Bethany Beach to expand trolley fleet for better reliability

Bethany Beach will be adding a third trolley to its fleet of summertime transportation this summer, with the approval by the town council this week of a contract to purchase the third trolley for $166,917. The third trolley isn’t planned for use simultaneously with the existing two trolleys, but it will help keep two trolleys in service at all times.

Town Manager Cliff Graviet explained to council members at their Jan. 18 meeting that the existing trolleys — a smaller, gasoline-powered one purchased in 2001 and a larger, diesel-powered one purchased in 2005 — both have about 125,000 miles on them, all of it stop-and-go driving in busy resort town during the summer.

Graviet said mechanical issues had developed with the trolleys and the Town had spent a “sizeable amount of money” on the larger trolley last year, for both cosmetic and mechanical issues, hoping to keep both on the road through the end of the summer. Despite that, the Town went 20 days with only one trolley in service, he told the council.

“We’ve reached the point in time where we now need three to maintain two on the street,” Graviet said, adding that the new trolley would be put immediately into service. Both the 2005 trolley and the new trolley have a handicapped access lift. “We’ll keep one back in case of problems,” he added.

The town manager noted that the contract was being awarded to the low bidder, Hometown Trolley by Double K Inc., which had many references and had its vehicles used throughout the country. He said the package for the trolley will include a larger diesel engine “and a lot of stainless steel apertures and fittings that would better serve us in our marine environment.”

Mayor Tony McClenny called the trolleys “a very valuable service to those who are visiting or vacationing here during the summer months,” adding that he believe they cut down on traffic in the town — “Not to mention that everybody’s grandchild loves to get on and take a ride.”

Graviet said the package includes all of the cosmetic details and fittings the Town needs, except for its customized lettering. The contract includes the chosen finish color, pinstriping, the coin bin for riders’ fees and all of the other elements that are on the existing trolleys.

Councilman Lew Killmer asked Graviet if he foresaw the Town having all three trolleys in service at any one time, such as during the height of the summer season in July.

“On July 4, it would be of benefit, but I haven’t thought about it or discussed with staff trying to run all three,” he told Killmer, joking that the town would then need five trolleys, just to keep three in service.

Graviet said he hadn’t further pursued the idea of software that would notify riders of where each trolley is actually located along the trolley route, especially in light of the mechanical problems they had this past summer. He said that, as short as the route is and as close as each stop is to the next, he wasn’t sure the software would be of a benefit to the Town. He said the Town does have GPS devices in each trolley, in case they need to determine its location.

Councilwoman Carol Olmstead asked about the handicapped lift, which she said she had never seen operated. Graviet said the lift is at the back of the larger trolley and that it is something that is both used and needed.

Council members unanimously approved both the $166,917 contract for the new trolley and a budget supplement for that amount, to pay for the trolley.

N. Pennsylvania Avenue to get underground utilities

The council on Jan. 18 also voted unanimously to reallocate $130,000 in funds originally set aside for undergrounding of utilities on Garfield Parkway ahead of Streetscape construction to instead be used for undergrounding of lines on a portion N. Pennsylvania Avenue, which is proposed for sidewalk improvements.

Graviet said the $130,000 had been returned to the Town by Verizon when it was not needed for the undergrounding work on Garfield Parkway. The cost of the work on N. Pennsylvania Avenue is about $84,000, with the total cost of that project expected to come in around $144,000.

The town manager also noted last Friday that he had just hours prior received an email from officials at the Delaware Department of Transportation, noticing the Town of a Jan. 30 pre-construction bid meeting for the Streetscape project. He said the Town had been informed that the bid had been awarded to A-Del Construction (, which has done work throughout the state. Graviet said he and Public Works Director Brett Warner planned to attend that meeting and hoped to come back “with more information than we have had in the past.”

Tentatively, Streetscape construction is to start in late February, with completion targeted before Memorial Day.

Graviet said the Town was also purchasing “loud, garish signs” to place under signs along Route 1, along with sandwich-board signs, to let people know that the downtown businesses are open during the construction period.

“It will be business as usual in downtown Bethany, on both sides of the street,” he said.

Graviet emphasized that the contract for the project had included the requirement that a 5-foot-wide section of sidewalk be open and accessible in front of all the businesses during the construction, except for brief periods when work was being done right in front of the businesses’ entrances.

DelDOT also recently notified the Town that it was going to reduce the speed limit on Kent Avenue, within town limits, to 30 mph. The Town had previously requested the speed limit be lowered to 25 mph, which would match the town’s other two-lane streets. McClenny said DelDOT officials had initially declined the Town’s request, but he said they had later approved a compromise at 30 mph.

The mayor noted that the change had originated when citizens came to a council meeting two years prior to express their concerns about safety on the street. “That doesn’t mean we will cease asking for it to be changed to 25 mph, like every other two-lane street in town,” he added of the change.

Water plant improvements proceeding in engineering phase

Graviet said engineering work on the revamped water plant was also proceeding, after changes that arose from a meeting of the working group of residents near the plant. He said they had changed the work schedule, and redesigned and relocated a needed pond. The new pond will be an in-ground pond with a lip, that he said “will be located as unobtrusively as we possibly can” and would not result “in any extensive loss of trees. It should improve the look of the water plant, … especially on the side looking south,” he said.

Also up for redesign is the existing aerator at the plant, which the manufacturer has now made a bid on changing to reduce the amount of noise it produces. Graviet said the town’s engineer was now looking at whether the new design would have a significant enough impact to make the change worthwhile.

Graviet also noted that the existing standpipe at the water plant was inspected recently. He said the tank was declared to be in “excellent” condition, with the interior described as “flawless.” He said the outside would need to be repainted in the next two years, calling that an “extensive project” in which the existing paint will need to be blasted off before new paint is applied.

The Town is also in the process of adding new pads for placement of recycling containers needed to meet State mandates, he said.

Graviet reported last Friday that University of Delaware officials had approached the Town about obtaining a long-term commitment from the Town for access to the town meeting room for its Institute of Lifelong Learning program, which he said has been “very popular” and “very well-received” in the community.

Finally, Graviet reported that the town’s two newest police officers had recently completed their field training programs and are now on patrol solo. “We’re back to the number we like to keep,” he said of police department staff.

Budget preparation under way, finances in the black

Graviet told the council this week that staff had been very busy in December and January with budget preparation, with managers making sure budget requests reflect actual needs. He noted that the Town’s operating budget had increased 11 percent over the last five years, while the municipal cost index had risen 20 percent in that same period.

With the 2013 fiscal year having reached the three-quarter mark, Councilman Jerry Dorfman offered positive news on the Town’s finances. As of Dec. 31, 2012, the Town had received 97.7 percent of the revenue budgeted for the entire fiscal year, which ends in April. Meanwhile, careful management, he said, had led to just 78.1 percent of budgeted revenue having been spent.

The revenue picture is a rosy one, in the wake of national concern about budgets and local concern targeted on the real estate market during the recession. Dorfman said the Town’s real estate tax revenue alone was $148,000 over the budgeted amount, with three months left in the fiscal year. Transfer tax alone was at $165,000 above the budgeted amount, while there is an additional $38,000 in rental tax revenue now in the town coffers, over and above what was budgeted.

“We expect to end several hundred thousand dollars over the budgeted revenue and significantly under budgeted expenditures,” he told the council this week.

Dorfman also gave a glimpse into the budget for the 2014 fiscal year, noting some changes to fees that had received support from the Budget & Finance Committee as the draft budget is being developed. Those changes include:

• An increase of 25 cents in the transaction fee assessed at the town parking paystations, raising the fee to 50 cents per transaction, which Dorfman said was needed to cover the costs of operating the paystations themselves.

• An increase in the ambulance service fee, from $41 to $44 annually, under the request of the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company, which operates the service.

• Trash fees could increase by 12.5 percent, which Dorfman said was needed to address a sanitation reserve that had been depleted under the new State requirements for recycling and yard waste. Residential service would increase $30 to $280. Commercial service would increase $40 to $390. The council is set to review the budget recommendations at their February council workshop. McClenny asked that they have a list of comparable rates from surrounding communities to compare to the new rates.

“I expect we will find we are much less than other local communities,” Dorfman said.

Council changes business-license violation fee to a civil penalty

The council unanimously voted on Jan. 18 to remove from the Town schedule of fees an existing $100 administrative fee for failure to obtain a business license prior to conducting business within the town limits, in favor of a staff-recommended system in which code enforcement officers would give a civil citation to violators, with fines ranging from $100 to $500.

Graviet had explained to the council that the civil citation system would allow violators to have due process, in that they could challenge the citation before the town alderman, rather than simply being directed to obtain a license at town hall and being assessed a $100 violation fee they also needed to pay, without a process of appeal. The alderman would decide how much of a penalty violators might be assessed, while those who opted to simply pay the fine would be charged the $100 minimum.

Olmstead reported on the recent work of the Cultural and Historical Affairs Committee (CHAC) at last Friday’s council meeting, saying the group had put in an application to DelDOT for signs on Route 1 that would indicate the presence of the town museum within town hall. She said they had also discussed reframing and labeling historical photos that are displayed on the upper story of town hall.

Additionally, the committee is also in the process of having the sketches of historical homes in the town that were done for the mural in town hall turned into notecards that will be available for purchase. She said that, although CHAC had been asked to consider working with Arcadia Books on a book about the town’s history, committee members felt they were not currently able to take on the project and complete it in the six months Arcadia would require.

CHAC is continuing to work with the historical groups in other local towns in preparation for a traveling Smithsonian exhibit that is expected to be on display at Ocean View Town Hall in May or June. She said Millville had recently joined the project, and that a $3,000 grant application to help with costs had also been approved by the Delaware Humanities Forum. The groups will need to pull together $1,200 in matching funds and an in-kind share of about $7,400 for the exhibit.

Olmstead said CHAC had also recently reviewed the first DVD of their long-running oral history project, with the second near completion, though she said some changes will need to be made before the project is finalized.

Finally, McClenny noted that the American Shore & Beach Preservation Association’s annual conference is set to take place in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 26-28, and that the Town will have a representative in attendance who would report on the conference at the March council meeting.