South Bethany talks big capital project

South Bethany Town Council members met for workshop on June 30, to paint in broad strokes plans for a proposed new police station and a construction project for either a renovated or new town hall.

Mayor Gary Jayne said he was a little leery of bundling the two buildings in one project, especially as the current police station is quickly nearing the end of its effective life.

However, Council Members Bob Cestone and Bonnie Lambertson said they’d planned it that way to save money.

Council Member Marge Gassinger said they’d just have to try again with only the police station if the referendum on the joint project failed. In the referendum, the town will be asking residents for permission to expend an estimated $970,000 from existing reserves.

Gassinger suggested the referendum would probably pass more easily if there were more full-time residents in South Bethany. People who’d bought homes for investment purposes were sometimes less supportive of municipal expenditures, she said.

Council Member John Fields continued to push for a slightly larger town hall, though, confident that voters would approve even a larger project. According to Fields, people moving to the area were, in the main, accustomed to services and would expect more from the town in the future.

He said town staff was already at capacity and suggested council build some extra office space into the project costs, in anticipation of increasing personnel requirements.

Gassinger said they were somewhat limited with what they could do on the lot, but Fields said they should be able to shift the building this way or that, or go for a two-story building.

“There’s a lot of expensive property down here. Ten years from now, this could be the Hamptons of Delaware,” he said. (“Unless the storm hits us,” Gassinger inserted).

“I don’t want people to drive down the road and see a little rinky-dink town hall that looks like it belongs in the hills of Kentucky. The people who own property here are going to want to see something nice, and they’ll pass the referendum,” Fields opined.

That brought a chorus of doubt, though. Lambertson remembered how many people had been enthusiastic for central water when that proposal first came along — and how many years it had taken to garner a majority for implementing it.

Gassinger said it had been the same way before the water issue, with sewer — and she said the town would never be the Hamptons, where homes tended to rest on sprawling estate grounds (with tennis courts and the like). The lots were too small in South Bethany, she said.

However, Fields supported his points with land price quotes he said he’d heard from local Realtor Martha Lowe — $650,000 for raw land, and that was on the bay side.

As Jayne pointed out, he’d been raised in the Hamptons.

“I still have family there, and they’re having problems with taxes, with the fact that the kids graduate and go to college, and then can’t afford to come home again, with finding firefighters, teachers and police to work there,” he said.

He said some of the property owners had started getting together to build dormitories for the workforce.

Perhaps only half-jokingly, Cestone suggested things were getting to that point in Sussex County, too.