Bethany passes budget, flurry of items

Bethany Beach Town Council members vote unanimously Friday, March 18, to enact a series of measures, on issues ranging from how the town’s records can be distributed to how its investments are made.
Topping the list of items addressed by the council was the town’s proposed budget for the 2006 fiscal year.

On the heels of extensive budget discussions with the town’s Budget and Finance Committee, as well as a public hearing held just hours before the council meeting, council members unanimously accepted the proposed $10.2 million budget without further discussion. (Council members Harold Steele and Bob Degen were absent.)

Similarly smooth was the passage of two ordinances.

The first, amending Chapter 40 of the town code, was designed to bring the code into line with state code as regards the selection of the chairman of the town’s Planning Commission. The commission is a state-mandated body, and the state code requires its head be selected by and from among the members appointed by the town council.

While that method of selection has been practiced by the town, the Bethany Beach town code called for the chairman to be directly appointed by the council. The amendment, unanimously passed by the council members present, edits the town code to reflect both town practice and state requirements.

The second ordinance extended the methods by which the town is allowed to disperse publicly available records. It brings the methods into the computer age by allowing digital copies to be distributed by disc or other digital method, including the Internet. Those seeking paper copies will still be able to obtain them, at the usual costs.

Council members also voted unanimously to adopt its own variation of the county’s “all-hazard mitigation plan.” Town Manager Cliff Graviet, in describing the plan, noted that numerous local municipalities had “piggybacked” on the plan developed by the county.

The plan includes information on the town’s emergency evacuation routes and other resources and makes Bethany Beach eligible to obtain funding for disaster recovery.

There was similar unanimous acceptance for the town’s investment policy statement, brought forward by Secretary-Treasurer Tony McClenny. He noted the policy was based on accepted accounting principles and would be reviewed annually in April, in conjunction with the start of the town’s fiscal year.

Council Member Lew Killmer pointed out that the maximum length of investments in the town had been extended in the policy from two years to three years, to allow “good investment opportunities to be taken.” He noted that the town’s finance director, Janet Connery, routinely checks the town’s investments for better rates.

Killmer also inquired of Town Solicitor Terrence Jaywork as to whether Delaware law protects the town’s elected officials from legal consequences of bad investment decisions made in good faith. Jaywork said simple bad decisions were not a source of legal fault for the officials.

Council members also cemented the highlight of the town’s annual Fourth of July celebration, unanimously authorizing a contract with Schaeffer Pyrotechnics for the fourth year running, at a cost of $15,000. Graviet noted that the town had moved in recent years toward a single-source supplier for the fireworks display and found “good luck” with Schaeffer.

Mayor Jack Walsh asked whether the planned show for 2005 would consist of similar ordinance as the 2004 show, commenting, “That was dynamite.” Graviet said the display would be similar.

Council consensus was that the show should be held on the evening of Monday, July 4, the same day planned for the town’s annual holiday parade. It was noted that Rehoboth Beach plans to hold its fireworks display on Sunday, July 3, while Dagsboro has also chosen Monday, July 4.

Graviet also brought forward to the council a proposal for construction of the “town square” project. He noted that the town had opted not to send out bid packages in the traditional manner, in hopes that expediting the process might lead to the project completing construction in May, prior to the 2005 summer season.

Those hopes were dashed when, of eight proposals sent out, only two elicited bids – and neither of which took the town up on its hoped-for option of pre-summer construction.

Of the two bids, the one from John L. Briggs & Company was by far the lower, at only $560,000, compared to $924,000. Graviet noted that Briggs had requested the town give notice to proceed as soon as possible, to allow them to order special items in times for a late September or early October start.

McClenny questioned whether Briggs’ reputation was strong enough to back up such a substantially lower bid; but Graviet replied that the company was well thought of and had impressed town officials during initial meetings by automatically planning for longer-lived products than the minimum called for on the project.

Planning Commission Chairman Phil Boesch asked Graviet how the town square project would be handled in conjunction with the planned “streetscape” project for Garfield Parkway.

Graviet noted that the two projects had been planned to work in conjunction with each other in respect of the design elements, but each had been expected to be implemented separately.

Forward movement on the streetscape project has hinged on the relocation of utility poles on the street, which has bogged down under uncertainty as to who “owns” the poles and who should pay for the move or laying of underground wiring.

The engineering phase of the streetscape project has, however, begun to budge, with Graviet noting that the engineering proposal for the design phase of the project should be going out to bid within weeks. He said the project could still bring funding in under the state’s budget for the current fiscal year, with construction possibly beginning in 2006.

Council members again unanimously voted to accept the bid from Briggs on the town square project.

They also unanimously accepted a proposal from Delmarva Paving for the town’s street rehabilitation project, this phase set for the 2005 calendar year. The bid of $157,000 was again significantly lower than the other bid tendered — $183,000 — and 11 percent below the original engineer’s estimate of $177,000.

Funding from the Delaware Department of Transportation will help support the project.

The multi-year street rehabilitation plan originated with the town’s engineering firm, Kercher Engineering Associates, and is targeted at improving roadways that have deteriorated faster than was expected.

Streets scheduled for rehabilitation in the 2005 calendar year phase of the project include: Evans Road from Third Street to the north end; Hallmoon Drive from Collins Avenue to Route 26; Fountain Boulevard from Route 26 to Tree Top Lane; Campbell Place from Pennsylvania Avenue to Atlantic Avenue; and Faireway Drive from Route 26 to Collins Avenue.

Also scheduled for work starting this week was the notoriously flood-prone area of Hollywood Street, in the 200 block near the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company. Graviet said it was hoped the work would alleviate the flooding that has plagued the fire company.

The news was not as good regarding paving of the town’s alleys. Graviet said that, after study, the repaving plan had proven “far more complicated than any of us had anticipated.”

He said it would require “substantial” work with property owners whose properties adjoin the alleys in order to merge the alley paving and existing driveways. The timetable for the project is thus much longer than was originally planned.

Graviet also noted that plans were proceeding with a proposed Geographic Information Systems (GIS) study of the town. The study would mark town utilities and resources such as water mains and fire hydrants, in an effort to document their locations in a study that would stand up “for generations.”

Currently, the exact location of some of the town’s existing utility pipes is not precisely known. That has posed some problems in plans for work on sewer and water systems, as well as street and utility work.

In a related note, Walsh said a recent meeting of the state’s Surface Water Management Task Force had brought hope that the town’s flood and drainage control efforts could be supplemented by state funds. The meeting was aimed at developing recommendations for improving such problems statewide, with final recommendations due April 1.

Walsh said Department of Natural Resources (DNREC) Secretary John Hughes told Bethany Beach officials the town’s flooding issues might be considered under proposals for state assistance.

The mayor also noted that DNREC officials had recently met with representatives of the Army Corps of Engineers regarding the Bethany Beach/South Bethany beach reconstruction project. The specific subject of the meeting, Walsh said, was easements needed for the project.

Walsh said he had told the officials Bethany Beach would help get the word out about the need for the easements and would make available the town hall as a location from which the easements could be reviewed and settled with property owners.

The hope in doing so is that minimizing the work involved in the easement process will mean that phase of the project is completed early, smoothing the way toward getting sand actually pumped on the beaches.

The towns are still awaiting word on federal funding for the project in the final 2006 fiscal year budget. An estimated $5.5 million in federal funds is said to be needed to get actual construction under way.