Bethany entertains the crowds during hot summer season

With the summer season in full swing, Bethany Beach officials have been keeping busy keeping the town in shape for the bounty of seasonal visitors, as well as its full-time residents.

Town Manager Cliff Graviet took the time at a July 20 town council meeting to thank town staff for their efforts toward a “successful Fourth of July,” as the town accommodated tens of thousands of holiday visitors for the traditional patriotic holiday parade, entertainment and fireworks display.

Graviet also noted that the town’s new weekly Movies on the Beach event has also been “hugely successful,” with “huge crowds” that he said town staff would, in the coming weeks, attempt to quantify. Graviet said the staff’s observation as of mid-season was that most of those attending the screenings of the PG-rated films hadn’t simply “happened by” but had come to downtown Bethany specifically to watch the movie on offer that night.

Despite some initial concern from downtown business owners that the film showings on Monday nights during the summer might actually detract from patronage at the businesses, Graviet said some of the businesses along the boardwalk had discovered that popcorn was an extremely popular offering for those attending the movies on the beach, with a small bag of the snack going for around $5 to those aiming to make the movie nights a bit closer to the experience they might have at an indoor theater.

Remaining shows scheduled include “Megamind” on Aug. 13, “Rango” on Aug. 20 and “Spy Kids: All the Time in the World” on Aug. 27, all at 8:30 p.m. on those Monday nights, on the beach at Garfield Parkway. Graviet had previously said he would consider possibly extending the film showings past Labor Day, depending on demand and weather, and could possibly relocate them to the bandstand during cooler weather.

Lifeguard stands get an anchor-line

Beach patrols along the Delaware shore have come to view after-hours theft and vandalism of their lifeguard stands as something to be expected each summer, and this summer has been no exception. But the Bethany Beach Beach Patrol recently took the exceptional step of chaining their stands to anchor posts on the beach each night, to prevent both vandalism and potential rough use by beachgoers who could also be injured while climbing on the stands.

“It’s not unusual that, at 3 or 4 in the morning, visitors to the town try to send the lifeguard stands to Europe,” Graviet explained wryly at the July 20 council meeting. He said the Town had moved earlier that week to put in 14 or 15 anchors on the beach, “and chain the stands to them as a slight impediment to those industrious enough to try to do something with the lifeguard stands.”

The air systems at town hall were also giving town staff problems during this unusually hot summer. Graviet said on July 20 that the temperature in the town hall meeting room had reached 102 earlier that day, and that the police department had experienced 95 degree temperatures earlier in the week. He said he planned to escalate his previously “friendly calls” to the vendor for the state-of-the-art air system in an effort to get the problem solved.

Graviet also reported on July 20 that town staff had removed the accessability-improving Mobi Mats from dune crossovers after discovering they were not staying put on the hard clay surfaces of the reconstructed dune crossings and were, in fact, making walking across the dune more difficult. He said that, if DNREC did not keep its promise to the Town to repair the crossings, town staff would put the mats back down when the clay deteriorated enough for the mats to remain in place.

Town staff also recently installed speed bumps in the 200 block of Oakwood Street, despite their observation that speeding wasn’t really a problem on that road.

“It’s the only through-street from east to west in that area, and it sees a lot of traffic cycles,” Graviet noted, explaining that the decision to install the bumps had been an effort to answer community needs. He said the Town had actually ordered the bumps for another location but had found they were not needed there. Instead, they were installed on Oakwood Street.

Water tower loan referendum set for Sept. 8

Bethany council members voted 7-0 on July 20 to formally set for Sept. 8 the planned referendum on a loan of up to $3.7 million for construction of a new water tower at the Collins Street water plant site.

The Town canceled its annual town council election that had been set for the same date, as only the incumbents filed to run in that election. However, voting will still take place from noon to 6 p.m. on Sept. 8, with citizens given a chance to approve or disapprove of the proposed borrowing from the State’s drinking water revolving fund.

The project’s actual estimated cost is around $2.6 million, but on the advice of Town Solicitor Terrence Jaywork, the language of the referendum will continue to ask for approval of up to $3.7 million in borrowing, at no more than 3 percent interest. The current rate of interest for loans from the revolving fund is just 2.28 percent, which is expected to be similar to the final rate of the Town’s loan, should the referendum be approved.

The Town recently sent out a newsletter to all citizens, offering information on the referendum and the stated need for the new water tower. Graviet said another mailing, of a brochure developed by a company helping the Town “get [its] message out,” would be forthcoming.

In order to vote in a town election, citizens must either be listed on a property deed as a property owner in the town or must register as a non-owner resident at least 30 days prior to the election. Registration can be done either in person at town hall or by requesting a mail-in form.

Graviet also noted on July 20 that $1.1 million in water department reserves is already allocated to be used for related changes to the water plant property, including the relocation of retention ponds and installation of a quieter aeration system. Not all of those reserves are expected to be needed for the project. Town officials will have to decide at a later date what to do with reserve funds that remain after the project is completed.

Councilman Jerry Dorfman on July 20 reported that the Budget & Finance Committee had voted 6-1 to recommend to the council that it retain existing water department sinking fund rates under the proposed new loan for the water system. The retirement of an existing loan in favor of the proposed loan from the revolving fund would leave room for the Town to reduce sinking fund fees by an average of $17 per property per year over the 20-year life of the loan.

However, Dorfman explained that retaining the existing fee levels would allow the Town to pay off the new loan in 13 years, rather than 20 years, and would thereby save the Town about $300,000 over the life of the loan. Paying the loan off early, he said, was the recommendation of the committee.

Dorfman also reported on July 20 that the Town had received another positive audit report from outside auditors the TGM Group. The 2012 fiscal year audit garnered the Town yet another “unqualified opinion,” the highest rating that can be given on an audit. Dorfman said auditors reported that the Town remains in good financial shape, with sufficient reserves and very little debt, making it stand out among many municipalities.

In the Budget & Finance Committee’s final review of the 2012 fiscal year, Dorfman said, the Town had ended up with $29,000 in additional revenue over the budgeted amount, with operating expenses coming in at $310,000 less than what was budgeted. He noted that the water and sanitation departments had also come in under budget.

Compared to the prior year, Dorfman said, the Town’s revenue was $64,000 higher — “right where it should be,” he said, with expenses coming in at $62,000 more than the prior year. “For the percentages of the budget spent, we were very close to last year and to where we should be.”

Also at the July 20 council meeting:

• Mayor Tony McClenny announced that the Town had been invited to take part in the Route 26 Working Group, which will provide monthly updates for the upcoming Route 26 Mainline Improvements project and offer a forum to convey community concerns. Vice-Mayor Jack Gordon will be the Town’s representative to the working group.

• Councilman Lew Killmer reported approval of new signage for new businesses in the Conor shopping center on Garfield Parkway. The new businesses include Off the Hook Market and First Choice Properties.

• The council voted 7-0 to approve the final property assessment list for the upcoming tax billing.

• The council also voted 7-0 to approve final changes to the town comprehensive plan, after being asked during a pre-signing review by the Governor’s Office to update seven maps for which more current information was available.

• The council unanimously approved the purchase for $36,000 of a new Ford F-350 truck for the water department, allowing a truck with 120,000 miles on it to be shifted to the Public Works department, from which another truck will be retired.

• Owners of The Breakers in downtown Bethany advised the council that they planned to change signage on the parking lot for the property, to make it clearer that the lot is private property and that vehicles not belonging in the lot will be towed.

An ongoing problem with unauthorized parking in the lot had only become worse since the installation of the Town’s parking paystations, they said. While they said the paystations were working well, they said they believe some of those paying for parking at the stations saw the large lot and believed, incorrectly, that they were paying for the right to park there. They also asked the Town to consider adding signage to the paystations to warn motorists against parking on private property and of the risk of being towed.