The State of Bluffton

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lisasulka2016Thank you, Bluffton. 

As I pause to review the past year, I am again honored and humbled to be the mayor of one of the fastest-growing communities in Beaufort County and the state of South Carolina. Bluffton is blessed with quantity and quality. Our population has skyrocketed more than 1,200 percent since 2000. We also have such quality in the care and character of our people and projects. I have never lived or known another community in this nation that has such a rich spirit and deep pride in its town. Thanks to each of you who contributes to the rich tapestry of our town. Your partnership is key to our community’s collective success.

Bluffton Town Council is mindful of your charge to preserve what we love as one of the South’s last coastal village towns as we strategically grow. Town staff’s mission, led by town manager Marc Orlando, is to provide a customer-driven, user-friendly government that is focused on serving our residents and business owners.

To that mission, the town released its Strategic Plan for fiscal years 2017-18.  Each fiscal year begins July 1, so we are already using it as a daily guide. I encourage you to review the plan so you know how the town is working in a priority-driven, methodical manner to accomplish the best benefit for our residents and business owners. You can access the plan at www.townofbluffton.sc.gov/pdfs/strategic-plan.pdf.

This 34-page, two-year strategic plan establishes the framework for policy and financial decisions made by Town Council.  The action plan is divided into six strategic areas, which are:  May River/surrounding rivers and watersheds, town organization, economic growth, fiscal sustainability, community quality of life, and infrastructure. This plan represents the collective vision of the entire town; one that appreciates its roots as we further our community to an even brighter future.

Now that you know we have a blueprint to move forward, let’s rewind this year and review the highlights:

Strong Financial Position

The town’s budget, which totals $36,529, 292, represents an increase in funds while reducing property taxes by two mills for each resident.  The town maintains an AA+ Municipal Bond rating, which Standard & Poor’s awarded in 2014. This is the second highest rating for a municipality and allows the town to borrow money at a lower rate due to its solid financial standing.

Parking in Bluffton’s Historic District

The town and Cornerstone Church recently entered an agreement for the public to use 55 spaces at the church parking lot adjacent to Calhoun Street, with the exception of Sunday church hours.  In addition, the town has a plan to enhance Dr. Mellichamp Drive that will include additional parking, walkways and lighting.

The Don Ryan Center for Innovation

The center continues to be the most successful program associated with Clemson Technology Villages. The 25 companies that have been in the program employ about 88 people in the region, contributing $4.9 million in local payroll. The center’s partnerships with local schools, Savannah College of Art and Design and regional universities encourage entrepreneurship and innovation to various age groups. The center also hosts the state’s second chapter of the Girls Who Code organization. This group is free to young women in grades six through 12. Get involved with this program by visiting www.ryan-innovation-center.com.

Economic Development

Southeastern Development Associates is about to break ground at Buckwalter Place. The 52 acres of field will soon be a town center-style, mixed-use project of multi-family housing units, office space and an approximately 115,000-square-foot Kroger grocery store. This development includes job-ready sites for prospective businesses and will boost regional economic development.

Historic Preservation

More than 100 people attended the town’s inaugural Historic Preservation Symposium in May. The town is also rehabilitating the Garvin House, the only known house on the May River owned by a former slave. This historic asset, located in Oyster Factory Park, will open to the public in 2017 as interpretative signs tell the story of the house and the Garvin family.

Website

The town unveiled its new website this summer with a clear, concise design. To check it out, go to www.townofbluffton.sc.gov.

Award

The Municipal Association of South Carolina awarded Bluffton a 2016 Achievement Award for its implementation of its Old Town Master Plan. Competing with 25 other cities and towns with populations between 10,001 and 20,000, Bluffton was honored for its projects and policies throughout the last decade that brought this plan to reality.

Bluffton Police Department

Chief Joey Reynolds was recently sworn in as the president of the FBI’s National Academy Associates, the premier training organization for law enforcement nationally and internationally.