Fenwick Island Town Council members got an earful on Aug. 28, regarding flood insurance, motels and the recent election.
Resident Pete Frederick shared his concerns over the August election, including voter qualification, registration and the election itself. After comparing the Town’s actions to state and town law, he encouraged town council to change the requirements.
The council addressed his complaint about the town manager and town clerk (non-members of the Board of Elections) sitting at the door with a list of addresses to check people in.
The Board had invited those two to “be present for any questions,” the June minutes state. Weisling said any concerns should have been raised at that time, but Frederick called it infringement if people were turned away at the door.
“Perhaps no one should be stopped before they reach the Board of Elections,” said Councilwoman Julie Lee, who was elected in the voting that day, adding that she understood the reason for the complaint.
“I don’t think the Town did this on purpose. They screwed up,” Frederick said, although he added that he felt the Town had had years to fix it.
Town Manager Merritt Burke responded. “All of us could have done a better job with the election. All of us agree on that point,” he said. He said he received a thank-you “for assisting, making sure I did anything I could to make sure the election went smooth,” and that he looks forward to working with everyone to improve next year’s election. “Let’s do it.”
“I didn’t attend the election” to see who sat where, said Town Solicitor Mary Schrider-Fox. But “I understand this room [council chambers] was the voting room, so other rooms in Town Hall were not part of the voting room itself,” she said, referencing the town staff members sitting at the door.
Elected officials, candidates on the ballot and others associated with the campaigns are generally prohibited in the voting room, said Schreider-Fox, but “State law doesn’t preclude a member of town staff from being one of the [people] that election officers ask to help out.”
Ultimately, she said she wanted to learn more about the election before giving further judgment on the situation.
Meanwhile, the voting power of trusts in Delaware varies by town, Schreider-Fox said. “Trusts are a funny animal. … They feel like something between individual human beings and an artificial entity. So what do you do with them?”
The Charter & Ordinance Committee is the group that would review election rules.
Flood insurance review
Kevin Thomas of Lyons Insurance was invited to talk about homeowner flood insurance, and he warned business owners about new paperwork related to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).
Sussex County has many more active flood insurance policies (20,857) than New Castle County (3,538), he said. But New Castle’s average flood insurance claims are $57,211, compared to the Sussex average of $8,628.
“Your homes are built to withstand floods. Up north, they’re not built to withstand floods,” Thomas said.
Local ordinances are keeping residents safe, he noted. He covered the recent history of the National Flood Insurance Program, which was granted permission to borrow for the U.S. Treasury after Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Sandy, until it owed around $24 billion in 2013.
To put NFIP back on manageable levels, Congress passed the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012. But premiums were raised too drastically — and unpopularly — for the act to survive.
Now, the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2014 is trying to slowly raise premium to a fair level for all 5.5 million policies in the U.S.
Houses that were built before 1975 are considered pre-FIRM (pre-Flood Insurance Rate Map) and have typically benefited from subsidized rates. Now, anyone whose primary residence is getting pre-FIRM subsidies can still get renewals and new policies. Grandfathering remains in effect. (Yet Thomas recommended that these people sign up for post-FIRM rates.)
Secondary residences will get no new subsidies, and renewals will reflect a 25 percent increase until they’re paying for the full flood risk, “what you should truly be paying, kind of nudging it in the right direction,” Thomas said.
Houses built post-FIRM, as well as lower-risk properties, do not get subsidized rates.
Anyone whose property was reclassified at a higher risk should be eased into higher-cost policy.
People can also take a higher risk with a $10,000 deductible, instead of a $5,000 one.
Other fees are intended to ease the NFIP back to a balanced budget.
But any non-residential buildings covered by a flood policy are treated differently. Those people are being encouraged to fill out the Non-Residential Building Use questionnaires in order to assign the appropriate rate by Nov. 1. Failure to do so will likely result in a higher rate, Thomas said.
In other town news:
• Gene Langan, newly elected council president/mayor, was away on business.
• The council discussed a proposal from the Sands Motel to lower room density requirements.
• The town council approved a new Town Hall Building Use Policy, which provides clarification on the types of groups permitted to use the facility. Instead of paying a daily fee, public-service groups would pay a single $50 annual fee that would help defray some costs of maintenance, carpet cleaning and more.
• Fenwick Island again will get a townwide 10 percent discount on flood insurance, based on the Community Rating System.
• As the Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control prepares for public hearings in September regarding beach and shoreline regulations, Fenwick Island could see some changes, Building Official Patricia Schuchman said.
“DNREC requires that all oceanfront properties get approval from them prior to anyone else issuing a building permit. It’s always been anything east of Bunting Avenue,” Schuchman told Coastal Point. “It will now include the three properties west of Bunting Avenue. … This is something that DNREC has talked about for many years, and it looks like it may go in effect.”
• A community holiday event was approved for Friday, Dec. 11, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. With a town sponsorship of $300, the celebration will include a tree lighting, carols and potluck-style hors d’oeuvres.
• When herbicide is placed along the roadside (to prevent weeds from overgrowing and breaking up the road), people and animals should wait about 45 to 60 minutes before walking on those areas, “so won’t come up on paws or shoes,” Public Works Supervisor Bryan Reed said.
• The Fenwick Island Police Department will soon use the Nixle electronic notification system, which is already in use in some other local towns. Residents will be notified when they can sign up online for the free emergency alerts.
• Lee asked how committees are formed (The mayor appoints a chairperson, who chooses his or her own working members. The mayor and council are asked to approve the members.)
Lee proposed that more council members be on each committee.
Discussion of the issue was to continue when Mayor Langan is present.
• The Business Development Committee meeting has been rescheduled for Sept. 24 at 2 p.m., with plans to review the results of actions made earlier this year.
• Twitter users can get regular town updates online at @IslandFenwick, which Burke said will be handy in the event of a major storm or hurricane.
• Residents are being encouraged to tell Town Hall about drainage concerns, since the Town can get matching grants to improve stormwater drainage.
• Burke thanked the staff for a great season, his fourth summer with Fenwick Island, which he said went smoothly overall.
The next regular Town Council meeting is set for Sept. 25.