The Town of Bluffton is proud to present its 2020 highlights and accomplishments.
COVID-19 Town Initiatives & Operations:
Since early March, the Town of Bluffton has been focused on the COVID-19 global pandemic and mitigating the community’s economic and health-related effects. Below are the major Town initiatives in response to the pandemic.
• Emergency Ordinance Requiring Face-Coverings: Bluffton Town Council unanimously approved an Emergency Ordinance which was effective July 1 requiring residents to wear face coverings when they enter any building open to the public. This ordinance, through several renewals, is still in effect and also requires face coverings for employees of restaurants, retail stores, salons, grocery stores and pharmacies at all times when employees are in any area where the general public is allowed. Exemptions from the face covering requirement include any person under the age of eight, or who is unable to safely wear a face covering due to age or an underlying health condition, or who is unable to remove the face covering without the assistance of others; and any person traveling in a personal vehicle, or when a person is alone or is in the presence of only household members in an enclosed space, and people who are actively drinking or eating.
• Town-initiated Small Business Economic Resiliency Plan: Town Council, in a special April council meeting, unanimously approved its Small Business Economic Resiliency Plan to provide the local business community a resource clearinghouse during the pandemic. The Don Ryan Center for Innovation(DRCI) is instrumental in executing this plan through business advocacy and as a clearinghouse of resources so businesses can better navigate through pandemic-related economic challenges. This plan includes a free year-long membership to the Don Ryan Center for Innovation and extended local tax deadlines which were approved by an Emergency Ordinance.
• Map of Helping Agencies: The Town has produced a map of non-profit, helping agencies which provide resources to local families who are experiencing financial/food challenges during the pandemic. You can find this map at: https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/43b69e8624ff4d4590a3d6beebfe67a7.
• Blue Ribbon Campaign: Town leaders and staff members displayed blue ribbons on Town buildings and encouraged residents to place ribbons on homes or businesses to express gratitude to first responders and healthcare workers during the pandemic.
• #MileForGood: Mayor Lisa Sulka, in an attempt to keep physically and mentally healthy as well as to support our local charities, initiated #MileForGood the weekend of April 11 & 12. She asked residents to run, walk, or bike a mile wherever you can while social distancing and then donate to the charity of your choice. This initiative was to keep residents physically healthy while fundraising for local charities during the pandemic.
• Town Hall is open/public interaction restricted: Town Hall has been closed to the public since Monday, March 23, however, Town staff has been available virtually during regular business hours. Bins are located at the front doors to drop off and pick up paperwork such as business license applications, permit applications, plans for review, etc. If residents need further guidance, please call the Town’s Customer Service Center at 843.706.4500.
• Town Public Parks & Playgrounds Reopen/Cleaning Protocols Implemented: As of June 1, 2020, Town-operated parks reopened. However, public playgrounds remained closed until October 2, 2020. Since reopening the playgrounds, Town employees are cleaning park equipment and playgrounds twice a day. Town owned or operated parks include DuBois Park, Oyster Factory Park, Oscar Frazier Park Pavilion, Restrooms and Playground, Dog Park at Oscar Frazier Park, Martin Family Park, New Riverside Trail, Buckwalter Place Park and all pocket parks, to include Pritchard Pocket Park and Tom Herbkersman Commons. Playgrounds are located at DuBois Park, Oscar Frazier Park and Buckwalter Place Park.
Capital Improvement Projects:
• Wright Family Property: The Town opened this park, which is the Town’s second public park offering access to the May River, in early December. The Wright Family Park, across the street from the historic Church of the Cross, offers a boardwalk, a large central lawn, walkways, parking, landscaping, site furnishing, lighting, fencing, public restrooms and spectacular views of the May River. The rehabilitation of the Squire Pope Carriage House, an antebellum structure which survived the “Burning of Bluffton” in 1863, is currently under design and will be the final project on this property. It is scheduled to be complete in approximately two years.
• Calhoun Street Regional Dock Enhancement Project: This project began at the end of April and will be substantially complete by end of this year. The project included removal of the existing public dock and building a larger, more accessible regional dock. The project also includes a new bulkhead, 10’ x 130’ boardwalk, 20’ x 20’ covered pier head and a 12’ x 120’ larger floating dock capable of accommodating up to six boats and fishing activities. The former dock, built by Beaufort County in the 1970s, accommodated only four boats. The public dock has been located at the end of Calhoun Street since the early 1800s and has been central to the town’s commerce and economic health, bringing products and people to the center of town for centuries.
• Buckwalter Place Park/Bluffton’s Veterans Memorial: The Buckwalter Place Park, which features the Bluffton Veterans Memorial, was completed in July and the Veterans Memorial was dedicated on Veterans Day. The Veterans Memorial was made possible through a partnership with American Legion Post 205 Auxiliary Unit. Boy Scout Troop 241 members, Eagle Scout candidate Beckett Jones and other volunteers planted more than 200 plants at the site last winter while members of the American Legion Auxiliary Unit 205 continue to sell memorial bricks. The more than 1.5-acre park site is comprised of open space, an inclusive playground, a walking path and café-style outdoor furniture. This park is located at Buckwalter Place across from the recently completed Don Ryan Center for Innovation.
• Oscar Frazier Park/“Field of Dreams” Sidewalk Installation: The Town of Bluffton installed approximately a quarter mile of concrete and oyster shell sidewalk around the perimeter of grassy area of Oscar Frazier Park known as the “Field of Dreams.”
• Buck Island-Simmonsville Community Sidewalk/Lighting project: The Town of Bluffton installed the final phase of sidewalks on Buck Island Road with 1,100 linear feet of five-foot wide sidewalks from the intersection of Kitty Road to connect with the existing sidewalk near 301 Buck Island Road. Construction began in late-April and is complete. In addition to sidewalk construction, the project also includes the installation of street lighting. Sidewalk projects on Simmonsville Road continue.
• Buck Island-Simmonsville Sewer Project: Phase 5: The project began in late September and provides infill sewer connection throughout 36 properties on Buck Island Road, Simmonsville Road, Gideon Way and James Gadson Drive. This is the last phase of this project and frees dependency on septic tanks for these properties.
• Historic District Sewer Project/Phase 1-Pritchard Street: The Town of Bluffton begun adding sanitary sewer to the Historic District, beginning with homes and properties on Pritchard Street this June. This is the first of six phases of sewer construction in Bluffton’s Historic District. This first phase is comprised of installing 2,550 linear feet of main sewer lines and will service 25 properties with houses and four (4) additional undeveloped lots. Additionally, the project will also retire 25 septic tanks, a process known as “abandoning septic tanks,” so they pose no further threat to the local environment.
Don Ryan Center for Innovation:
• The Don Ryan Center for Innovation Hub: The 3,000 square-foot permanent facility of the Don Ryan Center for Innovation (DRCI) was completed this summer and is located in the Buckwalter Place Commerce Park, adjacent to the St. Joseph’s/Candler medical campus. Since 2012, the Don Ryan Center has operated as a nexus of innovation and economic development in Beaufort County. It is also the economic development organization for the Town of Bluffton. The new center offers a co-working space for innovators and DRCI members. This business center features gigabit high-speed internet, Apple iMac and Windows computers, AutoCAD/design software, high-definition large panel monitors for presentations/workshops, meeting rooms and whiteboards.
• Don Ryan Center for Innovation instrumental in Town’s Small Business Economic Resiliency Plan: The Town’s Small Business Economic Resiliency Plan provides the local business community a resource clearinghouse during the pandemic. The Don Ryan Center for Innovation (DRCI) is instrumental in executing this plan through business advocacy to assist local companies through pandemic-related economic challenges. This predictive and proactive program has assisted nearly 500 local and regional businesses with a free 12-month DRCI membership. The Center has also provided business consulting to more than 50 customers through this plan.
• Don Ryan Center for Innovation supports regional entrepreneurial community: This year the Center had six new businesses in its Startup program (with one 2020 graduation) and two businesses in its growth program. The DRCI offers consulting for its members and customers, for every stage of business growth, in areas such as strategy development, marketing, pipeline management, sales growth, financial modeling, acquisition and selling businesses.
May River & Surrounding Rivers and Watersheds/Environmental Protection:
• May River Cleanups: The Town held two virtual cleanup events in April and September encouraging residents to keep Bluffton beautiful by cleaning up litter in their neighborhoods. These virtual events were in lieu of the Annual Cleanup Day and the cleanup event held every year in conjunction with Earth Day, which could not be held in their usual form due to COVID-19.
• May River Watershed Action Plan:
- Revised Stormwater Utility Fees: Town Council unanimously adopted a revised Stormwater Utility Fee schedule in June. These funds support the Action Plan initiatives such as water quality modeling that identifies sites for water quality improvements projects, daily operations of the Watershed Management Division, and certain Capital Improvement Program projects. The fee increase supported the Town’s successful issuance of a $5.25 million General Obligation Bond to expedite sewer extension, water quality improvement and drainage projects. Residents can find these fees within their tax bills.
- Town’s fifth Clean Water Act Section 319 grant: This year, SC Department of Health and Environmental Control awarded the Town $179,700.00 to support construction of water quality Best Management Practices (BMPs) to retrofit existing roadway impervious surfaces associated with the Bridge Street Streetscape Project. The grant supports enhancements to the streetscape project to capture and filter previously untreated runoff to improve water quality of the May River.
• Town Progresses Toward Sewer Connectivity: The Town continues to extend and connect homes to sanitary sewer, allowing residents to discontinue using septic tanks and eliminate the potential of failed tanks to pollute local waterways and cause harm to local marine life.
- Historic District Sewer Project/Phase 1: The Town identified Pritchard Street as the first phase of the Historic District Sewer project because of its proximity to the May River. Construction began in June and easement acquisitions for Phase 2 (Bridge Street) began in March. Future Historic District Phases 3-6 entered the design stage in July.
- Buck Island-Simmonsville (BIS) Neighborhood Phase 5 Sewer: This final phase of this sewer project began in October with a Community Development Block Grant in the amount of $320,000.
• May River Watershed Action Plan: Recommendations for revisions to the Town’s May River Watershed Action Plan have been completed and an updated May River Watershed Action Plan will be presented to Town Council for review and approval in early 2021. The recommendations for policy, partnership, program, and project revisions arose from a water quality model assessing the impact of potential projects to improve water quality in the May River. Many recommendations focus on partnering with existing neighborhoods to reduce stormwater runoff with future emphasis on better site design for development.
• Regional Stormwater Standard: The Town partnered with Beaufort County, Jasper County, Town of Port Royal, City of Beaufort, City of Hardeeville, and Town of Yemassee to develop a regional Southern Lowcountry Post Construction Stormwater Ordinance and Design Manual to protect the region’s coastal waterways. This coordinated effort will assist developers with parallel stormwater regulations and management standards throughout the region. The proposed ordinance changes and design manual have been completed, presented and approved by May River Watershed Action Plan Advisory Committee, and the Town’s Planning Commission. Town Council is expected to vote on the first reading in early 2021.
Finance & Administration:
• FY2021 Budget Approved: Bluffton’s Town Council approved and adopted the Town’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 consolidated budget in June. State law requires all municipalities to adopt a balanced budget ordinance before July 1. The budget totals $34,223,867 and moves the Town forward through program enhancements and a robust capital projects schedule. Programs for affordable housing, beautification, May River Watershed Action Plan and capital improvements are prominent features of the FY 2021 budget.
• Bond Sale: Bluffton’s Town Council approved the sale of $5,080,000 of General Obligation (GO) Bonds for the purpose of funding Bluffton’s Stormwater Utility Fund Capital Improvements Program projects. The sale was approved in November. This bond sale helps accomplish one of the Town’s primary strategic goal of continuously improving the water quality and economic viability of the May River and surrounding rivers and watersheds.
Bluffton Police Department:
• Town hires new Police Chief: The Town of Bluffton swore in Stephenie Price as its new police chief October 12. Price was formerly the assistant chief of police for Savannah, Georgia. Price replaced Christopher Chapmond who resigned to accept the position of police chief in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
• Town creates Law Enforcement Advisory Committee: In August, Town Council appointed 11 citizens from the greater Bluffton area to advise the Bluffton Police Department regarding community concerns.
• Bluffton Police Departments awarded grant to form traffic team: COPS (Office of Community-Oriented Policing Services), a component of the U.S. Department of Justice, awarded Bluffton Police Department a $250,000 grant which established a traffic unit comprised of two officers dedicated to proactively reducing traffic collisions. The funds from this grant will be distributed throughout a three-year period.
• Lutzie 43 Virtual 5K: The Town of Bluffton, along with the Bluffton Police Department, and the Lutzie 43 Foundation hosted its 2nd annual Lutzie 43 5K in early August. However, this year it was virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The money raised will help fund Lutzie 43 scholarships.
• Lutzie 43 Scholarship Awards: The Town awarded three local students ($1,000) scholarships. The three recipients were: Grayson Short from Bluffton High School, Morgan Lewellen from May River High School and Zach Waters, a local resident already in college. This scholarship is a part of the Town-Lutzie 43 partnership and its mission to reduce deaths and injuries causes by distracted driving. Each scholarship recipient is required to sign a pledge to not drive distracted and has demonstrated leadership in helping spread the message of safe driving.
• Reverse Halloween: Bluffton police officers distributed candy bags throughout the community to ensure children received Halloween candy during the pandemic.
• Toy Drive: Bluffton Police Department collected toys during the 8th annual 2020 Town of Bluffton Toy Drive. Officers were also able to purchase 37 bicycles for children in Bluffton thanks to numerous monetary donations the department received during this drive. Additionally, Bluffton’s school resource officers identified specific students in their schools who need help with Christmas and purchased specific wish-list items for those students.
Bluffton police officers distributed toys to local Bluffton families as well as to Bluffton Self Help. This non-profit will further distribute toys to local families.
Neighborhood Assistance Program:
• Neighborhood Assistance Program: The Town of Bluffton spent more than $34,498 in 2020, helping 23 Bluffton households with its Neighborhood Assistance Program. This program assists with repairs to homes and properties of low to moderate-income residents and is operated through the Town of Bluffton’s Affordable Housing Committee. Repairs include projects such as leaking roofs, unstable or unsafe floors, failing septic tanks, inaccessible private roads, removing broken or unwanted items from a resident’s property, removing unsafe structures from a resident’s property, ensuring local emergency services have an official address to a resident’s property, and assisting in obtaining proper paperwork for heirs’ property.
Town’s 2020 Initiatives:
• U.S. Census: The Town of Bluffton residents registered an impressive 66.7% response rate for the U.S. Census this year, according to the latest data available. Bluffton residents responded more than any other town of city in Beaufort County. This data will determine the amount of numerous funding sources throughout the next decade.
• Town launches new website: The Town of Bluffton launched its new website in early June. Its domain is the same www.townofbluffton.sc.gov. CivicPlus, a leading government website provider designed the Town’s website to be more streamlined and deliver a more customized experience for residents. This company has more than 4,000 governmental clients in the United States, Canada and Australia. Among those clients in our area are local municipalities such as the City of Beaufort, the Town of Port Royal, the Town of Yemassee, the City of Hardeeville and the City of Charleston. This newly designed website implements components of the Town Council’s strategic plan and budget priorities to invest in technologies which enhance the Town’s transparency, citizen engagement opportunities and operation efficiencies with our residents.
• Town of Bluffton’s Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2021-2022: Town Council adopted a 119-page, two-year strategic plan which establishes the framework for guiding policy and financial decisions throughout the next two years. The plan is also a flexible tool, helping Town Council to align town resources with strategic priorities to best benefit the residents and business owners of Bluffton. Each fiscal year begins July 1. The plan is available via the Town’s website at http://townofbluffton.sc.gov/507/Strategic-Plans. In the newly adopted strategic plan, established priorities are identified as Strategic Focus Areas, which are further supported by guiding principles. The Strategic Focus Area are: Affordable and/or Workforce Housing, Community Quality of Life, Economic Growth, Fiscal Sustainability, Infrastructure, May River and surrounding rivers and watersheds and Town Organization.
• Town renews Waste Management contract offering enhanced recycling service: Starting in July, Bluffton residents replaced their 18-gallon recycling bins with a 96-gallon cart, thanks to the renewed contract with Waste Management. Due to the larger recycling capacity of the new carts, recycling pick-up is now scheduled for every other week versus the current weekly schedule.
• Town of Bluffton contracts with Bluffton Bike Taxi for free rides in Historic District: Starting in September, Bluffton Bike Taxi, through a contracted award by the Town, is offering free rides throughout the Historic District from 5 p.m. – 9 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Providing a bike taxi service was identified as a line item priority in the Fiscal Year 2021 budget. Residents and visitors can call Bluffton Bike Taxi at 843.707.6807 or direct message a representative via Facebook or Instagram. This service is funded via hospitality tax funds.
• Reverse Christmas Parade: The Town hosted its annual Christmas parade the first Saturday in December as a “reverse” parade. The “reverse parade” concept enabled Bluffton’s holiday tradition to stay alive while incorporating health and safety precautions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Parade entrants were stationary on May River Road as parade spectators drove by. The parade was held from 10 a.m. to noon and hundreds of people in cars, SUVs, trucks, golf cart and bicycles attended.
• Arbor Day: Town leaders celebrated Arbor Day by planting a Live Oak at Town Hall in late April. Celebrating Arbor Day annually is a part of the Town’s “Tree City USA” designation which the Town has held since 2012. Tree City USA awards this designation to cities and towns that maintain a tree board (i.e. Beautification Committee), pass a tree ordinance (i.e. tree protection laws), spend at least $2 per capita on urban forestry and celebrate Arbor Day.
• Youth Community Service Award Ceremony: The Town hosted the 5th Annual Youth Community Service Award August 11. The Mayor’s Bluffton Youth Community Service Program recognizes high school sophomores and juniors for their volunteerism to the Bluffton community during the past year. Students are honored for 50 or more volunteer hours to a greater Bluffton non-profit organization. This is an annual program.
• Bluffton Christmas Tree Lighting: The Christmas Tree Lighting was held December 4 in Martin Family Park. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ceremony was streamed live on Facebook.
Awards and Accolades:
• New York Times named Bluffton as one of the world’s “six emerging areas”: In a November 6, 2020 article, titled, “Want to live near the shore? Here are six emerging areas.” Bluffton was one of the world’s six emerging areas and the only one based in the United States. The five other destinations mentioned were: Bodrum, Turkey; Port d’Andratx, Majorca; Cascais, Portugal; Ambergris Caye, Belize; and Manuel Antonia, Costa Rica.
• Bluffton’s Garvin-Garvey House awarded 4th statewide award: The South Carolina Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIASC), awarded Meadors, Inc, the preservation architectural firm for the Town, a 2020 Citation Award for Adaptive Reuse and & Preservation award in November for the Garvin-Garvin Rehabilitation Project.
• Bluffton listed as one of South Carolina’s safest cities from numerous organizations:
- #1 Safest City/Town in South Carolina; Safety.com, December 2020
- #2 Safest Places to Live in South Carolina; Money, Inc, August 2020
- #4 “Safest City” in South Carolina; Safewise, May 2020
- #2 “Safest City” In South Carolina; National Council for Home Safety & Security, March 2020