with the extra lanes available on the McTeer Bridge corridor there was no appreciable effect upon the situation at the Woods Bridge.

About that time Generales exited the scene and the city of Beaufort called for $5 million to be put on Beaufort County’s 2007 penny sales tax referendum for studying, engineering and buying right-of-way for a “third Beaufort River crossing,” wherever the experts that the county hired said it should be.

That penny tax measure passed and the county’s traffic consultants got with SCDOT and took another look at the situation. 

What they concluded was, surprise, that the solution to the Carteret Street/Woods Bridge/Sea Island Parkway congestion is to build a bridge at Brickyard and an improved corridor that would connect Sams Point Road to U.S. 21 just west of the Air Station.

Why? Because many of the occupants of the cars who cross the Woods Bridge are residents who live in Northern Beaufort County’s largest bedroom community, Lady’s Island, and who work at Northern Beaufort County’s largest employer, Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.

These people twice daily, and the million visitors a year to Hunting Island, and others would take the Brickyard Bridge.

Moreover, with more jets on the way the area’s largest employer is getting larger all the time. 

And with more houses being built on Lady’s Island there will be more homes there to accommodate the newcomers.

All they have to do is get there.

By the way, since the current Beaufort City Council has placed its top priority on business development, “traffic counts” are good for business, but traffic is not — which translated means one of government’s key responsibilities to the private sector is to keep the cars moving.

The 2009 study cost $500,000 and Beaufort’s mayor and council — in fact some of the same members who were smelling the roses last week — stood by in silence in 2010 while the other $4.5 million of the penny sales tax money that had been allocated to the third Beaufort River crossing was spent on road improvement projects in Bluffton.

So where does that leave us now? 

When there was resolve to build a bridge, for political reasons it was built in the wrong place. 

And now — irrespective of the pressures that are greater now than then — it appears there is insufficient resolve to put a bridge where for the past 46 years the traffic experts have been saying it should go.

Accordingly, with respect to traffic in Beaufort, it appears today there is nothing ahead except more.  

Bill Rauch was the mayor of Beaufort from 1999-2008. Email Bill at TheRauchReport@gmail.com.

Business watchdog faults Beaufort on crime

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By Bill Rauch

It is always a pleasure to hear from readers, especially when they get what you’re writing about and add to it a new dimension.

That happened last week.

After reading my recent column about the proposed Jasper County wind farm and its possible effects upon upcoming economic development efforts in Beaufort County a reader sent me the Palmetto Promise Institute’s April 2017 South Carolina Enterprise-friendly Cities Report, a first-of-its-kind analysis that ranks the state’s 50 most populous municipalities from the point of view of their attractiveness as a place to start or relocate a business.

The report is an eye-opener.

It finds Bluffton to be the state’s most enterprise-friendly city. Hilton Head is No. 7, right between Greenville and Spartanburg, and Port Royal comes in a respectable 14th behind Lexington.  

Where’s Beaufort? Way back in the pack at No. 33.

Yes, Southern Living named Beaufort “The South’s Best Small Town for 2017.” Their reasoning was full of squish like “enchantment” and “intoxicating” and “can’t turn a corner without swooning.” 

Moreover, the great contemporary Southern writer, Cassandra King, who wrote the Southern Living piece reminds her readers that love, home and family — all abundant in Beaufort — are what matter most.

The Palmetto Promise Institute is not convinced. These guys are all business. They looked at the numbers. And one in particular is not at all enchanting. 

Of South Carolina’s 50 most populous cities, according to the report, Beaufort ranks third in “per-capita violent crime.” 

If 100 is a perfect score, Beaufort got a dismal 9.51 in this category and that way-worse-than-failing grade dragged Beaufort’s “Community Allure” and overall scores way down.

In all the areas Beaufort was graded as a business-friendly town, “per-capita violent crime” was by far its worst.

Regular readers of this column will recognize this issue. Beaufort now has the same number of sworn police officers it had in 2007, but they are being asked to respond to three times the dispatch call volume they were a decade ago. 

That means the officers on duty have no time to engage in what policing experts call “community policing,” which is when police officers get out of their cruisers and proactively talk to people and get to know who’s who and what’s up. In fact, the Beaufort PD now isn’t even getting to some of their dispatch calls, police brass who are familiar with the particulars say. They are instead calling on Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office deputies to cover for them, especially on Lady’s Island.

Beaufort was the drug-dealing capital of Beaufort County in the mid-1990’s when Mayor David Taub and City Manager Gary Cannon insisted that enough officers be hired so that a community policing program could be instituted under Chief Bill Neill. Over the next few years the drug-dealers — and the violent crime that follows them — were run out of Beaufort. But in the past half dozen years, however, both have returned.

Southern Living may not know that yet, but the bean counters at The Palmetto Promise Institute do.

If, as the City Council says, making the city attractive to new businesses is high on its priorities list, then it’s time to stop spending the city’s tax dollars on real estate and new programs, and time instead to start hiring police officers.

Bill Rauch was the mayor of Beaufort from 1999-2008. Email Bill at TheRauchReport@gmail.com.

Jasper’s new solar farms will cost us bundles 

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solar farm

By Bill Rauch

Where did all these liberals come from? I don’t recall their saying anything about their liberal proclivities when they were running.

Last week’s announcement that a Virginia-based solar energy company called Dominion will spend up to $100 million to build two solar generating facilities in Jasper County this year is sure to spark a renewed fight on the Beaufort County Council over whether to join the SouthernCarolina Regional Development Alliance.

Why? Because the SouthernCarolina Alliance is credited with putting the Dominion/Jasper solar deal together. And the economic development consortium has long unsuccessfully lobbied Beaufort County to join their group. 

Their defenders will use the good news of the new clean industry in Jasper to ratchet up the pressure on Beaufort County to join.

The solar farms will create about 200 one-time construction jobs, according to Dominion’s press release.

The SouthernCarolina Regional Development Alliance currently works with five counties — Jasper, Hampton, Allendale, Barnwell and Bamberg. As the fee to join the group is based on each county’s respective population, if Beaufort County joined it would immediately be providing more revenues ($175,000 per year plus a $20,000 origination fee) to the group’s coffers than all the other counties combined.

Detractors ask: “Would Beaufort County receive in exchange more than half Alliance’s efforts?” 

Whether to join the SouthernCarolina Alliance has been a quiet but deeply divisive issue on Beaufort County Council for the past several years. Most of County Council’s Southern Beaufort County representatives favor joining the group while all the representatives representing districts north of the Broad River have expressed misgivings. 

It has been only Hilton Head Island-based Council Vice Chairman Jerry Stewart, who has said he’s opposed to joining, and Bluffton’s Tabor Vaux who has been on both sides of the issue who have withheld the key votes that have to date stopped the county short of joining.

But with the Alliance’s board member State Sen. Tom Davis, Alliance Associates member TCL President Richard Gough, and Alliance Advisory board member Ed Saxon lobbying the county this budget season, that may change. 

The glamorous news of the solar farms next door will inevitably be trotted out. 

Or the tipping point may ironically be provided by the county’s newest economic development entity, the Beaufort County Economic Development Corp., which was set up to do the work they would instead ask the Alliance to do. They would not, of course, put themselves out of business. They say they will instead wait until their new executive director is hired, and then ask County Council for more funding so that they can bring in Alliance.

Here’s the hotbed of liberalism. Why? Because traditional conservatives say take the economic development money and roll back business license fees, or property taxes, or a combination of the two. 

Take a hard look at unnecessary regulations too. Getting out of the private sector’s way is what will create jobs.

The liberal solution is the opposite: increase taxes to pile programs on top of programs intended to find ways to create jobs.

Let’s do the numbers.

The Beaufort County Economic Development Corp. will ask the four Beaufort County municipalities for $10,000 each from their FY ’18 budgets, and they want a $140,000 state Commerce Department grant protected with which to help pay their new director. The county will be asked to pitch in more to support their operations, but we don’t know exactly how much yet. Then they will ask the Beaufort County Council to spend the nearly $200,000 to join up with Alliance in FY’18.

Lest we forget, the local governments already help fund the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce. Moreover, the city of Beaufort owns and operates the failed Beaufort Commerce Park that has been a famous million dollar sinkhole.

That’s not all. 

Recently the city of Beaufort spent another million-plus dollars to purchase a downtown building into which to put its new Digital Corridor incubator that will be managed, for an additional handsome fee, by Charleston’s Digital Corridor. That effort’s defenders say it’s too soon to judge, but to date results there have been sketchy at best.

There is undoubtedly more.

With budget season approaching it is reasonable to ask how many tax dollars the local governments ought reasonably be spending to bring in business? Do the past results justify the future expenditures? Would the dollars being spent be more productively spent on essential services like law enforcement, fire, EMS, refuse removal or mosquito control? Or, horrors, tax relief?

These are questions to ask our recently-converted liberal friends.

While listening respectfully to their answers watch carefully their hands.  

Bill Rauch was the mayor of Beaufort from 1999-2008. Email Bill at TheRauchReport@gmail.com.

Time to get out front on the pathways

in Bill Rauch/Contributors/Voices by
This map shows all the sidewalks presently on Lady’s Island. Most but not all of these are separated from the cars on the street by just a 10-inch curb. Photo courtesy of Beaufort County Planning Dept.
This map shows all the sidewalks presently on Lady’s Island. Most but not all of these are separated from the cars on the street by just a 10-inch curb. Photo courtesy of Beaufort County Planning Dept.

By Bill Rauch

These will be struggles, but they are struggles worth undertaking.

The residents of Lady’s Island want a path or paths, something along the lines of Beaufort’s Spanish Moss Trail. They have now said that loudly and plainly.

Yet no master plan for Lady’s Island has called for such an improvement. There is no obvious corridor, like for example an abandoned railway corridor. And there’s no money in anyone’s current or proposed budget for such a thing.

This is an effort that begins right at the beginning … right at zero. Thus it is not for the faint of heart.

Yet the potential benefits are enormous: increased property values, better public health, improved quality of life, increased tourism and a stronger and more cohesive community to name a few.

Having heard the call, Beaufort County’s planners have quietly begun working on a plan for pathways on Lady’s Island. Soon we will see a draft plan, parts of which will undoubtedly have merit. Meanwhile, the city of Beaufort, which under the Northern Area Plan will have the responsibility of enforcing the plan, either hasn’t yet heard the call, or has declined to acknowledge it.

That’s probably because the Beaufort City Council knows it will cost whoever steps up with both time and money.

But it is past time for the city to step up for Lady’s Island. That doesn’t mean the city should go it alone financially. It shouldn’t. But it is time for the city to begin providing some leadership.

Here’s a scenario for the upcoming budget season.

Let’s break out the revenues provided to the city’s treasury from Lady’s Island: property taxes, business license taxes, prepared food taxes.  

Add the three figures up and subtract from that sum the city’s reimbursement to the Lady’s Island/St. Helena Fire District. What’s left is roughly what the city is putting into its pocket from Lady’s Island.

Then let’s add a line to the city’s fiscal year 2018 budget: “Implementation of the Lady’s Island Pathway Plan,” and ascribe to it a portion (15 percent?) of what’s left in the pot after the fire district gets paid.

Now the city’s actually got some skin in the game. People notice these things — especially government people. A modest commitment will bring with it modest credibility, which means people start paying attention. That’s when government gets beyond the talking stage and the real stuff starts happening.

But where to start?

The city should begin by staking out the position that the SCDOT should get off its current dark ages of the 20th century posture of replacing the Harbor Island Bridge with a bridge that has no hiker/biker walkway. Beaufort County Council Chairman Paul Sommerville will be right there with the city. State Sen. Tom Davis and the legislative delegation will surely come along too. 

It’s common sense. Why should Beaufort County have to pay for the bridge’s walkway out to one of the state of South Carolina’s signature parks — a park that is by the way growing in size, not shrinking.

The county should not have to pay. The SCDOT should pay for their bridge, including the part people walk and ride bikes on. And they would without a struggle in just about any other county in the state. 

But this is Beaufort County where Hilton Head Island is. So there’s going to be a struggle over who pays. 

Why should the city be in the forefront of the struggle? It is in the city’s interests that there be a good and safe hiker-biker path from the Woods Bridge to Hunting Island State Park.  

When the great path is finally built, and bike clubs from all over the Southeast come here to take that extraordinary (and no hills) ride through history, where will they sleep? In Beaufort’s hotels.

That’s just the beginning.

Now, having put the team together, the city should turn the team’s attention to choosing which portion of the Lady’s Island Pathways plan is the most popular and most doable, and then get to soliciting the state, the county, the SCDOT’s intermodal offices, private foundations, individual donors, and, yes, even the federal government to join the city in supporting Lady’s Island’s Pathway plan.

That’s how projects like these get built: with steady leadership, over time, a portion at a time, with many hands working — and egos buried — and many funding sources contributing.

Lady’s Island’s pathways and the trail to Hunting Island are good projects. They are worthy of the governments’ interest and support. 

Bill Rauch was the mayor of Beaufort from 1999-2008. Email Bill at TheRauchReport@gmail.com.

Lady’s Island is Beaufort’s riddle

in Bill Rauch/Contributors/Voices by

By Bill Rauch

Lady’s Island was back in the news last week with 67 parcels there annexed into Beaufort and a big planning charrette at the elementary school that was organized by The Sea Island Corridor Coalition.

First, the big meeting. 

The city is way behind on reaching out to the residents of Lady’s Island. The meeting was basically the residents taking matters into their own hands. And, yes, of course the Coastal Conservation League sees in the void an opportunity to make some new friends and get in some contributions. Thus the snacks and crayons.

There was no harm done there except having attracted hundreds to their meeting, the organizers have gotten cocky and now think they may be able to go it alone without the city or the county.  That’s naive. 

To get what they want and for it to stick they’ll need to work with both governments, but especially the city whose responsibility it is under the Northern Beaufort County Regional Plan to manage the growth on Lady’s Island.

But the city has to be willing to do its part. And, in all candor, it appears to date it has not been. 

Why? Because the city has a problem. It wants the tax revenues from Lady’s Island, but it doesn’t want to incur the cost of delivering the services.

City Council has so underfunded its police department, for example, that the Beaufort PD isn’t able to answer most of the calls from the in-city parcels on Lady’s Island. The Beaufort police count on the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office for that.

Same with fire. Lady’s Island-St. Helena is carrying the load, although by intergovernmental agreement they are compensated by the city for doing so. 

And, of course, then there’s planning.

It’s past time to get real on Harris Teeter. No reasonable person can actually believe most of the shoppers who will shop at a Harris Teeter in the old Publix location will be pedestrians. The city needs the revenues, the chain wants to be in the neighborhood, and the neighborhood wants the store. It is time to end the stand-off. It’s OK for the parking lot to be on the Sea Island Parkway side like it was with Publix.

As suggested, most of the shoppers on Lady’s Island use automobiles to transport the goods they buy. Consultants can suggest more people should ride bicycles. Good. Maybe they will. It’s clearly healthy, except when you have to cross one of those five-lane roads. 

But more and more people want to live on Lady’s Island. That means there are more and more shoppers, and unless things change dramatically, there will thusly be more and more automobiles. 

Getting back to the meeting, so where’s the area traffic plan, including the intermodal part? Mayor Billy Keyserling said if he’d thought of it, he could have gotten for the city an integrated traffic plan for the big Publix intersection. But he didn’t. And the city doesn’t have one. 

The city’s transportation plan for Lady’s Island is characteristically “What can we get the county and SCDOT to do?”

No wonder the mayor kept his head down and his hands in his pockets at the big meeting.

It’s kind of like the embarrassing boats that slipped their anchors in Hurricane Matthew.

The mayor says he called a meeting of OCRM, DNR and DOT to try to get to the bottom of whose responsibility it is to get those boats off the Lady’s Island causeway to be either sold or scrapped. But, surprise, the state agencies each said cleaning up Beaufort’s waterfront is not their responsibility, nor is the project in any of their respective budgets.

Obviously the mayor thinks the city’s in the same boat: no responsibility, no money. So the junkyard continues. 

To be fair and not unduly critical, I applaud the mayor and council for the 67 annexations.   “Annexation” used to be a bad word with this group. Maybe with the added revenues from the new parcels the city will feel it has reached the critical mass on Lady’s Island such that it can begin delivering there the urban services that are implicit with the jurisdictional change.

Budget season approaches. Take note Lady’s Islanders. Take note Sea Island Corridor Coalition. It is there — and only there — that the true tale will be told. 

Bill Rauch was the mayor of Beaufort from 1999-2008. Email Bill at TheRauchReport@gmail.com.

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