SB police renovation begins with moving furniture, mostly

While the South Bethany Town Council brainstorms a way to pay for a police department expansion, they’ll shuffle some rooms around for the time-being, in an effort to reduce, but not eliminate the SBPD’s liability issues.

They will swap the evidence and holding rooms; move the court videophone; add several key-card locks; and install a new exhaust fan.

The shuffling of the space is just a temporary fix for a bigger problem: a bigger police station would allow officers to safely separate each task assigned to them.

Currency, there’s not enough room to properly separate detainees from evidence, staff, the public and each other. Meanwhile, one “multipurpose room” serves (poorly, officials said) as the kitchen, armory and locker room.

The longer they wait to fix it, the longer their liability continues.

“Anyone could sue us. It could be detainees who feel they were treated improperly while they were in our custody,” said Councilman Tim Shaw.

Since a consultant identified the obvious issues late last summer, the Town must address the problems.

“At least this addresses immediate need and gets people safe,” Mayor Pat Voveris said.

“It’s moving furniture, for the most part,” said Police Chief Troy Crowson, who will oversee the changes. He will hire professional staff for camera rewiring and keycard installation.

The council never discussed a specific cost estimate for the work during this week’s meeting and vote, even at a community member’s urging. Afterward, Crowson said he needed to consult with the contractors, but he anticipates the cost to be around $5,000 or $7,000 at the very most. He said the annual Sussex County grant to municipal police may be used.

“It gives us the breathing room” for long-term planning, Shaw said.

Soon, the town council will get input from professional groups and the Budget & Finance Committee.

The council had planned all winter to expand the police station by 936 square feet. Including engineering, construction and contingency costs, they hoped for a total budget of $232,000 for the project.

They were startled when just the base bids began at $225,000, plus about $50,000 for desired —and, some would argue, necessary, alternatives. The Town has already invested $30,000 in preliminary designs and soil testing.

Earlier this month, the council unanimously voted to hire International City/County Management Association (ICMA) for up to $8,000 to bring management perspective to the issue. The previous consultant brought more of a police background. ICMA staff will analyze the SBPD’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

Now, South Bethany envisions a project in three phases. Phase 1 would create a processing room and detainee bathroom, for an estimated $104,000, according to Ryan Architecture. SBPD has about $71,000 set aside in grant funding.

Phases 2 and 3 would add a kitchen, office and enlarged conference room.

Providing 24-hour-a-day police coverage for South Bethany are Crowson, six full-time officers, one administrative assistant, one weekend administrative assistant and one seasonal parking enforcement officer.

In other South Bethany Town Council news:

• Financially, the Town ended $4,381 in the red this year. The 2017 fiscal year ended April 30, with $121,200 in additional revenue, but $125,600 in additional costs.

Official said they’re still comfortably holding about $2.75 million in reserves.

Overall general revenue was $2,580,195, with expenditures of $2,584,576. The deficit was less than two-hundredths of a percent.

• Stating that it was too political of an issue, the council this week made no motion to sign South Bethany onto the Paris Climate support letter circulating across the country, which more than 300 municipalities have already joined. Council members stated that they do not deny climate change or reject eco-friendly actions. But they said they did not wish to participate in the letter.

• Wireless communications companies can now place small signal boosters on existing utility poles in the Delaware Department of Transportation’s right-of-way. The idea is that, in the near future, cell phone and some internet connectivity could be improved.

• Monthly town council meetings will now be held at 2 p.m. on Fridays, instead of 7 p.m. There was some debate about the change. In the 2015 town survey, the majority of citizens did not favor a time change. However, earlier meetings will reduce the need for staff overtime, and everyone involved will be able to enjoy their Friday nights. The measure passed, with dissent from Council Members Sue Callaway, Time Saxton and Carol Stevenson.

Years ago, council meetings had been moved to Saturday mornings, in an effort to attract more citizens. But veterans of those days said attendance didn’t change, but council discussion dragged on too long.

The South Bethany Town Council’s next workshop meeting will be Thursday, July 27, at 2 p.m.