Bethany Beach park survey finalized by town council

Bethany Beach citizens could soon be getting a notice in the mail, asking for their input on what’s been dubbed Bethany Beach Central Park, the former Christian Church/Neff property on the northwest corner of the intersection of Routes 1 and 26.

Following up on the procedure approved by the town council at an October 2013 meeting, a proposed survey has been drafted, asking for citizens to indicate which potential park features they would want and how often they might use some of them. The council approved the draft at their Jan. 17 council meeting, and it will soon be available both online and in printed form.

Town Manager Cliff Graviet noted, however, that the Town will not initially be sending out the actual survey in paper form via mail. Instead, the Town will send out notices with the instructions on how to reach the online survey or, alternatively, contact town hall to pick up one in person or have it mailed, for those who don’t have Internet access or who simply prefer a paper survey.

Those taking the survey will be required to identify themselves and their Bethany Beach address, to prevent multiple surveys being submitted by the same person.

Councilwoman Margaret Young questioned the wisdom of putting a question on the survey that specified the involvement of the town horticulturalist in the design of gardens proposed for the park.

As popular as Melinda Linde (who served as grand marshal in the 2013 Bethany Beach 4th of July Parade) is from to her beautification work in the town, she said, there would likely be a resounding positive response to that idea, even though Linde might find herself too busy with other projects to do the work. “She’s probably the most popular person in town,” Young said.

Graviet said he felt the idea of Linde being involved in developing the park would be something people would take comfort in, in choosing gardens as a feature of the park, and he noted that the project’s engineers will also have a hand in its design.

“But … I can’t imagine she wouldn’t want to be involved in the design,” he said.

Young also noted that the survey didn’t specifically ask how often people might use the proposed “limited amount of general-use parking” there, but Councilman Lew Killmer said he felt that asking those taking the survey how important they’d rank that feature, and others, on a scale of 1 to 5 would provide the information the Town needs.

The council voted unanimously to approve the draft survey. The notice from the Town to citizens will be the next step in the timeline for the project.

Retired council members to
receive VIP parking passes

The council voted 6-1 to approve offering former town council members who served at least six years on the council and departed under “honorable circumstances” a VIP parking pass, free of charge, as a token of the town’s thanks for their service. A VIP pass permits the user to park not only in the resident-only parking spots in the town but also in metered areas, free of charge.

Councilman Jerry Dorfman said the council member would still have to be a property owner in the town, and the pass could only be used by the former council member and/or their spouse, with only one pass issued between them. Their six years of service wouldn’t have to be consecutive to qualify for the perk, and it would be noted in the council protocol manual.

Each year, he said, the former council member would have to request the pass, in writing, from the town manager.

Councilman Lew Killmer said he was on the fence about the issue, questioning whether the council should consider limiting the privilege to a number of years matching the council member’s service. But Dorfman said that hadn’t been considered and that he felt, “If you serve six years and retire from the council… [Carol Olmstead] served 10 years. She should be eligible for a VIP pass for the rest of the time she’s here.”

Dorfman noted that a five-year service requirement had been discussed previously but said he felt that a six-year requirement made more sense since the council terms are two years long.

Resident Norbert Kraich said he felt the council was making a mistake in even offering the perk.

“Parking in this town is probably the No. 1 issue. It’s in at least three items on this agenda. It was mentioned in the town manager’s report. It is a problem. It seems we already have parking at a premium in this town, and it is a revenue source for the Town. Taking away that revenue source is a mistake. It sends the wrong message to tourists, people in town and visitors.”

Kraich pointed out that former council members, as property owners, already get a free resident parking pass. Permitting them to also park in metered areas, he said, “sends an even worse message. I don’t understand what the rationale is that they should be able to take someone’s parking place just because they’ve served on the council.”

He said that he understood why current council members receive VIP parking passes, “because if you’re called out to see an issue, you should be able to park wherever you can. But this is creating an image you don’t want to create.” He noted previous comments from a council member about how the Town didn’t want to give up any parking spaces.

But council members said they felt offering a VIP parking pass was something the Town should do for those who served at least six years.

“You’re saying that, after a person has spent at least 3,000 hours of their personal time for the Town, we shouldn’t recognize them in any way?” questioned Councilman Chuck Peterson.

Kraich said he thought there were “plenty of ways to recognize them. Give them a plaque,” he suggested. “I understand you spend a lot of time and effort, and we appreciate it. Just pick some other way to recognize them.”

Young said she felt little revenue would be lost to the VIP passes and argued that their use wouldn’t take up extra spaces because former council members who wanted to park in an area that required a permit or meter would want to park there, regardless, and would still use a space, whether they paid for a metered space or used their resident parking pass.

Resident Joan Gordon, wife of the vice-mayor, took umbrage at the suggestion that the council’s work wasn’t worth the reward of a VIP parking pass.

“I don’t think you have any idea the amount of time council members put in, with absolutely no compensation whatsoever,” she said. “A parking pass is such a minor thing. It’s just a nice way of saying, ‘Thank you for all that you have done.’ Six years is a lot of time. … You do the council a disservice when you say this is a bad thing for them to do.”

Mayor Tony McClenny offered an example of why he feels the extra perks of the VIP passes are a good idea for the Town to offer to retired council members.

“I’m a good friend of a retired council member that can barely walk, and if he wants to go to the beach or the bandstand, he simply can’t, unless his wife, who is in her 80s, drops him off. And then he’s on his own until she gets back,” McClenny explained.

Dorfman noted that the town currently has only three former council members who would qualify for the VIP passes.

Olmstead, McClenny added, “served on the council for 10 years, unselfishly, and didn’t expect to get paid for it. I don’t think it’s an unreasonable matter to give this to someone who’s given six to 12 years to this town. I think it’s the right thing for us to consider doing.”

Killmer was the only council member to vote against the measure. It was approved on a 6-1 vote.

Retiring council members will also be able to get one additional perk, with a unanimous vote by the council last Friday. They’ll be able to purchase from the Town the tablets, laptop computers or other digital devices they were issued by the Town for use during their time on the council. That change will also be added to the protocol manual.

Unpaid parking tickets to get an extra fee

Also on Jan. 17, the council voted unanimously to approve adding a $20 fee to the Schedule of Fees, to be charged when parking tickets go unpaid and are turned over to a collection agency. Dorfman said the Town has about 600 to 650 parking tickets each year that go to collections, with about $32,000 to $35,000 in fines involved.

With an administrative fee of 36.6 percent paid to the agency by the Town, he said, the Town is losing $19.12 on average for each of the payments collected. The $20 fee would offset that cost to the Town.

“Over the last several years, we have made an effort to have certain fees paid by those who require it, not as a revenue-generating measure, but to cover our costs,” McClenny pointed out. “This is just one more step along the way for someone who costs us money to pay it, rather than having the Town pay it.”

That could just as easily be said of a second fee the council voted unanimously to add last week: a $2 court security fee. The State of Delaware allows courts to assess up to a $10 fee per violation to a person charged and going before the court. The revenue generated can go to a wide range of security-related expenses, such as bailiffs, securing of computers, locking file cabinets and bulletproof windows — anything, Dorfman said, that makes the court and its documents more secure.

He said the Town had consulted with its alderman and determined that a $2 fee would be an appropriate amount in Bethany, with about $3,200 in additional revenue that would be generated each year.

Dorfman also offered a report from the town’s Budget & Finance Committee, which included a review of the third quarter of the town’s fiscal year, which ends on March 31. He said they were expecting the Town to come in at least $250,000 over budgeted revenue, thanks to very good rental tax and transfer tax revenues in the third quarter, as well as good revenue from building permits. He said he expected the Town to also be significantly under its budgeted expenses.

Delving into their work on the upcoming fiscal year’s budget, Dorfman said they were budgeting for $77,000 in additional revenue, up 1 percent, with a $262,000 increase in operating costs budgeted, a 4.1 percent increase.

Dorfman said the bulk of the increase in costs was due to stormwater management projects that are ready to move ahead, as well as water department maintenance costs that arise every three to five years. A $790,000 proposed capital budget will include funds for street repair, drainage projects and a replacement trash truck, among other items.

He noted that the committee was also proposing a small property tax increase of .5 cents, from 17.5 cents per $100 of assessed property value to 18 cents per $100 of assessed property value. That’s a 3 percent increase, he noted, adding that the property tax rate had last been adjusted two years ago.

With the average property owner only paying $500 per year in property taxes to the Town, that would mean the average property owner would only pay $15 more per year as a result of the increase, Dorfman said. But the increase would generate about $150,000 in additional revenue for the Town. No other changes in taxes or fees were discussed, he said, but the committee will be considering an increase in water rates at this time in 2015.

The committee will meet next on Feb. 20.

The Town’s newest committee — the Bethany Beach 4th of July Parade Committee — also now has an official “statement of work,” with the unanimous approval of that document by the council on Jan. 17.

Town still seeking solution to
dune crossing problems

Graviet reported on Jan. 17 that beach replenishment work has yet to be completed in the town. He said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ contractor was due to come back in the next two to three weeks, to replace the lost snow fence and restore whatever dune crossovers they were told to restore.

But, Graviet noted, he was not expecting any changes to be made to the undamaged dune crossings, despite nearly two years of ongoing issues with the way people get from the boardwalk to the beach. The wooden platforms built several years ago are now covered with sand, which Graviet said he was told was a sign that the dune construction and the planning of the beach restoration project actually works, providing a barrier from storm damage.

“The beach grass isn’t only designed to hold the sand in place,” he said, “but to catch sand and drop it on top of the beach. If the dune is working, the crest will continually build over the course of time.”

But that’s also an increasing problem for beach access, and Graviet said no one had been able to come up with a way to correct the problem without altering the protective features of the dune. The Corps and DNREC both objected to “cuts” in the dune on those grounds, he added. Graviet said an upcoming meeting would again look to find possible solutions. If no solutions are found, he said, he expected to add $25,000 in the 2015 budget to purchase additional accessibility-enhancing Mobi Mats.

Graviet also reported last week that work on the Streetscape project had expanded into the intersection of Garfield Parkway and Pennsylvania Avenue, with hopes of having that area completed by early February.

At a Jan. 28 meeting, the project’s progress and a revised estimated completion date are to be discussed. In the worst case, he said, delays could mean that repaving of the entire street would have to wait until after the 2014 summer season. But he said he believes the rest of the work could still be done before the season begins.

Graviet noted that the Town had also purchased banners announcing that the downtown businesses are open, encouraging motorists to patronize them even during the construction.

He also reported a move into the next stage of compliance with the State’s recycling mandate, with installation of pads for the commercial recycling bins in progress and the bins to be placed as soon as the pads are cured.

Progress is also being made on the Town’s new water tower, with a crane installed on the tower portion of the structure that will be used to raise the components of the “ball” portion of the tower in time for an estimated late February completion.

Graviet offered kudos to town IT chief Dan Kenney for his hard work on a new telephone system at town hall that will be up and running in early February.

The new system, which cost around $16,000, will actually save the Town about $11,000 per year in costs, paying for itself in a year and a half. Further kudos were offered to Finance Director Janet Connery, who has been hard at work on the 2015 budget.

Graviet also reported on Jan. 17 that the Town is looking into potentially changing its parking ticket tracking system to a new vendor that would not only provide the Town with new handheld units every three years as part of their contract (at a slight increase in cost over the problematic old vendor) but would also be able to offer pay-by-phone parking.