Bethany council irons out plan for non-profits' building fees

Bethany Beach officials last week continued their discussion of proposed breaks for non-profits on building fees the Town charges, tailoring their previous workshop discussion down to a few ideas that could become town policy.

Town Manager Cliff Graviet said at the council’s May 15 workshop that the advice the Town had been given was that the only criteria for offering a discounted fee structure for non-profits should be 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status from the IRS. Otherwise, he said, the Town would be at risk of being sued should the handling of the fees differ between applicants or applications.

Councilman Lew Killmer said he would like to see the non-profits make their case to the Town for the projects in question benefitting the community at large, and not just the non-profit’s administration, for example.

“I would want to make sure it benefits the wider community, that they’re not just building a board room for board members only,” Killmer said.

Councilwoman Margaret Young said she felt that kind of criteria could get tricky, “Because they could think up a million reasons why it would benefit the community. But they really just want that deduction.”

Killmer said he didn’t see such a presentation as being part of an up-or-down decision on granting the break on building fees but that he felt it should be part of the process.

Council members are looking at charging a 1 percent building permit fee to the qualifying non-profits, providing they can provide proof of 501(c)(3) status. The non-profits would be required to pay any costs the Town incurs for outside consultants or resources needed to process the building permits.

“I think 1 percent is appropriate,” Killmer said. “There’s a difference between taxes and these building fees, which can be significant.”

The issue is expected to end up on the council’s agenda for their June meeting, along with a policy that could exempt community-service non-profits that the Town already has associations with — including the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company — from the fees.

Graviet on May 15 also offered a draft of potential language aimed at ensuring that the Town’s costs are covered by building permit fees.

Killmer offered an alternative that he said aimed to simplify the language further, eliminating specific mention of items that are part of every application for a subdivision, for example, and listing an umbrella fee for that kind of application. Killmer said he also wanted to ensure that the fee language clearly stated that a building permit wouldn’t be issued until any monies owed to the Town were paid.

Graviet said he wanted to send both drafts to the town solicitor, from which the solicitor could create something that he deemed would work the best for the town. He said he wanted to make sure that, before the Town gives applicants any form of final approval, the applicant would have to meet a set of requirements. But he said he thought that was best left open-ended, so it could be detailed on a business-specific basis.

Councilwoman Carol Olmstead asked if the fee structure would include costs for services performed by in-house staff and was told it would.

“The building permit includes the time spent by the building inspector on the permit, inspections and reviewing plans,” Killmer said.

Graviet said the proposal was to include that work as part of the fees, while additional costs incurred by the Town during the process would be considered separately.

“It would create a whole new issue if we were going to be charging for in-house staff work that we already do for all projects as it stands now,” he said, noting that if costs incurred for outside resources were less than what the applicant paid the Town, they could end up with a rebate.

Water tower site prep completed

The council on May 15 also got an update on the status of the construction of the Town’s new water tower. The update came in the form of a video presentation recorded onsite at the water plant.

The first phase of the project has been completed, with room made for the construction and erection of the new water tower by relocating fire hydrants, a set of steps, a light pole and sewer lines. They also removed the two existing mineral ponds, filled in that area and cut into a hill to widen the area between the new water tower and the outbuilding.

Phase 2 of the project is now set to begin in September, and it is expected to be completed by May 2014. Construction of a new pump station, replacing two existing sheds, is the final stage of the project.

A temporary water tank has been located on the site — looking something like a railroad car, at 45 feet long and sitting east of the existing clarifier apparatus. The Town opted to purchase the temporary storage tank as an alternative to constructing a new pond.

Not constructing the pond, Graviet said, saved the Town $30,000 from the prior version of the project’s budget — savings that will cover the purchase of the temporary tank, which the Town also plans to re-sell once the project is complete.

Graviet said he had looked into leasing a temporary tank but that ones that were available for lease would not handle potable water.

Phase 2, starting this fall, will begin with pile driving for tower supports and then the pouring of a large concrete support pad, which will then have to cure for an extended period of time before the tower and riser pipe can be erected. That is expected to be completed by the end of May 2014. Remaining work will include site work and a review of the installation.

The final tower installation will be 140 feet tall, including the spherical tank atop the tower, which has a flared base that runs about 30 to 40 feet tall before becoming an essentially vertical tower leading to the tank. The above-head storage is expected to not only increase the Town’s water capacity during the busy summers but improve water quality at times when water use is low.

Downtown to get six 30-minute parking spots

The council on May 15 also discussed a planned test installation of six 30-minute parking meters on Garfield Parkway in downtown Bethany.

Mayor Tony McClenny said the idea had been suggested by residents

“We’re dipping our toe in the area of 30-minute meters,” Graviet said, emphasizing that it was only six meters and that the Town would “see how it goes.”

McClenny said he believed six such meters might prove adequate, though he initially questioned putting them in the planned location at the end of the block, rather in a more central location at the middle of the block.

Graviet noted, though, that locating them in the middle of the block would place them near a concentration of the town’s restaurants, which traditionally have a longer turnover than the planned 30-minute parking clientele, who might just be running into a store to grab a newspaper or pick up a cup of coffee.

“Generally, when you see them placed, it’s where there is a quick turnover,” Graviet said, and McClenny agreed.

Young said the idea was a good one, but she asserted that the 30-minute parking would need to be clearly marked, as perhaps also might need to be the case with the neighboring non-30-minute meters. McClenny pointed out, though, that the Town would be using old-fashioned parking meters for the 30-minute parking, rather than the new electronic paystations and paper tickets.

“It would be distinctly different,” he said. The Town does still have some coin-operated parking meters, which are still in use for handicapped parking.

Vice-Mayor Jack Gordon asked Graviet what the downtown businesspeople had thought of the idea and whether any had objected. Graviet replied that they had not. Gordon then asked whether enforcement would prove onerous.

“Someone could come back out and put more money in,” Olmstead pointed out. “If it is for convenience, then someone hogging the space is a problem.”

But council members didn’t seem to think enforcement would be an issue, as parking enforcement officers could chalk-mark the tires of cars in those spaces and then see whether the cars had been moved a half-hour later. A majority also said they thought the enforcement period should be the same as the paystation parking.

“There are reasons people might be running in later in the evening to pick something up,” Olmstead said.