Letters to the Editor -- March 6, 2009

Lawless gets more support in election bid

No one has more at stake in the safety of their community than the people who live there. In a time of shrinking resources and growing crime, Ocean View residents came out to lend time and talent to their town. They trained to assist or relieve police officers of routine duties. When an officer is relieved from running errands to Dover, they are more available for public safety and emergencies.

Volunteers earned mutual respect with their neighbors and surrounding communities. They became extra eyes of protection. Unfortunately, the current Ocean View Town Council did not embrace the volunteers.

It appears Roy Thomas set out and succeeded in sabotaging the group. The money used to train was wasted. Two new policemen were trained at the expense of $95,000. The council now decides to cut the new officers, after wasting money to train them. Roy Thomas’s group expects you to believe you will be as safe, and taxes were not really wasted.

I support Bob Lawless. Bob is a commonsense, honest man. He will not tell you that adding additional duties while cutting officers gives you better protection. Councilmen who don’t respect you can’t represent you. Bob Lawless will represent and respect you. Please join me, vote the best interest for Ocean View, vote Lawless.

David Colella
Ocean View

Resident: Lawless has American ideals

Two blue stars hang in the window of my front door for my sons, John and David. They are both serving in Iraq, their mission “a democratic government with freedom of speech.”

I was not in “shock and awe” but “shocked and appalled” when I learned of the Ocean View Town Council’s unreasonable restrictive rules of citizen participation in town hall meetings. An extremely short period of time for citizens to speak, no dissenting remarks or questions allowed.

Should John or David return to Ocean View, they would have less freedom of speech and government participation than a citizen of Iraq. You do not have to go to foreign desert sands to support freedom. You can support our ideals by supporting Mr. Bob Lawless for Ocean View Town Council; he too has served his country. Please vote for Bob, he will help change the unrealistic restrictions.

Vote Lawless April 11 and he will vote for an American-style town hall meeting.

Connie Valentino
Ocean View

It’s time for Ocean View to come together

It’s too bad you didn’t send a reporter to the town hall meeting on Saturday. It was actually pretty civil, until a member of the Long Range Planning Committee, Fred Nunley, had to knock Councilman Perry Mitchell.

In fact, Jan Bain, teacher and Ocean View resident, congratulated all of the council members on their professional behavior. This was her first appearance at a meeting. Thank God she didn’t attend two months ago. I’m glad she gave credit where credit was due. I hope we are able to maintain this decorum throughout the rest of the year.

It amazes me how quickly people can change during an election year. Is it true that Mr. Mitchell has made a complete 360? I was of the impression that he was anti-law-enforcement. Now I hear he has changed his stance, is offering his own budget and two cops won’t be fired after all.

I only wish Mr. Thomas, Fred Nunley and Kathy Vengazo would change their way of thinking, as well. Obviously, Mr. Thomas has schooled his base extremely well.

This week we were treated to a new word: “attrition.” This word was shared by the same talking heads. They were given their talking points early in the morning. Can’t we come up with a more positive word? I checked the dictionary and found attrition to mean “sorrow for one’s sins; the act of wearing or grinding down by friction; the act of weakening or exhausting by constant harassment, abuse, or attack.”

I believe we have suffered enough wearing and grinding down. There’s been too much friction. But rest assured, even if you continue to try and weaken or exhaust the residents of Ocean View with your constant harassment, abuse and attacks, we will not give up. We will stand up and fight for our first amendment rights.

Nan Colella
Ocean View

BBLA receives response to survey letter

The Bethany Beach Landowners Association (BBLA) received an overwhelming response to its newsletter survey asking landowners to prioritize six potential capital projects. On Feb. 25, 2009, on behalf of the members of the BBLA, I sent the results of the survey to the town manager and the town council of Bethany Beach. As of Feb. 19, we had received close to 600 responses.

We asked the landowners to prioritize certain potential capital projects before the town council. We think the number of responses is the most we have ever received on a survey. It is clear the residents and landowners feel strongly about the town and these projects. We are still receiving more comments, but we do not believe these comments will change the results.

The results are clear. The No. 1 priority is to fund the Pennsylvania (Avenue) drainage problem – 327 respondents listed this as the highest or second-highest project. The second-highest project is the bicycle/pedestrian safety project – 272 replies listed this project first or second. The lowest project is the widening of the boardwalk, with 203 voting it last or second to last in importance.

The entire list is, in order of importance: (1) North Pennsylvania Avenue storm drainage replacement; (2) bicycle and pedestrian safety facilities; (3) Streetscape – 100 block of Garfield Parkway; (4) other stormwater projects (Lake Bethany, Bethany Glen, Westwood and Evans Avenues); (5) Church and Neff properties park development; and (6) boardwalk widening.

The newsletter containing the survey and our letter to the town council, which has the raw data from the survey, can be found on the BBLA’s Web site (www.bbla.info).

Given the input from so many citizens, BBLA has requested a public response from the Bethany Beach Town Council at the March 20, 2009, town council meeting. We will post the council’s response on the Web site.

We trust the council will consider the results of the survey as important information from their constituents.

John Himmelberg, President

Terms, committee important to voters

Our Town Council held one of its “Dead of Winter” workshops recently, and for some, the news is ominous. The Feb. 20, 2009 Coastal Point carried an article by Patricia Titus on Page 1, titled “Bethany considers council term lengths, limits.” Eligible voters in Bethany Beach should read the story carefully – perhaps more than once.

I was struck by an important common theme in two topics the council explored at the workshop – a link between the council’s desire for less citizen participation in elections and a plan to rid itself of its troublesome Communications Committee.

Clearly, a majority on council want to give themselves three years in office, instead of the existing two-year terms. One council member had even wanted to begin three-year terms immediately, without an intervening election. The council also wants to adopt term limits – a decision that citizens strongly believe is a prerogative of the electorate and not the elected.

Many citizens like the notion that frequent municipal elections give them an opportunity for timely participation in the town’s civic life. It gives individual citizens the chance to toss out council people they choose to toss out and reward the ones they like with another term. Frequent elections have long been a feature of the politics of small towns.

Citizens who want even less participation than they have now in choosing Bethany’s council and believe the council should have even more freedom to do as it pleases, without the regular and often pesky scrutiny of frequent elections, should applaud the council. Citizens who see this as a thinly veiled power grab on the part of the council majority had better protest and protest soon. The very least we should ask for is the right to approve a major election law change by placing such issues on the ballot. We all should have the chance to agree or disagree, before the council decides the matter for us.

Just as disturbing is the council’s desire to “mothball” its Communications Committee, ably and unselfishly chaired by Tracy Mulligan. The council seems to be worried about the committee’s desire to work on procedures and guidelines for regular surveys of public opinion to gain a better sense of what citizens are thinking about and the issues they would like the council to work on. Certainly, a survey would have enabled the council to avoid the embarrassment of embracing a boardwalk widening proposal as its top priority when most townspeople don’t agree.

Citizens will recall that the Communications Committee was an innovation adopted a few years ago to respond, in part, to a belief shared by many that town government needed badly to find ways to open up its activities to public view and promote more meaningful public involvement.

You should form your own opinion about these matters. Read the Titus article carefully and decide for yourself whether the council favors additional citizen involvement in its work. If you like the idea of an active Communications Committee promoting and encouraging citizen participation, you may want to drop a note to the council at admin@townofbethanybeach.com and tell them you think that killing or mothballing the Communications Committee is a bad idea whose time should never come. If you are not an e-mail person, just call Town Hall at (302) 539-8011 and voice your opinion.

Our opinions are only as important as the efforts we make to voice them.

Dan Costello
Bethany Beach

Haon asks state to hear appeal
Editor’s note: The following letter was addressed to DNREC’s Environmental Appeals Board, Acting Secretary David Small and Gov. Jack Markell and was forwarded to the Coastal Point for publication.

It has been reported that DNREC is considering using a procedural maneuver to deny the right of Mr. Bill Zak of Citizens for Clean Power to present to the Board an appeal of a recent DNREC permit regarding outdoor storage of coal ash at the Indian River Power Plant.

On behalf of members of the Citizens for Clean Power, the Sierra Club of Delaware, the Citizens Advisory Committee of the Center for the Island Bays and many individual concerned residents of Sussex County, we strongly urge that DNREC allow Mr. Zak to present his appeal as previously scheduled by DNREC for 9 a.m. on March 10, 2009.

Allowing Mr. Zak to present his appeal is consistent with Gov. Markell’s proactive policy to seek public input on critical issues, particularly related to public health. A denial of an appeal hearing is counter to that policy.

Harry Haon
Fenwick Island

Nunley explains his stance on budget

I have served on the Ocean View Long Range Financial Planning Committee for the past several months and have been impressed by the way people in Ocean View care deeply about the future of our community, even though we may not agree entirely on the best solutions.

The solutions presented in this budget do not bring me great joy; however, they are responsible alternatives designed to eliminate the structural deficit. Importantly, the proposals seem to reflect the opinions of our taxpayers as demonstrated in the survey that nearly half of our taxpayers completed.

You cannot solve a long-term structural deficit through temporary cost-savings measures such as furloughs or by continuing to “mask” the problem by depleting reserves. What happens when the reserves are gone? The town got into this problem by annually resorting to utilizing reserves to pay the town’s bills.

The proposed budget’s approach of a very modest tax increase, combined with a modest resizing of staff through attrition, along with other expenditure reductions, is a reasonable solution. My past experience helps me to appreciate how tough these economic challenges are and how difficult the decisions are for those who make them. I also know how much tougher the decisions will become in the future if we don’t take appropriate action now.

In summary, I believe this budget provides the following:

• Corrects for past budgets over-reliance on transfer tax revenue to fund current operating department budgets.

• Begins to move the town away from “masking” the budget shortfalls by using reserves.

• Retires the $1.2 million bank loan for the Public Safety Building, saving the town $82,000 per year in budgeted operating expenditures.

• Provides for a sustainable financing method for maintaining the 22 miles of town streets.

• Gradually returns the Town’s projected annual budget deficits to a balanced status within five years.

• Minimizes the tax burden on the citizens.

• Maintains reasonable public services.

• Puts capital expenditures on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Fred Nunley
Ocean View

Thomas offers opinion on Mitchell proposal
Editor’s note: The following letter was addressed to the citizens of Ocean View and was forwarded to the Coastal Point for publication.

This letter is in response to the “Alternative Budget” as submitted by Councilman Mitchell concerning the Ocean View budget.

First, everyone should be aware that this is the third variation of the Alternative Budget submitted by Councilman Mitchell. Each plan has been dramatically different from the previous one. There seems to be no apparent relationship from one plan to the next. However, they all have the same fundamental errors.

The Alternative Budget is a combination of apples and oranges. It appears that Councilman Mitchell is trying to address the $2.2 million deficit. The $2.2 million deficit was based upon a set of assumptions and a point in time (apples). The current budget of the town manager has moved on with new assumptions and projections (oranges). The Alternative Budget uses mixed comparisons to get the answers desired, thus mixing apples and oranges. It makes no financial sense.

Let’s examine the first line item of the Alternative Budget. It seeks to reduce the $2.2 million deficit by not paying off the loan on the Public Safety Building. Point of fact! The paying off of the loan on the Public Safety Building was never a part of the $2.2 million deficit. Question: If it was not part of the deficit, how can not paying it off help solve the deficit? The answer is: it can not, thus creating an unfavorable error in the Alternative Budget analysis of approximately $742,000.

The following analysis comes with a warning: Is Councilman Mitchell trying to address the $2.2 million deficit or is he trying to address the current budget proposal? I have no idea. Therefore, since there is no financial analysis, my assumptions may be wrong.

I have tried to understand what the Alternative Budget is. Let me give you the highlights as I see them. There are approximately $830,000 worth of budget cuts in the plan; 85 percent have come from the town manager’s budget – very little new thinking. There are approximately $700,000 of funds taken from the Emergency Reserve Trust Fund and the Capital Reserve Trust Fund – completely eliminating the Emergency Reserve Trust Fund. The Alternative Budget falls significantly short of its goal to eliminate the $2.2 million deficit, to the tune of about $667,000.

What is the Alternative Budget? It is more of the same. It is nothing more than a rehash of old ideas – ideas that have been put forth by past council members and rejected by the majority for the past four years. It ignores the root cause of the deficit: Government too big to be supported by available revenues.

It is the “liquidation of the town’s cash,” to the tune of approximately $1.5 million over the next five years. It is a “going out of business” plan. It never has a balanced budget. Ocean View continues to operate with a deficit for the next five years while becoming more dependent on the transfer tax. It will cause significant tax increases in the future. However, the tax increases will come after everyone on this council is gone. But the residents will be left to pick up the pieces.

I have only addressed one of several issues that make the Alternative Budget nothing more than an attempt to use numbers as necessary to get the answers desired. It appears that numbers are used with no idea of where they come from or what they mean. No detailed financial analysis appears to have been done. It just makes no sense and has no financial basis. The Alternative Budget, from a financial analysis standpoint, in nonsensical.

The Alternative Budget is an example of the planning that has gotten Ocean View into the position it finds itself today: deficits of greater than $500,000 per year, spending of $1.30 for every $1 it takes in, red ink as far as the one can see into the future, a budget more dependent on the transfer tax each year, significant tax increases in the future after all town coffers have been depleted, no reserves to help the town during times of disaster, unfunded capital improvements, $1 million of debt.

Is this the vision that Councilman Mitchell has for Ocean View’s future? Not a pretty picture. I do not share this vision for Ocean View. My vision for Ocean View is the following: A balanced budget within three or four years, a town living within its means, a town becoming less dependent on transfer taxes, manageable tax increases, adequate cash reserve to allow for capital improvements that will keep the towns assets well maintained and allow for improved amenities for the citizens, adequate emergency reserves to assist Ocean View during times of emergency, its citizens protected by a well-staffed public safety department, a town that is debt-free.

The Alternative Budget is wrong on three counts. The numbers do not add up, it is not based on any sound financial analysis, and it is the “gutting” of the town’s financial resources.

Roy Thomas
Ocean View Town Councilman