Walter Curran will serve the Town of Ocean View as its mayor for another three years, come April.
“The reason I’ve decided to step forward one more time is to finish the job. That’s my nature. I started this… It seems to be going in the right direction.”
The deadline to file to run for mayor of Ocean View was Feb. 21, and Curran was the only resident to file for the position.
Curran was first elected in 2014. He had previously served as chairman of the Town’s Planning & Zoning Commission and the president of the board of the Bear Trap Dunes Homeowners Association.
Originally from Boston, Mass., Curran graduated from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in 1966 and worked in the maritime field for more than 40 years. Curran said he and his wife, Marie, along with their children, Christopher and Amy, have been coming to the Bethany Beach area for more than 30 years, having first rented in Sea Colony, and eventually having purchased a home there. Ten years ago, they moved to Ocean View.
Working alongside his four colleagues on the dais, Curran said a lot has been accomplished in the three years he’s served as mayor.
“When I first came on the job, there was a little bit of hoo-ha going on about the Town’s changing too fast — ‘You’re going to make us into a mall’ — that was never going to happen. This town has always focused on Route 26 as the business district. Everything else is residential. That was a lot of hot air for nothing, back then. Having said that, I listened to it and said, ‘We’re going to pay attention to this in the future.’
“I think this particular council is a perfect example of how you can disagree without being disagreeable. We have different points of view and we listen to each other, we pay attention to each other and, in the end, you make up your mind and you vote. I think we’ve got an excellent council. Right now, we’re focused, and will be for the next month and a half, on the budget.”
Currently, Town staff is working on preparing a draft budget for a budget workshop to be held next Tuesday.
“We may have to raise taxes — we don’t know yet. That will be determined. If we do, I can assure you, from my perspective, it will be a necessary increase and it will be one in accord with what the average citizen in Ocean View can afford,” said Curran.
The council recently approved a salary survey study that showed that raises for certain employees would be justified, so as to bring them up to competitive salaries.
“I think the council as a whole absolutely believes, the last couple of cycles, that raises for certain people weren’t given. They were expected, they were anticipated, and, quite frankly, they were merited, but for some reason weren’t given, for whatever reason,” said Curran, noting that the council had asked that the draft budget include a total payroll bump of 6 percent.
However, even if that was approved, not every employee would be guaranteed a raise.
“I’m sure some people will be upset that we’re talking about 6 percent,” said Curran. “We leave it up to the department heads. They have to do reviews of the individuals. The department heads are the ones that come in with the final recommendations of, ‘this person gets 2 percent,’ ‘that person gets 4 percent,’ ‘this person may get 8 percent.’
“The 6 percent, if you look at the overall towns and what’s going on around us now, 6 percent may seem high. We don’t see it as an excessive raise… We do think of it as a proper salary adjustment to catch up to those who should’ve gotten it the last couple cycles but didn’t.”
Keeping a balanced budget is important, said Curran, and a government should make calculated financial decisions while keeping its employees happy.
“Keeping Town employees who we all think are really good, and paying them properly, while at the same time recognizing you’re taking taxpayer monies to pay them… You have to have a fair balance there. Our primary job is to make sure the taxes that are collected, no matter what the level, are used wisely and not just thrown away.”
It is also important to plan for the future, said Curran, noting that the Town has been doing so with its Capital Improvements Program and Street Repair & Replacement Trust Fund.
“We’ve been partially trying to wean ourselves off of transfer tax, in terms of operating funds, because we know that will come to an end and you have to be prudent there and set that money aside for capital projects, which won’t go away. Roads wear away, sidewalks wear away, things do happen. I think over the last three years we’ve made good strides in our ability to plan for the future.”
Curran emphasizes communication
Curran said communicating clearly and effectively with residents is key.
“We’ve made progress in the longest running issue in town — drainage. That had been stymied for probably almost 10 years. By getting the local communities and HOAs involved, in terms of getting easements and talking to their neighbors, convincing them it’s for their own good, we’ve been able to make a lot of progress, especially in the past year. We’ll continue to go down that road.
“Most people today are somewhat leery of government, and I can understand that. But if you take the time to listen to them and then address what they’re actually saying, you’ll make converts.”
He added that, through the town charter, the monies set aside for those improvements cannot be used elsewhere.
“Some people would say, ‘You’re building up too much of a kitty in the trust fund for future projects,’ but you have to,” he said, noting that the State, other municipalities and even HOAs are following suit.
“Those are set up and, by a matter of law, can only be used for certain things, which is very prudent because it prevents anyone with a D.C. mentality from thinking you can rob Peter to pay Paul. We have laws. We will obey those laws, and we will look at it to make sure we have enough money going in there for future funding.”
At the end of last year, the council signed an agreement for discounted ambulance subscription service, charging each improved lot within the town $35 per year for the next three years, to help offset the Millville Volunteer Fire Company’s increasing EMT costs. The agreement provides ambulance services to those improved lots at no additional cost, after insurance is billed.
“We’re happy that goes forward. It’s something that’s absolutely needed here,” said Curran. “We caught a little bit of criticism for that because of all the heat the Millville Volunteer Fire Company got… They had problems and weren’t paying attention. We saw, before we agreed to do any of this, that they were getting their own house in order and we saw no reason to punish, essentially us as a town, because of one person’s bad acts — especially when the organization is trying to clean up its own act and doing a good job of doing it. We’ll continue to support them.”
Curran said that, in the long run, the Town and the fire company believe the best solution would be for the County to run all the fire departments; however, it’s a long road ahead.
“I don’t for a minute believe that all of the volunteer fire departments in the county have the exact same point of view. For those of us down here in southeast Sussex County, that doesn’t really work, because we’re getting the largest influx of people. The demand for services is growing here.
“While you can make the point that we’re getting all the taxes and new homebuilding — yes, we are — but I think if you look at the influx of people here, there are a lot more retirees coming in here, and a lot more calls for retirees going out in ambulances than there are for young kids… So, overall, I still believe that the best thing that can happen is that the county have a countywide ambulance service.”
Curran said that, at best, such an agreement is 10 years away.
“In the meantime, we do what we do here. We give them the money we can that goes directly to ensure the most favorable impact on the town of Ocean View. There’s no doubt in my mind that the ambulance service does that.”
The Town also offers a variety of community events for those inside and outside town limits.
“Our social outreaches, like the police department’s Cops & Goblins… Those were great outreaches, and they came at a time when the world seemed to want to be angry at police departments.
“I certainly agree that’s the best way possible to get people to see how you are — that you’re just nice folks trying to protect us. That was a wonderful event both years.”
The Town in past years took over Ocean View Homecoming but recently decided it would instead forego that event for 2017 and focus on its Concerts in the Park, which happen throughout the summer months, offering families the opportunity to enjoy a free night of music in John West Park.
“We get great turnouts for those, and people really enjoy it.”
Curran currently serves on the executive committee of the Delaware League of Local Governments and is active in his role as mayor — often making appearances at events such as Return Day and the Bear Trap Fourth of July Parade.
“And, of course, my job is to run the meetings smoothly and to ensure everyone gets their say.”
Curran said the best thing “ever invented” is term limits.
“You always need fresh eyes, fresh blood to look at things as time goes on.”
Having enjoyed his time on the council the last three years, Curran said he is looking forward to helping Ocean View continue on its prosperous path for the next three.
“I’ve always enjoyed something where I can see progress being made. Throughout my entire business life, I’ve been in charge of things at various levels. I like to help lead the parade… just to make sure we’re all going in the right direction at the right speed. This gave me the opportunity. There’s a lot of satisfaction knowing, collectively, you’re working with a lot of good people, doing a good job.”