Monday, December 27, 2010

Pre-filed bills help get the year started

Bluffton Today

Finally, we seemed to have gotten our collective minds off politics and the upcoming legislative session and onto this great holiday season. I say this because we processed a mere 103 constituent contacts last week. After being in the multiple hundreds of calls for months, it was a little unsettling to get only a hundred calls. It would seem that most of us are out in the community shopping, socializing, and celebrating the season, not to mention the return of seasonal weather. Good for us.

We will be running a four-day schedule this week, giving Kathy and Mary a little time to prepare for the New Year events. We will be in the office from Monday through Thursday with business as usual.

Our delegation has been busy prefiling bills and getting ready to hit the ground running on the second Tuesday of the new year. We are introducing several economic packages that range from efforts to secure the Heritage Golf Classic to issues dealing with the port situation on the Savannah River.

One of things we are introducing that is a direct result of your input has to do with the “Semper Fi” license tags we want to create. We have a tremendous Marine Corp presence in Beaufort County with the recruit depot at Parris Island and the Marine Corp Air Station. In addition to the active duty component, there are also a huge number of military retirees in our area. I take a great deal of satisfaction in recognizing the military contribution to not only the security of our nation but to the economy of our county and our region.

Another of the initiatives I plan to continue in the next session has to do with some of the language or features in the South Carolina code of laws. There are certain aspects of the code that are outmoded or useless, and some that are no longer representative of our political culture. These need to be excised so that our laws are not constrained by the superfluous or bloated by some of the nonsense that may have been on the books for a hundred years. This is the legislative equivalent of former NYC Mayor Giuliani’s norm setting “broken windows” policy.

In a small housekeeping matter, a certain number of the calls we have received over the last month or so have had to do with property tax assessment, specifically the difference between the 4% and 6% assessment levels. This is an important matter, which must be seriously addressed, but unfortunately, it is a county matter. The good news is that there is an assessor’s office in the county complex on the Bluffton Parkway. The office is staffed by knowledgeable folks, eager to assist you.
Finally, both Sheriff Tanner and Bluffton Police Chief McAllister will have every available officer on the road for the upcoming New Year’s celebration. If you are tempted to drink and drive, please reconsider. Better yet, have a non-drinking, designated driver that will make all the transportation decisions for your party. There are grave consequences for DUI in our state, as well there should be. So please be responsible in your celebrations and join us for a brighter, more prosperous New Year.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Beach renourishment returns investment

Bluffton Today

First thing, on behalf of Mary and me, along with our great kids, Shelby and Cole, I want to extend to everyone in House District 118 of Bluffton and Beaufort County a very merry Christmas.

This is truly a time of family and friends, as well as a time to celebrate the reason for the season. Thanks for all the cards, letters, calls, e-mails, and especially the cookies we received over the past couple of weeks.

Our children are home from school and I imagine that many of your children are home as well. As we all make the rounds of holiday parties, please be careful and responsible with alcohol. As parents, we all know the anxiety and subdued panic of hearing the sirens on the road while our children are out attending holiday functions. Please insist on a designated driver when you travel to and from your celebrations, if there is a possibility that alcohol will be served.

My friend Eileen Brenner and her husband Milton invited me to speak to the Sun City branch of the AARP last week. It was a good group of folks and we had a fun time. I’m always a little surprised at how the range of activities at Sun City seems to keep the residents in good shape and involved in the affairs of the community.

It is heartening that older folks still have interests and concerns that extend far beyond that which only directly affects them. Tomorrow, Rep. Andy Patrick and I will meet with officials from the town of Hilton Head and officially present them with a check for $1 million to go toward their upcoming beach renourishment project. These dollars represent an investment that not only provides an outstanding amenity for our residents but also draws hundreds of thousands of visitors to Beaufort County each year. The return on investment of these dollars is huge.

There is also a certain satisfaction in repatriating these tax dollars back to Beaufort County. As a representative of a perennial donor county, one of my primary legislative agenda items is to work toward that day when we in Beaufort County get a dollar in value returned to us for each dollar we send to Columbia in taxation. We are still a long way off, but that million dollars is a good start.

This past week I also helped cut the ribbon with Mayor Pro Tempore Hamilton of the town of Bluffton for the new improvements to the Oyster Factory Park in Old Town Bluffton. I was able, along with Oyster Factory operators Larry and Tina Toomer, to secure a $50,000 grant to aid in the project, along with money from Beaufort County and the town of Bluffton.

Walking around town last week, there were a ton of visitors, but also a great number of locals, apparently exercising that “buy local” ethos. The point is this: these local businesses are your friends and neighbors.
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Monday, December 13, 2010

Shop local: keep dollars at home, not in Third World

Bluffton Today

I got a lot of good feedback on last week’s column, especially concerning the “shop local” part. When you shop with a local merchant, your dollars stay home and circulate in the community, lifting a lot of local boats. When you shop at the chain stores and the big box places, those dollars end up leaving almost immediately, usually coming to rest in China, Indonesia, Taiwan or South Korea.

It makes sense to keep our dollars home as much as we can. I’m also working to repatriate even more of our dollars that left here for Columbia, but that’s another story. Speaking of local value, we have a couple of excellent institutions of higher learning in the University of South Carolina Beaufort and the Technical College of the Lowcountry.

I was recently a visitor at TCL, in the government class of my friend Bob Dixon. Bob is a brilliant fellow who is a semi-retired professor, teaching government and history at TCL. While his students are preparing for success in their work lives, he is helping make sure they have the context and information to be successful in their citizenship obligations as well. If the quality of their questions is any indication, he is doing a great job of preparing his students for what lies ahead.

We are fortunate to have these two post-secondary institutions in our neighborhood. Not only do local folks have the opportunity to continue their education without leaving home, they also have a choice between two excellent, cost-effective alternatives. One is slanted toward academics while the other is more focused on job training and work skills. What they have in common is they provide an entire spectrum of education and training opportunity for young people, and not-so-young people, to get what they need to be successful contributors in our local economic and civic life.

Also of local interest, I have been working with the S.C. Department of Commerce and the Governor’s Office in pursuing dollars from the Renaissance Community Development Block Grant Program.

I am pleased to announce that the Town of Bluffton will receive a Village Renaissance Grant of $500,000. These funds are targeted at the Buck Island/Simmonsville Road area of Bluffton and will be used for sidewalks, drainage, water and sewer. As of this writing, I have instructed the Department of Commerce and the grants administration to forward the grant agreement to the Town of Bluffton for execution.

The importance of this is two-fold: the infrastructure improvements will likely make this area much more attractive for business development and job creation. Secondly, the drainage and sewer improvements should take some runoff pressure off our waterways, further enhancing our quality of life and recreation opportunities. Also, there are a lot of good people living in this community that have been waiting patiently for these basic improvements to their neighborhood.

These Community Development grants are one of the ways we return your tax dollars back to you. We are working hard to repatriate many more of these dollars, especially education dollars, back to Beaufort County as we prepare for the upcoming session.

I am optimistic, especially with the new configuration of the delegation, that we can build on our successes and ultimately reach parity in education and infrastructure funding with the rest of the state.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Blufftonians help each other get by

Bluffton Today

While I’m continuing to craft our legislative agenda for the upcoming session, today’s is going to be a little different than my usual column. Every once in a while, we need to look around our community and recognize some of the things that make Bluffton special and especially endearing, as well as some of the good people who have recently joined us and are making a positive contribution. I also want to recognize a recently departed friend.

If you haven’t met Josh and Gabby at Cork’s Wine Bar in the Promenade, you should make an effort to stop by. The atmosphere is nice and the food and drink are exceptional. Josh and Gabby have also become involved members of the business community, hosting the most recent meeting of the Bluffton Old Town Merchant’s Society.

They have been instrumental in helping the May River Theater get past a small recession-related rough spot by hosting fundraisers and events for that iconic cultural institution. As you know, Bluffton folks like to have a good time while they take care of each other. Josh and Gabby and Cork’s have done more than their share to help that along.

For the Christmas season, the good folks at Cork’s are also organizing a coat drive for our neighbors who are not well equipped for the Bluffton winter. This recent cold snap should be a reminder that if you have a coat or two that you haven’t worn in a while, drop them by Cork’s. You might even want to consider purchasing and contributing a new coat. Someone would certainly appreciate it.

Mary and I are dedicated practitioners of the “Shop Local” ethos. In preparation for our holiday decoration, Mary went to the Garden Gate to purchase our tree and wreath from proprietor Margie Fox. Not only is the Garden Gate a beautiful shop, Margie is a local treasure. Aside from being a generous source of garden knowledge, she is also an enthusiastic promoter of Bluffton. Margie is also a dependable mainstay of the Bluffton Old Town Merchant’s Society and a shiny flowerpot full of positive energy. Go by her place on the east side of the Promenade; she will make your day.

I also had the honor and privilege of dedicating the bridge over Heyward Cove to my good friend, the late Councilman Tommy Heyward. I want to thank Joanie Heyward and the entire Heyward clan for not only sharing Tommy with us, but the dedication as well. We thank Father Owens for his good words, along with the many Blufftonians that came to remember our one-of-a-kind Tommy. It is appropriate that we dedicate a bridge to Tommy Heyward, as he was truly a bridge between the old Bluffton and the new Bluffton.

The community spirit of the bridge dedication carried over to the tree lightings at Town Hall, the Promenade and Buckwalter Place. These fine events were followed the next day by the latest, and arguably the best iteration of the Bluffton Christmas Parade. If there is one event that seems to capture the essence of our little town, it is the Christmas parade. From the old days of Mayor George Heyward (in Buzzard costume) riding atop the town garbage truck, to the ladies’ drill teams, to the precision of military bands — the parade seems to capture it all. This place will change you. Must be something in the water.

Bill Herbkersman, R-Bluffton, represents District 118 in the South Carolina House of Representatives. He can be reached through his Web site at www.herbkersman. com or by telephone at 757-7900.