Letters - March 21, 2008

Readers: Regulate propane dealers

We have subscribed to propane services from Suburban Propane over the past 10 years that we have lived in this area. Over the years, the cost of propane has escalated disproportionately with other costs, such as gasoline, oil and other fuel services.

We have a propane fireplace and a 120-gallon buried tank. We used the fireplace only once during the winter for about three hours at Christmas, but we do leave the pilot light on all year, as suggested to prevent bugs from clogging up the line.

Today, we received our bill for 86.0 gallons of propane (or 72 percent of tank capacity) at $4.500 per gallon or $382.70, which equates to over $100 per hour of use. In addition, there is a charge of $2.81 for “REGFEE.” This fee is charged to recover regulatory compliance costs for implementing polices and procedures, employee training and equipment purchases to comply with federal and state requirements. The REGFEE is not being collected on behalf of any government agency.

Propane companies in the area are not regulated by the Public Service Commission but should be. Telephone service and electric service are regulated and must file with the Commission and prove the need for rate increases.

The response to terminating my service with Suburban over such an unrealistic price structure was that they will be out soon to dig up my front lawn to retrieve their 120-gallon tank. I just can’t wait.

Roland and Shirley Hudson
Bethany Beach

Harkness family thankful for support

On Jan. 31, 2008, the partnership at The Oak Arbor Inn Restaurant in Ocean View, Del., was dissolved. John Brenan is now the sole proprietor. We wish him luck.

We put so much love into transforming an old house into a warm and inviting fine dining establishment. My husband designed a kitchen with limited space into an efficient and organized work area that made it easy for any chef to prepare and deliver consistent, hot food. I was impressed and very proud of him.

I had too much fun creating the look and feel of the dining room, the parlor and even the restrooms! I enjoyed the interior decorating so much, from colors and carpet to fabrics and furniture. Finding all the art was my favorite, though. So much of the labor was done by our own hands. We will truly miss it.

We would like to give special thanks to our staff. We had the good fortune of working with some of the best in the business. They made going to work every day fun and we really did share some good times. They are like family to us, and we will miss the love and the laughter.

More importantly, we will miss our guests. It amazed us that folks would come all the way from Ocean City, Lewes, Georgetown, Berlin and all towns in between.

We’ll especially miss the friendly faces we were used to seeing regularly, like all the locals and out-of-town homeowners, our fellow parishioners from St. Ann’s and the folks we knew from our four children’s schools, sports and extra curricular activities. We appreciated the support.

We won’t soon forget all the lovely ladies of The Red Hat Society, those of you who entrusted us with making your weddings, anniversaries and birthdays special and the many couples Maggie from The Addy Sea sent us for quiet romantic dinners.

I think what we’ll miss the very most are the table-side chats, hearing about your children and grandchildren, the great conversations and the arriving hugs and departing kisses. Dick and Betty Fahey of Annapolis/Sea Colony once said to me, “Every time we come here, it feels like coming home.” It was one of the finest professional compliments I have received in almost 25 years of service. It made me feel like we were “doing it right.”

My husband and I always held the work ethic and philosophy that when in the restaurant business, you are not just serving a customer a meal. If you are “doing it right,” you leave a guest with the feeling that they just experienced something wonderful and memorable.

So, as we make our way to new experiences on this journey we call life, we truly hope that we have given you as many wonderful, memorable experiences as you have given us. We feel grateful and blessed to have had the opportunity to serve you.

Josette and David Harkness
Ocean View

Reader opposes Bethany’s smoking ban

Initially, I wish to state that I have never smoked, nor does any of my family smoke.

That secondhand smoke, in an enclosed area, is unhealthy is not in dispute, especially to those with asthma or allergies. However, I am unaware of any study providing the dangers of secondhand smoke in an open-air location, unrestricted by any type of barrier. The beach is about as unenclosed as it’s possible to get, other than many miles out at sea or deserted mountain tops.

The fines for smoking violations seem to be well thought-out and may work, as long as the perpetrator is apprehended with the offending cigarette, cigar or pipe, and has brought identification to the beach with him. If he has finished smoking, a breath test may be required.

This brings us to how this law is to be enforced. The lifeguards’ responsibility is the safety of those in the water. In order to adequately police the “no smoking on the beach” rule, summertime help will be needed to patrol the beaches, as, with our beach replenishment, it is impossible for the boardwalk officers to see the beach.

Along this line, some thought should be given to the activities of those on the beach during unguarded hours, as related to their own safety and that of others. The new dunes provide a wonderful hiding place.

The assertion that viewing smoking on the beach may influence children in one direction or another is ridiculous. They have seen it outdoors, in public places, with friends and family members and sometimes in their own homes, all of their lives. Anyone under 40 years of age, who has attended school in the U.S.A., has been inundated with the dangers of smoking. Children are not looking at smokers. They are busy having fun on vacation.

The occasional smoker on our new, larger, open-air beach, where there is almost always a breeze, does not harm anyone.

Margaret Young
Bethany Beach

Editor’s note: Early committee research on the idea of a beach smoking ban in Bethany revealed that studies by Stanford University in 2006 indicated that, while many believe smoke disperses in the outdoors to where it is not a second-hand health threat, at least 6 feet of distance and having smokers downwind of others was required to avoid pollution rates up to 50 times normal ambient readings.

Similarly, a University of Maryland, Baltimore College, 2005 study on the presence of multiple smokers in a given outdoor area revealed that at least 23 feet of distance was needed to avoid second-hand smoke. The study also indicated that larger congregations of smokers, such as those gathering in a designated smoking area, led to conditions where smoke dissipated no better or more quickly than it would indoors.

Ragan offers insight on seals

It was wonderful to see the article “Beach gets a visit from a Guest” (March 14) about the young seal that visited Bethany Beach last week. It was even more wonderful to see the caring reaction of the town to her visit.

This is in tragic contrast to what harp seal pups are facing over the next several weeks in eastern Canada. Starting towards the end of March, 275,000 seals will be clubbed and shot to death for their fur.

It is disturbing that in this day and age seals are still being killed for such a frivolous purpose. It is the fishermen in Canada who conduct the hunt and it accounts for less that 5 percent of their income — 95 percent of their income comes from fishing and the U.S. is the largest importer of Canadian seafood.

That is why we are encouraging people who care about seals to avoid seafood from Canada until the hunt ends for good.

Patricia H. Ragan, Director
The ProtectSeals Campaign, The Humane Society of the United States

Magill backs Wood, Mitchell in Ocean View

After my allotted two terms as a member of the Ocean View Town Council expired in April 2007, many people asked me if I intended to run for mayor this year.

I told everyone I didn’t plan to as long as we had candidates who cared about the entire town and not just their group of friends, who cared about the town’s small-town character, and who would continue the battle to bring fiscal sanity to Ocean View — a battle started by former Town Manager Kathy Roth and me back when we had million-dollar surpluses.

Having looked at the candidates who have filed for the upcoming April election, I feel confident that we have candidates in Gordon Woods for mayor and Perry Mitchell for District 3, who will look out for the entire town and continue the efforts to rein in and balance out the town’s spending and in the process, protect our small-town character.

Those efforts, now spearheaded by Councilmen Roy Thomas and Dr. Richard Nippes, Town Manager Conway Gregory, Finance Director Lee Brubaker, and Long-Range Financial Planning Committee members like Cliff Mitchell and Marc Grimes, are critical to Ocean View’s future.

Without that long-term and common sense approach to the town’s finances, nothing good can happen. Given the volatility of transfer tax revenues, either the town will have to impose tax increases that would make Bethany Beach and Millville blush, or it will have to sacrifice the small-town character that is mandated by the town’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan and which surveys show the overwhelming majority of Ocean View residents want to preserve.

Without sound fiscal policy, instead of the residential character of our business district on Route 26, instead of the single-family zoning we have in older and historic sections of town, and instead of the traditional densities of three units or less per acre, Ocean View will be forced to capitulate to developer demands to bend and change existing zoning laws in the hopes that their money will help cover the deficits.

In fact, the last two developers to come before the town about annexation when I was still on council, when asked why the town should accept their proposals, had the same response: “Because the town needs the money.”

The notion that we could annex our way to prosperity, held by some when I was on council, created champagne tastes that were unsustainable and resulted in the million-dollar operating deficits the town wrestles with now.

I’m gratified to see other candidates champion fiscal responsibility, as well, but I wonder how serious some are when they cite concerns about a $12,000 raise to make the town manager the highest-paid employee instead of the fourth-highest, yet express no concern about the continuation of a controversial police vehicle take-home policy that was short $420,000 of the projected $540,000 the policy will cost over the next five years.

You would think if you were concerned about one, you would be concerned about the other, but I guess that’s what you can be reduced to when your platform is dictated by the interests of your inner circle of friends instead of the interests of the entire town.

I believe that if the voters of Ocean View elect Gordon Woods as mayor and Perry Mitchell in District 3, that the projected tax increases of less than 4 percent per year from FY2010-FY2013 in the current long-range financial plan, in a town that has only had one 9 percent tax increase in nearly 15 years (compared to the 100-plus percent increases in neighboring towns this past year), can be maintained.

I believe that if the voters of Ocean View elect Gordon Woods as mayor and Perry Mitchell in District 3 that we will be able to preserve our small-town character as we continue to grow.

I urge everyone to give serious consideration and support to Gordon Woods for mayor and Perry Mitchell for District 3 in the town election on Saturday, April 12, 2008, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in town hall.

Eric Magill
Ocean View

Valihura discusses pooling proposal

Editor’s note: The following letter, dated March 10 and addressed to Speaker of the Delaware House of Representatives Terry Spence, was forwarded to the Coastal Point for publication.

I am writing to you as the chair of the Health Insurance Pooling Task Force as created by House Resolution 38.

The task force has met twice. At the first meeting Insurance Commissioner Matt Denn presented his pooling proposal, Senate Bill 6. His bill proposes the creation of a purchasing pool as an option for those looking to obtain healthcare coverage. The goal of his proposal is to reduce the cost of premiums for those individuals already purchasing insurance.

At our second meeting, Dr. Elliot Wicks of Health Management Associates was asked to make a presentation on the merits and deficiencies of pooling and the experience that other states have had with similar approaches. Dr. Wicks is a widely-recognized authority on this subject and his expertise has been utilized by Commissioner Denn and other members of the Minner administration.

It was Dr. Wicks’ contention that pools are not able to offer coverage at a significantly lower price than what is available in the market. In his testimony before the task force, Dr. Wicks said that healthcare purchasing pools that have been established elsewhere have suffered from a phenomenon known as “adverse selection.”

Pools initially attract people from all risk groups, but the lower-risk participants soon learn they can purchase coverage individually for less than the rate offered to the pool as a whole. As these individuals leave, the premiums for the remainder of the group escalate, encouraging more participants to exit. Ultimately, the pool is left with high-risk individuals who remain only because they have few other options. Dr. Wicks said pools to insure these high-risk individuals have merit, but because of the high premiums they must receive significant state subsidies to remain viable.

Attached to this letter you will find complete minutes of both task force meetings, including a copy of the remarks offered by Commissioner Denn at our first gathering.

Regrettably, House Resolution 38 — the legislation establishing our task force — was too ambitious in its scope. While many of the resolution’s goals remain worthy of further study, this task force will not be able to achieve all the mandates by the deadline specified in the measure.

However, I believe our task force was successful in researching the issue of healthcare purchasing pools and has provided information that will help the State House of Representatives decide if Senate Bill 6 would accomplish the objectives stated by its sponsors.

It is the determination of the task force that the issue of health insurance pooling is strictly a public policy decision under the purview of the members of the General Assembly. By submission of this letter, and the attached documentation, the task force established by HR 38 concludes its work.

Robert J. Valihura Jr.
State Representative, 10th District

Resident takes exception with letter

I would like to offer an observation regarding the self-righteous Ocean View Councilman Mr. Nippes.

Mr. Nippes failed to divulge that the exorbitant raise for the town manager was initiated by Councilman Thomas during a closed session of the council, away from public scrutiny. Mr. Nippes gives the impression that the town manager received the raise as a result of “…unanimous votes” from the council, but the actual vote was three to two, with Councilmen Amendt and Wichmann in the minority.

Mr. Nippes believes the town manager deserves a town vehicle to commute from Denton, Md., but he feels our police officers are no worthy of such, as he abstained from the vote regarding take-home vehicles for our police officers who respond to emergencies.

Mr. Nippes attempts to provide rationale for the town manager’s salary raise by citing salary studies conducted by, who else, the town manger.

These studies are conflicts of interest, as the person conducting these studies is the same person who financially benefited the most. Yes, other town employees received minor increases, but only one received a 17 percent salary elevation after only six months in his first town manager position. Consequently, other employees actually sustained a decrease in take-home pay when their overtime was eliminated.

And all of this from a councilman who, on his own and without prior council vote or authorization, decided to create a new town seal, along with a town motto. He, along with the new town manager, constructed a contest with specific rules whereby citizens would submit a town seal design and/or a three- to five-word motto referencing our rich history. He, along with the Historical Committee, would then select two of each category and present them to the council for their final selection and approval.

Mr. Nippes decided to abandon these rules and engaged a local artist who miraculously designed the winning town seal and motto that contained six words. I, along with many of my fellow citizens, was quite satisfied with the existing historic town seal. The new town motto is grammatically incorrect, exceeded the word limitation and does not in any way reflect the historical background of the town, as the rules in the contest stated.

Quite frankly, I don’t take much stock in a person who is disingenuous regarding following rules, providing full disclosure and transparency of government. I feel Mr. Nippes is just an empty suit taking up space.

Baptist Damiano
Ocean View

Brown introduces himself to Ocean View

This letter is “about Wally Brown.” I am asking the residents of Ocean View to vote for me as their candidate for the District 3 council seat. Therefore, it is only right that I tell you something of myself.

Many people have read my articles in the papers over the years. Anyone who has read them knows I am deeply concerned with the trend of the elected to disregard what the residents want.

My letters have always been point-driven. Whenever the Ocean View Town Council has taken it upon themselves to “help” the residents, I have spoken out in defense of the residents.

This is all common knowledge. But who is Wally Brown?

My family and I arrived in Ocean View in 1992, making me one of the “oldest” residents running for the District 3 council seat. After service as a Marine Corps sergeant and decorated combat veteran, I became a police officer. I have always worked against bullies and, of late, the town council has been acting as a bully.

Upon retiring (bad knees), I moved to Ocean View. It was like coming home, says this country boy from Long Island. I witnessed the uncontrolled growth turn Long Island from farms to city, and now I’m seeing it here. The developers get rich and we get the problems. I have said this every time another development goes up (one of the nicer things I have said).

We have two daughters (seventh and 12th grades), a wife who teaches; we are active with our church and I have helped the Coast Guard since 1993, first with patrols on the water, then as a Safe Boating instructor.

My qualifications include four years as president of my former police union, four years as a Coast Guard Auxiliary Vice Flotilla Commander and three years as Flotilla Commander. I am a member of both the VFW and American Legion. I was also the career counselor for the local Coast Guard Auxiliary division. That job description — the person you to talk to should your child want information about the Coast Guard Academy.

I have also been associated with River Soccer, both as an indoor and outdoor coach. To me, coaching soccer is more than the game; it’s also about positively building our children’s character.

While in college, I took administration and government, and one of my hobbies is history. I also like researching Supreme Court cases as they apply toward the constitution. I have said that you can’t believe what they (the Supreme Court) have said, and what is not allowed, until you actually read it. This knowledge is one of my driving forces. I firmly believe the town cannot say “do this or that” when the Supreme Court has already said no.

I have always tried to be there for my friends, and I will try my best to be there for you — as a good neighbor, as a good friend and as a great councilman.

Wally Brown
Ocean View

Resident supports Wood for mayor

Why am I going to vote for Gordon Wood for mayor? It’s an easy decision for me.

Our town can benefit from his unique talents — legal, engineering and management experience and integrity. He will listen to understand what our town needs and wants.

With his leadership we can again have a town about which our local papers report the good things our town accomplishes rather than rancor on the council, likely future tax increases and poor utilization of assets.

Gordon Wood understands planning is the first step in management. With an effective town manager, we are improving. Gordon Wood will make sure we keep moving in this direction. He will make sure the council plans for budgets, required infrastructure and employee levels and pay. He will expect the town manager and department heads to ensure the day-to-day operation of our town is consistent with the council-approved budget.

It seems that every Ocean View candidate is for fiscal responsibility, but what does that mean? Gordon will make sure it means each department head understands that every tax revenue dollar is your money — that it must be budgeted carefully and professionally, and that it is expended as the council intended. I know he is committed to this.

To Gordon Wood, fiscal responsibility means putting everything on the table when it is budget time. It means the coming space-needs study should look at all options and include all departments and facilities. Then, the council can evaluate the study and the options. Anything less than that is not fiscal responsibility — it is fiscal irresponsibility.

It’s our money, and I am confident Gordon Wood will be a capable steward. He will help control the present while looking to the future. I am voting for him and I urge you to consider doing the same.

Incidentally, some previous letters may have implied that a vote for Gordon Wood is equivalent to being in opposition to the Ocean View Police Department. In the case of my family, this couldn’t be further from the truth. We are extremely proud, supportive and appreciative of the Police Department’s efforts to ensure the safety of all residents.

These committed professionals put their lives on the line each and every day as they work on our behalf. As a father of two young children, it’s very comforting to know that our family and community are safer because of the hard work of these skilled police officers. Our children have learned from their own experiences that our Ocean View Police Officers are friendly and that they are here to help us. I applaud the Ocean View Police Department.

Garrett Lydic
Ocean View

Resident disagrees with endorsements

This is in response to Councilman Richard Nippes’ letter of March 14, endorsing specific candidates for this year’s Ocean View election.

Shame on you, Mr. Nippes. The current mayor does not endorse candidates, the sitting councilmen do not endorse candidates and the members of the Board of Elections do not endorse candidates. The town manager even distributed a letter to all members of the town staff informing them that it is important for them to remain neutral in this election and give no appearance of favoring any particular candidates.

Evidently, you subscribe a lower ethical standard than other members of the Ocean View administration.

However, at least we now know who you are “in the tank” for.

Elaine Birkmeyer
Ocean View

Reality check needed in Ocean View

At the risk of being considered anti-police, which for some folks is akin to being anti-American, I would like to provide my thoughts and observations on some of the rather contentious issues confronting our small town of Ocean View in the upcoming April election.

I will go on record to state that I support the town police and appreciate their service in protecting the town’s residents and property. However, the police department activities and funding need to be in a balanced relationship with the town’s other needs, especially with the current budget constraints.

Ocean View has a full-time population of approximately 1,000 residents. There are nine full-time police positions for these 1,000 residents. That number appears to me to be more than sufficient for a town this size; granted the resident population does swell in the summer season and overtime for officers may be justified. Ocean View is not Mayberry, but it is not Baltimore City either. Why does it have to be funded like a big city police department?

The new Police Station (Public Safety Building), from what I have read, is approximately 15,000 square feet. If it sat further back from the road, it could be mistaken for the Bear Trap Dunes Country Club House. Actually, I find it a more attractive building than the Club House and it looks almost as big.

Why does the town of Ocean View need to acquire any additional office space when we have a building this large? Many towns the size of Ocean View would be very happy to have as much space and a building costing $2.55 million for all of their town activities. It is fiscally irresponsible not to fully utilize this building for other Ocean View activities and not just reserve it for future police department activities.

How could some town officials advocate a $1.4 million new public works facility in the face of our current budget constraints? A facility this expensive for a town the size of Ocean View is excessive. If that amount of money is available to build a public works facility, it should be directed towards the maintenance of the streets and sidewalks within the town limits, many of which are in very poor condition. I do not agree with the comment that just because we are near sea level that we should expect our public streets to flood.

As far as a take-home policy for police cars and a car for the town manager, I think that these are unnecessary expenses, especially considering the expense of maintenance and replacement of the vehicles. I understand that the replacement of one police vehicle fully equipped is approximately $60,000. Hopefully, the police and town manager are not provided a town gasoline credit card as well. There are other options, let us explore them.

Town Manager Conway Gregory was hired by approval of the town council and his recent salary increase, along with other town employees, was also approved by the town council. If his funding recommendations to the town council are not popular with certain departments or town factions, this does not mean he is not doing his job and that his salary is not justified.

It is his responsibility to identify excessive expenditures in various departments’ budgets and make recommendations to the town council even though they may be unpopular. It is also the town manager’s responsibility to recommend that reserved funds be maintained by the town to see us through the type of economic conditions that we are now experiencing.

From what I have read and observed, I believe that Gordon Wood as mayor and Perry Mitchell as councilman for District 3 will provide the reality check that is needed for the town of Ocean View.

John Brennan
Ocean View