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Mount Pleasant State of the Town address aims to unite leadership

MOUNT PLEASANT, SC (AP/WCSC) -

With standing room only Tuesday evening, Mayor Linda Page gave her annual state of the town address in Mount Pleasant council chambers.

"My ultimate goal for this year is for town council to develop a unified vision," said Mayor Page.

In many ways Mount Pleasant is a town divided, as council members can't agree on major issues like Shem Creek and other development projects.

Before the speech, Mayor Page showed a video highlighting some of the town's achievements over the last year.

In the speech she explained, despite division within leadership, everyone on council has the same goal in mind: to better life east of the Cooper. 

"Excellence is not our goal, it's our starting point," said Mayor Page.

She acknowledged the new leadership on council.

"I am looking forward to working with each of my fellow council members to use their individual talents for the collective good," said Mayor Page.

She then moved-on to discuss the goals of the town.

"Our top three legislative priorities which are infrastructure, local government revenue and growth management," said Mayor Page.

She discussed infrastructure in the town and highlighted the town's strength through last year's flood.

"We received one of the highest levels of rainfall and we suffered the least amount of damage," said Mayor Page.

She talked about transportation, how widening Highway 41 is priority and other goals for the town. 

"This year, we will dedicate $100,000 towards bike and pedestrian infrastructure projects," said Mayor Page.

She discussed the need for affordable housing. 

"I've appointed a task force on attainable housing that's going to begin the conversation," said Mayor Page.

She outlined the the plan to defend revenue for the town at the state level and spoke on her goal to enhance the quality of life.

"Democracy works best when all parties are involved," said Mayor Page. "This council has a lot to do this year. I'm confident we'll accomplish every goal that I've set out."

After the speech, many said they hope this speech is the first step in ending division within leadership.

"I was born and raised here," said Tina Carter. "So, I think that we need to have a united front and I hope that everyone will work together." 

The full speech is below:

Good evening. Mount Pleasant residents, community members, and fellow Council members:

I hope you all enjoyed my State of the Town video. I would like to extend a special thanks to our Communications Office who scripted, filmed, and produced this video, as well as the staff and Council members who took part. This video highlighted some of our Town's most notable accomplishments from the past year. The scenes featured our achievements, capital improvement projects, civic engagement, and prestigious awards. The video also provides a quick insight into the work that occurs on a daily basis here at the Town. Mount Pleasant is unlike any other community in the nation. I say that not just because I'm the Mayor, and that's what you would expect me to say, but because it is true. Other state of the town videos would likely only feature major accomplishments for a community. The video you just watched also our shows major accomplishments. But what makes ours unique, is that we simply showed you what a typical work day is like for us. Excellence is not our goal; it is our starting point. Every day we are out doing the things shown in this video. We take on the hard issues. We make communication and engagement with our citizens a priority. We fund and build capital improvement projects that may not even necessarily be our responsibility. That is what we do. This is why we are different. This is why we are better.

Through our collective efforts, we protect and strengthen the unrivaled quality of life and excellence in public services we enjoy here in Mount Pleasant. Our previous Council, along with staff, and community members worked hard over this past year to achieve community-wide goals. As you know, we have a new elected body this year and I am looking forward to working with each of my fellow Council members to use their individual talents for the collective good of the Town.

At this time, I would like to take a few minutes to tell you about our plans to work together in furthering these initiatives throughout the upcoming year. Unfortunately, I do not have a catchy song to go along with my speech, but stay with me for a few minutes and I promise to share some important information with you. If nothing else, I hope you take away one key point from my comments tonight and here it is: my ultimate goal for this year is for Town Council to develop a unified vision for the community and to work with one another in achieving this vision.

This past month we held our annual Town Council working retreat. This is the one time each year we can step back from the day-to-day work and focus on a broader perspective. During our retreat we established our top three legislative priorities, which are: Infrastructure, Local Government Revenue, and Growth Management. We also approved the Town's next five-year Strategic Plan, mid-year budget adjustments, and Capital Improvement Plan. I want to spend a few minutes elaborating on the Capital Improvement Plan or "CIP" and the infrastructure projects you can expect to hear about over the next year.

Infrastructure is a boring and unappealing word. It's used to refer to a critical component of our community. When we say the word "infrastructure", we are referring to physical systems designed to facilitate stormwater drainage, transportation, and public facilities.

Last year, we spent $1.2 Million dollars on stormwater infrastructure projects. Few people think about how important these projects are. That is, until we have an event like last year's thousand-year flood event. Although we received one of the highest levels of rainfall, we also suffered one of the least amounts of damage. We experienced no loss of life or property- due largely to our investment in stormwater infrastructure projects.

We will continue this investment through both our Capital Improvement Plan and our annual budget. The stormwater infrastructure projects scheduled for this year include:

  •  Pipe replacement on Pitt Street and Venning Street;
  •  Pipe rehabilitation in Wando East, Wando Lakes, and Rivertowne on the Wando subdivisions;
  •  Ongoing investigation, modeling, and design for the Snee Farm Stormwater system upgrades.

This list does not include the on-going maintenance of existing infrastructure, nor any smaller projects funded through the Town's annual operating budget.

In addition to stormwater infrastructure, we will also be continuing our improvements on public facilities as outlined in the CIP. The projects scheduled for this year include:

Ongoing construction of new Town Hall;

Design of the new double gymnasium at Town Hall;

The Alhambra Hall renovation, including ADA improvements;

Completion of the Shem Creek Park Phase II boardwalk; and

Improvements to the Carolina Park Recreational Complex

The last component of our CIP projects for 2016 is transportation infrastructure. This was a hot topic last year, and it will continue to be this year as we take on additional road improvement projects such as:

Coleman Boulevard drainage and road improvements;

Billy Swails' Boulevard, Final Phase (from Six Mile Road to Hamlin Road);

Patriots Point re-alignment and Coleman Boulevard intersection improvements;

Highway 41/ Bessemer Road intersection improvements; and

Highway 41 widening

As you may recall, the Highway 41 widening was this Council's top legislative priority last year, and it remains so for 2016. We worked with our County representatives and State legislators to get this process underway. I am pleased to announce that we will be starting the required NEPA process shortly and we expect this process to take about 18- 24 months. The County has currently set aside $1.2 Million dollars to begin the project. This Council has set aside an additional $3.9 Million dollars and we will continue to work with the County to advocate on your behalf until the entire project is fully funded.

We know that transportation issues are important to you and that is why this Council is working diligently towards addressing those issues in a comprehensive way. Not only are we funding improvement projects, but we are also working to promote alternative forms of transportation to provide more balance and ultimately operational efficiency to our entire transportation network. Mayor Pro Tem Santos and Councilman Haynie are representing Mount Pleasant's interests on the CARTA board. They are pursuing new initiatives to better connect CARTA's resources with needs in our community. Additionally, we are continuing our efforts to enhance bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure throughout the town through both our project approval process and our CIP. This year, we will dedicate nearly $100,000 towards bike and pedestrian infrastructure projects.

Related to transportation improvements is the need for attainable housing here in Mount Pleasant. We know that a healthy community is one that is self-sustaining. This means that our residents can live here during all stages of their lives, they can earn affordable wages here, and they can enjoy recreational offerings here. They should be able to do everything they need to do without having to go elsewhere. There is always room for improvement in these areas, but it is important to remember the limits of government. There is only so much we, as a local government, can to do promote sustainability. We need our citizens and our businesses to join us in achieving this reality for our town. Our role as your local government is to foster the environment in which this community partnership can occur.

With this in mind, I appointed a new task force on attainable housing to begin the conversation. Former Councilwoman Thomasena Stokes-Marshall is chairing this task force and will begin scheduling the meetings shortly. The task force will recommend to Town Council ways in which we can secure attainable housing for our community to promote diversity, prevent gentrification, and sustain our town. I look forward to the work that will come from this task force and I am excited to see what the collaboration with community partners will yield.

To continue all of these wonderful and important activities, we must ensure that our internal operations and capacity are stronger than ever. Specifically, we must maintain financial excellence and our unrivaled public services. Last year, we received the GFOA Distinguished Budget Presentation Award for the fourth time, the CAFR for the 27th time, and an improved bond rating from Moody's Investors Services.

For 2016, we will maintain these three items under the leadership of Councilman Carrier and the Finance Committee of Council. Pursuant to our new Strategic Plan, we will also pursue additional national accreditations and certifications as a means to secure our position as a leader and innovator in public service. We will continue our regular review of programs for effectiveness and will focus our resources on core services.

Lastly, we are reinforcing our efforts at the State level to defend revenue sources that are rightfully yours. Revenues such as the Local Government Fund and the Business License Fee are under attack yet again, but we refuse to back down. This is your money. By law, it is to be used for your benefit, in your community. And yet year after year, the State Legislature fails to return your lawfully owed funds and they continue to threaten one of the Town's only remaining major revenue sources. This Council remains committed in our resolve to have the Local Government Fund fully funded and to have the Business License Fee protected.

I, along with the rest of Town Council, are here to represent you and your interests. We each made a promise to this community when we took our oath of office. And as we fulfill our oaths, I ask that each of you also make a commitment to the community- a commitment to be involved and to participate on a regular basis. Democracy works best when all parties are involved.

Everyone has a busy life these days, and I understand that, but we need you to make civic participation a priority, and not just when something happens that you don't like. The issues we are facing today are complex and far-reaching. The solutions we need must be creative, collaborative, and often equally complex as the issue itself. This town is full of intelligent and creative individuals, and we need you to work with us in identifying issues and developing workable solutions. We need our citizens to be our partners in accomplishing community goals. This is why we have numerous outreach events throughout the year.

These events are held as a means to foster relationships, share information, and work together for the benefit of all. This past year, we held over 12 community roundtable meetings with neighborhood associations and civic organizations. These meetings are informal and provide an opportunity for us to communicate with residents for a longer period than would be possible during a public meeting. I also hold a monthly event called Coffee with the Mayor, during which I visit a local coffee shop, and converse with participants about whatever is important to them. Similarly, our Town Administrator holds monthly Mobile Office Hours at various locations around town. It is a drop-in format and it allows citizens the opportunity to talk about anything they desire. We will continue these monthly events, as well as the Community Roundtable Meetings over the next year, and I hope you will join us for them.

Our town departments are also offering numerous opportunities to learn more and be involved throughout the upcoming year. Our Planning Department will host their annual Meet and Greet on February 25th at the Cooper River Room. They are also kicking off their Code for Lunch program and their

Citizens Planning College. Our Police Department will continue their award-winning Reading Patrol Program at Barnes and Noble each month, as well as several other ongoing events. Opportunities for involvement are numerous, and there is something for everyone. We intend to continue these great programs as a means to share information and build relationships. I look forward to meeting you and working with you soon.

As I am encouraging our residents to be more involved, I also urge the same for our local business community. Many of our residents own and operate businesses here in Town and we must capitalize on this advantage. Our new Business Development Office is continuing its mission to advance Mount Pleasant's quality of life by fostering an economic environment that is vibrant, favorable to job creation, and that promotes the general prosperity of the community. When we work to advance the quality of life for Mount Pleasant, we do so on behalf of both residents and businesses. Over the next year, we will work to build upon the current business retention and recruitment strategies already in place by:

Launching innovative initiatives designed to better promote and engage our local businesses;

Providing more clarity in the process of doing business within the town including the creation of a New Business Guide;

Proactively show our appreciation for our businesses through Business Appreciation Week and the Town's support of Small Business Saturday;

Encouraging the location of unique business events in Mount Pleasant to provide for the professional development and networking our citizens crave; and continuously ensuring that we are leading the edge in economic development incentives to provide for a diverse Mount Pleasant economy.

We know that a diverse economy not only protects the Town from cyclical economic downswings. It also provides job opportunities for our children to remain in our community when they move out on their own. It can help provide allies for our k-12 education system, innovation partners for our government initiatives, and alleviation from regional transportation challenges. When said this way, it is easy to see how connected businesses and residents really are. This is why we need community partnerships and collaboration.

It takes a lot of time and effort to establish strong partnerships and to foster an environment where collaboration can occur. This Council has a lot to do this year. But I am confident that we will accomplish every goal we set for ourselves.

We have an extremely talented, intelligent, and passionate Town Council. Each member, including myself, is proud to represent this incredible community. Each member of this Council brings something unique to our team. Together we will combine our talents and strengths for the collective good of this community. I expect great things of this Council, and as one of the nine members, I pledge to give my all in protecting our Town and strengthening our quality of life.

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