The Town of Bluffton is proud to present a recap of its 2022 highlights and accomplishments. 

Capital Improvement Projects:

• May River Road Pocket Park: The May River Road Pocket Park, is a third-acre passive park, located at 1220 May River Road, in front of the Stock Farm neighborhood. It was completed this fall. It features landscaping, a small plaza, seating, and two sidewalks to provide connectivity between the Stock Farm neighborhood and the May River Road sidewalk system. The Marks Family donated this land to the Town in 2017. This land donation enabled the Town to preserve open space and create a small pocket park which complements the amenities of Stock Farm and the May River Road Streetscape Project. 

• Bridge Street Streetscape Project: The first phase of the Town’s Bridge Street Streetscape Project began in early December and will continue through the end of summer. This more than $1.1 million dollar project for its first phase will include improvements to sidewalks, parking, street lighting, drainage, and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant crosswalks on Bridge Street from Burnt Church Road to Calhoun Street. The project’s objective is to improve pedestrian flow, connectivity, walkability, public safety and improve stormwater runoff drainage and water quality along this route. 

• Buck Island Drainage Improvement Project: The Town was scheduled to begin the estimated $119,000 Buck Island Road drainage improvement project Dec. 26. The project will upgrade two existing roadway culverts crossing Buck Island Road that are designed to reduce the risk of flooding. This project is designed to protect residents’ properties and as well as road infrastructure.  

• Sidewalk Improvement Projects: The Town completed construction for the Goethe-Shults and Buck Island neighborhood sidewalk projects. These projects are designed to improve pedestrian safety and enhance connectivity to neighborhood parks, schools, and area shopping.  

• Park Improvement Projects: The Town completed the following park improvement projects:  grass replacement and electricity power pedestals at the “Field of Dreams,” area of Oscar Frazier Park, installed new paver pathway at Pritchard Street Pocket Park and replaced flooring at Rotary Community Center. 

• Pritchard Street Sewer Extension Project: The Town completed the first phase of the Historic District’s Sewer Project on Pritchard Street. This first phase installed 2,550 linear feet of main sewer lines and which services 25 properties with houses and four (4) additional undeveloped lots. Additionally, the project also retired 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 (DRCI):

• DRCI’s Strategic Plan Update: DRCI will focus on entrepreneurship and small business growth while working with local & regional partners who specialize in other economic development activities.

• Partnership with City of Hardeeville:  DRCI signed a second-year partnership with the City of Hardeeville to grow entrepreneurship and small business in the city and Jasper County. DRCI will be working with existing business owners on expanding or adjusting their business plans and will help new entrepreneurs just starting out in Hardeeville’s growing city. 

• DRCI 2022 Statistics:  Twelve companies participated in DRCI’s incubator programs in 2022, 65% of them are based in Bluffton. DRCI has 1023 members and 62 business mentors. DRCI hosted 22 events at The Hub. DRCI companies raised $362,000 in funding for their businesses and 76% of DRCI companies have a 3-year survival rate.  

Finance & Administration:

• Small Business Grants/American Recovery Plan Act: Bluffton Town Council established the Small Business Assistance Grant Fund to assist small businesses which were negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses, located in the Town of Bluffton limits, were able to apply for a maximum amount of $20,000 per grant.

• Non-Profit Grants/American Recovery Plan Act: The Town, working with the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry (CFL), distributed up to $20,000 grants to individual non-profits which were adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and whose representatives serve low-to-moderate-income residents of Bluffton and/or underserved communities. The maximum amount which each organization can be awarded is $20,000. Town Council set aside $520,000 for this grant program from the federal funds received by Bluffton via the American Recovery Plan Act.

• Fiscal Year 2023 Consolidated Budget: Town Council approved the Town’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 consolidated budget ($60,459,649). With this proposed consolidated budget, property taxes have remained steady since 2014; with a tax decrease in 2019. The new fiscal year began July 1, 2022 and extends through June 20, 2023. The consolidated budget is comprised of four different funds which include General Fund, Stormwater Utility Fund, Capital Improvements Program Fund and Debt Service Fund. The FY 2023 consolidated budget totals $60,459,649 and is structured to move the Town forward through program enhancements to include improved delivery of services and its capital projects schedule.

• Accommodations Tax Funding: Town Council awarded more than $731,000 to nine (9) non-profit organizations in support of their events which are in part designed to increase tourism to the Town of Bluffton.  A sampling of those awarded projects are Town of Bluffton/Squire Pope Carriage House Restoration Project, the Historic Bluffton Arts and Seafood Festival, Bluffton’s Farmers Market, Bluffton Gullah Heritage Center and the Town of Bluffton Welcome Center via The Heyward House. The Accommodations Tax funds are generated from a tax on the gross proceeds derived from the rental of rooms for lodging or sleeping accommodations. These funds are then dispersed to non-profit organizations for their events which promote tourism, arts, cultural events, and other tourism-generating activities.

• Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada (GFOA) named Town of Bluffton as a Triple Crown Winner in September 2022. GFOA’s Triple Crown designation recognizes governments who have received GFOA’s Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting, Popular Annual Financial Reporting Award, and Distinguished Budget Presentation Award for a fiscal year. The Triple Crown designation represents a significant achievement. To qualify, each entity must meet the high standards of all three separate award programs.  Each award program recognizes governments that produce reports which communicate their financial stories in a transparent manner and meet award standards. 

Bluffton Police Department (BPD):

• Mental Health and Wellness Program: The BPD established a 10-component program to promote mental health and prevent officer suicide. This program includes the 2021 hire of a community mental health advocate (the first agency in the state to employ a mental health professional on staff), and a sergeant in charge of recruiting and wellness.

• Reflection Plaza: A component of the Mental Health and Wellness Program is the Reflection Plaza, a paved area behind the BPD that will provide a place of respite for officers to decompress from the demands of policing. It is equipped with a grill, picnic tables and outside furniture. Hargray Communications donated $35,000 for this project which will be completed in early 2023.

• Municipal Association of South Carolina (MASC) Public Safety Achievement Award: The MASC awarded the BPD an Achievement Award in the Public Safety category for its Mental Health and Wellness Program.

• New Chief of Police selected:  Town Manager Stephen Steese selected Joseph Babkiewicz as BPD’s new chief. Babkiewicz began as chief Dec. 29, 2022.  

• Accreditation:  The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) reaccredited the Bluffton Police Department (BPD) in November. This is the fifth time CALEA has awarded BPD this distinction since 2009. This accreditation is effective for four years. CALEA Accreditation serves as the International Gold Standard for Public Safety Agencies. 

• BPD accepts first major private donation: Through the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry’s BPD Benevolence Fund, the BPD accepted its first major private donation. The Town accepted its first donation for one of its three newly established charity funds. Bluffton resident Samantha “Sam” Boyd gave $20,000 to the Bluffton Police Department Benevolence Fund with $10,000 earmarked specifically to better equip Bluffton’s K-9 program and the remaining $10,000 will be used for miscellaneous police programs.

• Town’s Toy Drive and Shop with a Cop: These two programs provide hundreds of gifts to community children, especially those from families who may be experiencing financial challenges. The community donated gifts and donations and BPD officers distributed the gifts in mid-December for the holiday season. 

• Citizens Police Academy: BPD finished its annual Citizens Police Academy in early December. This 8-week, free Academy course gives residents a glimpse into the Bluffton Police Department (BPD), the experiences of its officers, the multi-faceted skill sets required of law enforcement officers and the specialized divisions of BPD. This academy is usually scheduled for the fall. 

Neighborhood Assistance Program:

The Town spent more funds for this program than in any other year of this program, underscoring the urgent need for affordable housing and affordable venues to maintain houses in our community. The Town spent more than $160,000 in 2022, helping 26 Bluffton households. The program assists with repairs to homes and properties of low- to moderate-income residents and is operated through the Town’s Affordable Housing Committee. Repairs include projects such as leaking roofs, unstable or unsafe floors, failing septic tanks, inaccessible private roads, removing of unwanted items and 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. Most projects are focused on keeping Bluffton residents safe and dry in their homes.


Town’s 2022 Initiatives:

• Affordable Housing Neighborhood Initiative: The Town partnered with a private developer, Workforce State of Mind, LLC, to build affordable housing neighborhood as one solution to the regional workforce housing shortage. This project will include at least a dozen housing units at 1095 May River Road, a 1.78-acre site that the Town bought in 2018. The Town will donate the land and reimburse the developer for the planning, permitting, design and infrastructure costs to reduce the overall cost of the homes.  This new neighborhood will be protected by a 30-year affordability covenant, which means these homes will be affordable and reserved for those who are income-qualified, regardless of current market values, for three decades.

• Regional Housing Trust Fund: The Town, along with its neighboring municipal counterparts, have formed a Regional Housing Trust Fund to address the need for affordable housing in the Lowcountry. The partners have pledged $3.4 million to start the initiative, which will launch in January. The objective is to create new housing units or rehabilitate existing housing units at affordable prices, as deemed by certain percentages of the Area Median Incomes. An organization called Community Works will manage the fund. 

• Strategic Plan:  Town Council approved the Town’s Strategic Plan and its Action Agenda at the April 12 council meeting, putting into motion the Town’s workplan for the next two years. The Action Agenda, which is basically the Town’s updated to-do list, was compiled from input from residents, community/business leaders and town staff, culminating at the annual strategic planning session that was held Feb. 15, 2022.  

• New Comprehensive Plan:  After a series of public meetings, surveys and revisions, the Town adopted its Blueprint Bluffton, the Comprehensive Plan for the next 10 years. The plan will guide Bluffton’s next decade of growth and help the Town to prioritize projects and allocate resources.

• Historic Preservation Grant Program: The Town awarded its first Historic Preservation Grant, a $20,000 award, to the Historic Bluffton Foundation Dec. 12, 2022, for exterior renovations to the Heyward House, 70 Boundary St.  The Town’s Historic Preservation Grant Program is available to owners of Contributing Resources to the Old Town Bluffton Historic District. Owners of qualifying structures in the Old Town Bluffton Historic District can apply for grants up to $30,000 for residential structures and for up to $20,000 for non-residential/commercial structures. 

• Town’s Charitable Funds established: The Town partnered with the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry and established three charitable funds.    

The Bluffton Police Department Benevolence Fund will support the department’s mission, program, services, and outreach program, including its annual Toy Drive.  This fund can be used to direct funds to other specific police programs, projects, and services.

The Town of Bluffton Parks and Public Art Fund supports the development and enhancement of public parks and art.

The Bluffton Lutzie 43 Scholarship Fund provides annual scholarships to students who are ambassadors of safe driving habits.  This scholarship fund is also supported by the Town’s annual Lutzie 43 5K race. 

• Mobile Town Halls:  The Town hosted two public Mobile Town Halls at Town Hall and at Bluffton Police Department, as well as hosting two Mobile Town Halls for neighborhood associations. Participants received an overview of town government, operations, initiatives, projects, and policies. If your neighborhood or organization would like to host this presentation, contact Public Information Officer Debbie Szpanka at 

• Inaugural newsletter: The Town mailed its inaugural 12-page newsletter to Town residents with information about the Town’s events, policies, projects, and processes. The Town is scheduled to distribute this newsletter twice a year, in the fall and in the spring.   


Town Events:

• Inaugural Independence Day Celebration:  The Town of Bluffton hosted its first Independence Day Celebration, July 2, 2022, with a pre-party at Martin Family and DuBois Parks and a fireworks display at Oyster Factory Park, with viewing also at Wright Family Park. 

• Inaugural children’s events: The Town of Bluffton hosted two children events this summer at Town parks. “Jump into Summer” was held June 11 at Buckwalter Place Park and “Slide Out of July” was held July 16 at Oscar Frazier Park. Each event attracted hundreds of residents and children.  

• Inaugural “Movie in Parks” events: The Town hosted six movie nights at town parks throughout 2022. 

• 7th Annual Historic Preservation Symposium: The Town hosted its annual Historic Preservation Symposium May 19. This year’s theme, “Let Me Tell You About the Bluffton I Know,” featured stories of Bluffton from long-time residents.

• Lutzie 43 5K and Scholarship Program: The Bluffton Lutzie 43 5K, an annual race to raise awareness of the dangers of distracted driving, was held April 2, with nearly 170 participants, raising funds that were used for four scholarships. Scholarship recipients received $1,000 each for being ambassadors of safe driving habits.  

• May River Cleanup and River Sweep:  The Town hosted its annual two cleanup events April 30 and Sept. 17. These annual cleanups are held at the beginning and end of boating season as an effort to keep the May River and its surrounding areas clean of litter and debris.

• Arbor Day and Palmetto Log Celebration: The Town celebrated Arbor Day April 29 by planting a Live Oak tree in Oyster Factory Park and acknowledging the Palmetto Log project at Wright Family Park. The Town honored the 29 Palmetto trees that Dominion Energy removed from the Historic District due to safety reasons and repurposed them as planters for the Wright Family Park.

• Spooktacular: The Bluffton Police Department (BPD) hosted its second annual Safety Spooktacular Oct. 28 at Oscar Frazier Park. This event evolved from the annual National Night Out. In 2021, the National Night Out was canceled due to weather, so BPD combined the objective of National Night, which is to provide a venue for the public to meet with first responders, with Halloween fun. The Spooktacular event was embraced by the community and a new tradition was born. National Night Out event is now officially retired and Spooktacular is BPD’s annual event. 

• Annual 9/11 Ceremony: Each year, the Town hosts a ceremony to honor anniversary of 9-11; honoring the 2,977 people killed in the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, at the World Trade Center, near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon. It is held at the Buckwalter Place Park at the Bluffton Veterans Memorial.

• 51st Tree Lighting and Christmas Parade: The Town’s 51st tree lighting was held Dec. 2, with the 51st Christmas Parade held the next day. 

• Inaugural #ReadyBluffton Preparathon: A week-long #ReadyBluffton Preparathon was held in May to prepare residents for hurricane season, severe weather events and other critical incidents.


Wall of Honor:

Jacob Martin was inducted into the Town’s Wall of Honor Nov. 8, 2022. Martin’s public service career spans decades. He was a police officer in Detroit, Michigan, and a police chief in Waukegan, Illinois. He later taught government and economics at McCracken High School in Bluffton and retired as a district office administrator after 23 years of service. Jacob also served as a municipal court judge for the Town of Bluffton from 1992-1995.

Awards and Accolades:

Municipal Association of South Carolina (MASC) Public Safety Achievement Award: The MASC awarded the BPD an “Achievement Award” in the Public Safety category for its Mental Health & Wellness Program, competing for this honor among law enforcement agencies throughout South Carolina.

Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA): GFOA awarded the Town one of its seven Awards for Excellence in Government Finance for the Town’s Establishing a New Fund Balance and Capital Asset Reserve Policy. This award recognizes innovative programs and contributions to the practice of government finance that exemplify outstanding financial management. 

GFOA named Town of Bluffton as a Triple Crown Winner. GFOA’s Triple Crown designation recognizes governments who have received GFOA’s Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting, Popular Annual Financial Reporting Award, and Distinguished Budget Presentation Award for a fiscal year. The Town was one of just 317 governments that received the Triple Crown for the previous fiscal year. The Triple Crown designation represents a significant achievement. To qualify, each entity must meet the high standards of all three separate award programs. Each award program recognizes governments that produce reports which communicate their financial stories in a transparent manner and meet award standards.