Steen’s Beach Service will continue to provide beach equipment rental concessions to residents and visitors to Bethany Beach for at least the next two years.
At their Nov. 14 meeting, the Bethany Beach Town Council voted unanimously, with Councilman Joe Healy absent, to renew Steen’s current contract for an additional two years.
The council chambers were packed, with numerous attendees wearing Steen’s T-shirts and some holding homemade signs reading “Support Steen’s,” a business that has been operating in the town since 1957.
Councilman Lew Killmer read a prepared statement, in which he said the outpouring of resident response on the proposal for the Town to do its own beach concessions really “shows a lot about our community and its passion for our town.”
“I don’t believe the Town needs to be in the business of providing a beach concession service,” he said, receiving applause from the audience.
Killmer said the Nov. 10 council meeting was the first time the council was able to review and discuss the idea of the Town taking over beach concessions as a means to help fund an Emergency Relief Fund, at the recommendation of Town Manager Cliff Graviet.
Killmer lamented that the focus of the discussion had become the beach concession proposal, rather than the need for establishing and funding an emergency fund, which he said he believes is “incredibly important.”
He said residents had brought a lot of good questions to the Town that had yet to be answered.
“It’s important for the Town to have an interest in those questions and to know more about beach concessions in general before the Town enters into another long-term beach concession contract,” he said. “I like us to truly know what is truly good for Bethany Beach and to be satisfied we are fulfilling our fiduciary responsibilities to the entire community.”
Killmer motioned to not award Steen’s another five-year contract, but rather to create an addendum to Steen’s previous contract, extending it for two years at the yearly rate last paid by proprietor Ron Steen. Killmer cited the yearly figure as $62,049.29.
“I believe a two-year extension is in everyone’s interest,” he said. “This allows the Town Council to address a number of issues raised on Monday, and, in turn, the Town Council is doing the best thing not only for Bethany Beach citizens but also for Steen’s Beach Services.”
“Tempe, Paige and I accept,” said Steen of Killmer’s request for a two-year contract extension.
Councilman Chuck Peterson agreed that an emergency fund is important for the Town, and suggested that the money provided by the renewal of Steen’s contract would be an excellent way to get that fund started.
“One of the things Mr. Steen brought up himself — the idea of putting aside money we originally talked about for the Town funding the concession” would give the Town a good starting point for a fund,” he said.
Councilwoman Rosemary Hardiman said exploring the idea was very valuable for the council and the Town.
“It gives us an opportunity to try and find the best solution all around,” she said, adding that council had appreciated the feedback from all those interested.
Hardiman praised Graviet for bringing the idea to council as an idea to help the Town in the future in the event of a disaster.
“The proposal that Mr. Graviet presented to us, I think, was a very thoughtful one,” she said. “I think he was trying to address a problem that maybe we’ve discussed among ourselves for awhile, but we really haven’t focused on it to a way we should.
“I give him a lot of credit for giving it the visibility it needs,” she said. “Hopefully, we can go forward together and look at those areas.”
Hardiman added that the Town needs to find a way to find funding, in case the Town applies for aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
“If we can’t come up with 25 percent of what FEMA would give us in order to repair that, Mr. Steen will not have a business, nor will other people in town have a business.”
Mayor Jack Gordon also agreed with Killmer’s motion, stating he believed a two-year extension would be a reasonable timeframe to allow the Town and council to figure out what would be best for the Town and its businesses.
“I think two years is a reasonable time to allow all of us to step back and look at the whole situation and see how we can solve the whole problem without hurting any private enterprise or not doing what is best for the Town in general,” he said.