The Town of Frankford will be receiving a forensic audit, according to Councilman Marty Presley, who made the announcement at the Town’s monthly council meeting earlier this week.
“The good news is, we’re higher on the [Delaware State Auditor’s] radar list. They’ve given me a verbal commitment that they’ll be getting in contact with us soon,” he said. “She assured me we’re at the top of the list so, hopefully, it’ll be sooner rather than later.”
Last month, Presley said the Town had submitted a request to the DSA office for a forensic audit.
“The council has already started gathering the information they’ll need, which is extensive. We’re trying to get ahead of the game… They’re going to take a look at it, and it’ll be wrapped up in two or three months.”
Council President Elizabeth Carpenter told those in attendance at the Oct. 5 meeting that the Town’s current CPA firm, since 2003, has been Jefferson, Urian, Doane & Sterner P.A. She said audits and management letters dating back to 1996 are in town hall and available to those who are interested.
“If any of you have questions about that, you are welcome to come to town hall and review any of that.”
“Throughout the last couple of months, I think our accounting firm has taken it on the chin at some of the council meetings,” added Presley. “I would say, from our conversations with the accounting firm, I think they’re doing a great job. I think they’re doing everything that has been asked of them and then some. I think their recommendations have been spot-on… As far as an accounting firm goes, I think they’ve done a great job for us from what we’ve found out so far.
“I think that some of the things that come out in the media, snippets that have been said at the meetings, have been taken the wrong way. They aren’t the only relationship that the Town of Frankford has that has taken it on the chin,” Presley noted.
“I can tell you, a lot of times when Liz goes into town hall, she spends a lot of time putting out fires from relationships that have been burned over the years. She’s spending a lot of time trying to mend those relationships and get back what options we have to us, instead of being stuck with one provider.”
Water was a big topic of discussion at this month’s Frankford Town Council meeting. Carpenter said that, two weeks ago, a level transmitter went bad in the Town’s water tower, which caused the water tower to drain.
“The level transmitter went bad, and from what I understand, it sends an emergency signal to what they call an ‘auto-dialer,’ and the auto-dialer did not alert Artesian in time to get down here in time. And what happened is it drained the tower. When they got down here, there was 6 feet of water left in the tower.”
Following the transmitter being repaired, the Delaware Department of Transportation broke a water main while digging on Honolulu Avenue, which also impacted the tower.
“I appreciate everyone’s patience in those two unplanned, unforeseen interruptions in service,” she said.
Earlier this year, the Town sought updated proposals for water-tower maintenance and repair from two national companies based on the East Coast.
In March, representatives of Southern Corrosion, based in Roanoke Rapids, N.C., visited the town and inspected the water tower. The company handles maintenance and repair for all Artesian tanks. Their estimated cost was $111,000, which includes pressure washing the exterior of the tank, cleaning rusted areas, painting it and sterilizing the tank’s interior.
Pittsburg Tank & Tower Maintenance Co. of Henderson, Ky., also provided a refreshed bid of more than $180,000 for work to the tank; however, they did not visit the site.
Steven Lewandowski of CABE Associates had given a presentation at the council’s July 6 meeting, before the council makeup changed, regarding the differences between the two bids.
Carpenter said she had been in contact with representatives from Delaware Rural Water, which recommended proactive, yearly maintenance inspections.
Resident Jerry Smith said the Town should be asking if those inspections need to be done on a yearly basis, or if they could be done every three years. He also asked why the Town only had two proposals, instead of three or more from other companies.
“My understanding, there’s not a lot of companies that do this… These are the only two that were willing to supply proposals,” said Presley.
Resident Bernard Lynch said he didn’t believe $9,000 was a lot of money for water tower maintenance.
Carpenter added that she had recently learned that fluoride was not being added to the Town’s water — a requirement mandated by the State. She said Artesian is under direction to begin adding it by Dec. 1.
She said a public notice posted in town hall, dated 2011, said that fluoride would be added to the Town’s water.
Resident Skip Ash asked if the Town had budgeted or expended monies to purchase fluoride, but the money had never been given to Artesian.
“We can certainly check the bills, because they give us an itemized list of what we were charged for,” said Councilwoman Joanne Bacon.
Resident Greg Welch said that, at the time of the mandate, the council was against putting fluoride in the Town’s water.
Travis Martin of Chesapeake Plumbing & Heating said that, if the Town was still against putting fluoride it its water, it could probably protest to the State.
“There’s a wave of controversy sweeping across the country regarding fluoride,” he said. “Fluoride is wonderful topically, but it’s poison to your body… Google it. It’ll come up everywhere about how places are getting fluoride out of their water systems.”
Wesley Hayes Jr. of the Delaware Avenue Association spoke to the council regarding the street’s occupants’ efforts to get connected to Town water for years.
Hayes, who lives on Delaware Avenue, said that clean water is a basic need to which all should be afforded access.
“We are here to get water. The sleeve is there. We don’t have water yet. But the thing is, we need to solve this,” he said. “In the Clean Water Act, which was developed in 1948… We still don’t have things dated from that far back — clean water — which is something simple that everyone deserves. There’s a deserving group of people that deserve a solution.”
Hayes said he had been in contact with various governmental agencies and even read a letter from the USDA, which noted they could potentially be a source of funding for up to 75 percent of a total project cost for expanding the system to serve the neighborhood.
“‘The USDA Rural Development has been working with residents in this community for several years and in coordination with Sussex County to obtain a draft preliminary engineering report, which recommended the Town of Frankford would be the most cost-effective means to provide a central water system to the residents of Delaware Avenue.’”
Hayes said he’s aware that the Town is concerned about the possibility of missing funds, but he said adding Delaware Avenue to the Town’s water system, and even annexing the properties into the town, could add to its tax base.
“We know you have to have upgrades; we know there’s monies that have been missing. This here can be a solution to help in one area. I just wish that someone would take the time. The sleeve is there, the Town was paid, received money to put the pipe in that sleeve so we could have access to water. We were told, ‘We’re not buying no pipe,’ to our faces, in here.”
Jean Holloway, circuit rider at Delaware Rural Water Association, said she’s been involved in the issue for approximately five years, since the USDA paid for the preliminary engineering study.
“I believe at that time, part of the impasse was — and I’m just giving this as history at this point — the Town said if they want the water, they need to be annexed into town, and the residents didn’t want to be annexed … under the circumstances that existed then.”
Holloway said that recently she was part of a team that went to Delaware Avenue properties to take water samples.
“We don’t have the results of them yet,” she said. “I can tell you, as someone who has taken water samples before, almost every house we went to reeked of sulfur. So I know that’s an issue. What the samples will show, I don’t know yet, but the State is paying for the test.”
Holloway added that the council could look at the situation as an opportunity for the Town to get funding to fix its water tower.
“It may be a win-win for both sides. Just a suggestion.”
Holloway noted that the USDA would require mandatory hook-up to ensure there would be enough customers to service the loan.
Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson added that there is funding available and discussions going on at the state level regarding providing water to residents in non-municipal communities like that.
“And there’s funding on both the state and federal level. There’s an opportunity — at least on paper right now — to have this done. It’s a lot of paper, obviously, but there is an opportunity.”
Lawson told the council that the USDA did provide $30,000 to the County to administer a project review to extend water down Delaware Avenue. He said the feasibility study showed that running water from Frankford down Delaware Avenue was found to be cheaper than running it up there from Selbyville.
“On January of last year, 2014, the county engineer at the time, Michael Izzo, sent a letter to Ms. Truitt, town administrator, basically stating that the USDA and the County had partnered together to provide Frankford options to extend water down Delaware Avenue, and we stand ready to assist the residents of Delaware Avenue.”
Lawson said a response letter from the Frankford Town Council, signed by Truitt, was received in April 2014, outlining the Town’s proposal if they were to proceed.
“Which basically states what the annexation requirement would be, what the cost would be. It even has a per-parcel lot expense for those parcels located on Delaware Avenue,” he said. “From that point on, the County did not have any further correspondence with the Town until we were invited to come to tonight’s meeting.”
The proposal, created by CABE Associates, estimated construction would cost $204,000, with an overall cost of $315,142. The proposal covers all 11 parcels on Delaware Avenue. The parcels include residential homes, Trinity Holiness Church and Chesapeake Plumbing & Heating.
Carpenter said she doesn’t disagree that the residents deserve water and personally would vote to give them water.
“I would ask that you give us the opportunity to have this audit complete before we incur any more debt for this town,” she said. “I have no problem giving you what you want, personally.”
Sussex County Councilman Rob Arlett said that he and the County are ready and willing to help the Town.
“Because, in the end, your lives do matter, your water does make a difference and we have to do what we have to do to work together, to partner with one and other to make that happen.”
Town charter changes proposed
Presley said at the Oct. 5 meeting that, if the Town wants to make Charter changes for this year a top priority, residents need to volunteer, and the Charter Committee needs to hold more meetings.
“The charter revision is probably going to be the biggest thing we undertake this year and in my opinion the most important thing we’re going to undertake,” he said.
“My estimate, you’re looking at 40, 50, 60 hours in that committee, involved in getting this done. You’re looking at four, five meetings with the Charter Committee. Then we’re looking at getting an attorney on board who has never done this before, and we have to fit that into his schedule, and he has to put it into legislative language. Then, after that’s done, you have to get it to a legislator to approve it, to put it on the agenda before it even goes to the Legislature.”
Presley said he believed all the work would need to be completed by the Charter Committee by Dec. 1 if the changes were to be up for approval by the state legislature in the upcoming session, which begins in January.
“If we are serious about doing this, it’s going to be a lot of work,” said Presley. “We need a firm commitment from people who want to be on the committee.”
“Realistically, with all of the other things that the town council has to become familiar with in the next few months, I don’t see how trying to do that whole charter by December is going to happen,” said Janet Hearn. “If you’re going to go through the whole charter and try to get it up to speed like you want it, six weeks is not long enough.”
In other Town news:
• The Town is still working on an employee pension plan, which would be a defined contribution plan with a set IRA. Presley said the Town would be contributing 5 percent of the employees’ salaries, with the employees having the option to contribute to it also, if they so choose.
• The Town extended an offer to Georgetown attorney Chad Lingenfelder to be its new town solicitor. Lingenfelder accepted the offer; however, the Town must review his contract.
“He is very expensive, so I would request that if you have anything for him, send it to one of us ahead of time, so that we’re not burning $200 an hour,” said Carpenter, noting that he would most likely be in attendance at the Town’s November meeting, for introduction purposes.
• The Fall Festival is slated for Oct. 31, beginning with costume contest at the town hall parking lot. Registration will be held from 10:30 a.m. to 11 a.m., with a parade to follow at 11:30 a.m. The festival will continue in the park at noon.
• A tree-lighting ceremony will be held on Nov. 28, at 6:30 p.m. Area church choirs will sing during the event, and every Wednesday following, from 6 to 8 p.m., Santa’s house will be open for kids to visit. Those attending will be able to enjoy hot chocolate and cookies in the park. Each Wednesday will be sponsored by a different church.
• The council also held an executive session that was added to the agenda at the beginning of the meeting; however, they failed to meet Freedom of Information Act requirements.
Delaware Code Title 29 § 10001 requires that: “All public bodies shall give public notice of their regular meetings and of their intent to hold an executive session closed to the public, at least 7 days in advance thereof. The notice shall include the agenda…” and requires that the agenda include, “a statement of intent to hold an executive session and the specific ground or grounds therefore…” requiring that “the purpose of such executive sessions shall be set forth in the agenda.”
After coming out of executive session, council voted unanimously to hire a part-time police officer for approximately 25 hours a week, on a 4-0 vote. Councilman Charles Shelton was not present.
Prior to entering the executive session, Presley made note of Shelton’s absence from the meeting.
“If anybody sees Charles Shelton out in the community, tell him that he is welcome back here with open arms, that we miss him. He has a duty and obligation to serve the people that put him in office. He’s welcome back with open arms,” said Presley.
Shelton had broken with the other two remaining council members on the issue of appointing Presley and Carpenter after the resignation of the council’s fourth and fifth members this summer, as well as related issues that have since ensued.