South Bethany approves permeable-paver ordinance

The South Bethany Town Council this week approved a new ordinance that permits the installation of permeable pavers in the Town’s right-of-way, between the street and front property lines.

Councilman Jim Gross explained that the ordinance had come about because of several requests that came before the Board of Adjustments, asking for permission to install some sort of hard surface between the road and property lines, particularly to enhance access for the handicapped.

Gross noted that the ordinance had undergone some wording changes as it went before the town’s Planning Commission and then through the public hearing process. As adopted, it does not permit concrete or asphalt to be used in the area in question but allows for materials such as permeable pavers, which could be easily removed in case utility work was needed in that area.

The installations must follow industry standards and cannot exceed 50 percent of the lot’s frontage, also limited to not getting closer than 5 feet to any side property lines, which Gross said had been an effort to avoid the appearance of visual encroachment on neighboring properties.

The council approved the ordinance on a 5-0 vote on Feb. 10, with council members Sue Callaway and George Junkin absent.

The council also approved 5-0 an ordinance amending a previously adopted ordinance, changing a reference to a fee to the $500 amount referenced in the town’s schedule of fees – a housekeeping change mandated by an earlier oversight.

A second reading was held on an ordinance that increases the amounts allowed in bidding and contracts and changes the purchasing procedure for the town to allow the town manager to sign contracts in the absence of the mayor.

Bob Cestone, a former council member and expert on town code, noted that a reference to a requirement for the town solicitor to review contracts that were modified from standard format or that were for amounts greater than $300,000 had been removed during the drafting of the new ordinance. He recommended they be reinstated, and the council agreed, suggesting the changes be considered at their next workshop, ahead of a third reading and possible vote on the ordinance’s adoption.

The council also held a first reading of an ordinance that adds a temporary mercantile license to the town’s offerings for businesses working within town limits. Councilwoman Pat Voveris said the 30-day license was intended to offer those working in the town on a short-term basis an option other than a six-month or annual license, at a cost of just $30, which would be applied to the cost of the longer-term licenses should the licensee extend that license within its 30-day run.

The 30-day license would be limited to just one per year per business, with no other extensions available, so those looking to work beyond that 30-day period would have to consider the $80 six-month license or the full annual license.

Another first reading was held for an ordinance regarding property maintenance for all lots within town limits. The ordinance, in short, requires the removal of all dead trees.

Councilman John Fields noted that the east side of Route 1 inside South Bethany town limits is highly populated by Japanese pines, which are comparatively short-lived – about 10 to 15 years, on average – and that, when not taken down after their deaths, the trees become unsightly and a potential safety hazard.

“This ordinance is all about beautification,” he said, additionally recommending a minor change in the punctuation in the ordinance to make it clear that all dead trees, as well as unreasonable accumulations of branches and underbrush that could be deemed a fire or health hazard, would have to be removed. The ordinance will move to the next council workshop for changes ahead of a second reading.

Finally, the council held a first reading for an ordinance that will change the terms of service for members of the town’s Board of Adjustments from four years to three years.

Fields said the change was intended to make it easier for citizens to serve on the board.

“It’s difficult in a town of 450 permanent residents to get people to serve on these boards,” he said. “Four years is a long time to get someone to serve on the Board of Adjustments. I’m hoping that if we reduce it, it won’t cause any harm and may increase the ability of the council to get people to volunteer for that position.”

Mayor Jay Headman noted that when the four-year board term had been adopted, the Town had been under the impression that the State of Delaware mandated that length of term. “It turned out it doesn’t,” he emphasized.

Headman last Friday also said he wanted town citizens to be aware that the Town is taking the recent citizen survey “extremely critically” and that they were very pleased with the results, “because, basically, you were satisfied with our services.” He noted, however, that some of the comments suggested the town could improve in certain areas.

Those areas, he said, include police issues (such as speed on Route 1, getting across Route 1 and issues with traffic on side streets) and recycling (such as part-time residents feeling they couldn’t participate in the program because they weren’t in town on days they could put the carts out – a complaint he said had moved the council to go with a Saturday pick-up this year).

Headman said 94 percent of respondents considered the Town’s Web site useful and helpful, but that some felt some tweaking was needed – something he said the Town had done. Likewise, 94 percent of respondents who said they received the Town’s news updates said they were satisfied or very satisfied. He said he felt one major area of concern there was that only 560 citizens had signed up for electronic news updates, but the Town now plans on coordinating its lists with the property owners’ association to attempt to improve that number.

Other suggested improvements, Headman said, were involved in Budget & Finance Committee discussions about whether the Town has enough funds available to make those improvements.

Town Manager Mel Cusick reported on Feb. 10 that reconstruction of the town’s dune is still pending, awaiting the completion of dredging work on the Bethany Beach project to the north. Work on the private beach in Sea Colony is also set to take place in the near future, using private funding.

Cusick also noted that town staff were preparing for an all-day visit with FEMA community assistance program representatives on March 8, as they provide copies of the Town’s floodplain management ordinances, permits for new structures, variances granted since March of 2007, elevation certificate and other documents for the five-year update to the town’s certification for the National Flood Insurance Program, which offers a discount to property owners on flood insurance in certified areas.

Headman offered praise for Cusick’s work as a part-time code-enforcement official for the town. “The town is extremely busy with permits and we don’t want to delay them to build, and they need to be reviewed,” Headman explained of Cusick’s work to expedite the process for property owners.

Transfer tax revenues disappointing, could lead to shortfall

Voveris’ treasurer’s report offered a sobering number for the town’s transfer tax revenues for the current fiscal year – 79 percent – which is the amount the town is down from revenues collected during the same period during the prior fiscal year. That puts the town at just 57 percent of its budgeted figure for transfer tax revenues, at $127,000 through the end of January, instead of the $367,000 budgeted.

“The last three months of last year, we generated 23 percent,” she said of the budgeted transfer tax revenues. “If we did 23 percent this three months, we still only have 70 percent of the budgeted revenue, at $210,000. That’s a shortfall of $90,000, if so. I’m pretty confident in saying we will have that shortfall.”

She said the shortfall could work to bring the town’s excess reserves figure from $359,000, as budgeted, down to $153,000.

Voveris had better news on the town’s revenues overall, with 89 percent of budgeted revenue collected and just 77 percent of its budgeted expenses spent and all departments within their budgets. Rental tax revenues are $19,000 to the good, she added, with property taxes $2,000 in the black as the property tax payment season draws to a close.

Headman added that while the revenue news wasn’t exactly good, it was an improvement from the shortfall in 2009, at $136,000, and the drop in revenue from 2005 to 2009, which went from $770,000 to just $345,000, with revenue increasing since. “The slope is in the right direction,” he said.

“We are concerned,” he acknowledged. “It does impact next year’s budget also. The Realtors are letting us know,” Headman said of projections as to what the town can expect for property transfers. “We were very conservative last year in our budget,” he added. “We only budgeted $300,000 in transfer tax, due to the advice of people in the business. “It’s not pretty this year, as far as that area, but it is good in others.”

The South Bethany Police Department’s Lee Davis reported a “quiet month overall” for January, with most of the incidents involving seven agency assists outside town limits. “That means we’re doing our job in town,” he asserted.

Davis did note the theft of three heat pumps during the prior 10 days, from homes on N. 4th Street, likely for the copper contained inside. He said one of the three removed had been left under a house, as if staged for a later retrieval. He said he planned to stake out the area later that night, to see if he could catch the suspects in the act. He also said he believed the thefts were happening during the day, made easier because of the difficulty in determining which among many work vehicles were not there for legitimate purposes.

Councilman Al Rae reported that DNREC officials have been meeting with other organizations with interests along the proposed Assawoman Canal Pathway project, dealing with issues such as bank stabilization and privacy issues, as the final participants in the project’s development process consider adopting resolutions in support of the project. Sea Colony officials were due to vote on their resolution on Feb. 11.

Voveris reported on Callaway’s behalf from the newly renamed Community Enhancement Committee (formerly the Beautification Committee), saying that work on the new bio-retention areas had been completed in recent weeks, with additional plantings planned for spring. She said the 17 trash/planter bins being constructed for beach walkways were due to be completed that day and would be planted with multi-colored petunias.

The committee also has samples of the new street signs for Ocean Drive available for review at town hall and planned to recommend to the council that funds for the signs be included in the budget for the coming fiscal year, drawn from Municipal Street Aid funds.

Voveris also noted that the committee’s new name reflects its new scope: beautification, community maintenance and landscaping, and environmental improvement.

Voveris also reported last Friday that a public workshop will be held on March 3 at 10 a.m. on the 2013 budget, with any questions and input from the public requested at that time. The Budget & Finance Committee is to finalize its budget recommendations for the council for a Feb. 23 workshop. There will be no final decision on the budget until its potential adoption at the council’s April meeting.

Headman reported last Friday on Junkin’s behalf, from the Canal Water Quality Committee, reporting that the town’s oyster gardening program is now able to support more gardens. Those interested in joining in the program should contact Allan Allenspach.

Junkin had also reported that a homeowner education program was set to rev up this spring and summer, focusing on voluntary disconnection of outside showers from pipes leading to the canals, changes to downspouts and efforts to minimize impervious surfaces. An adopt-a-canal program this summer is set to encourage volunteers who have boats to periodically police adopted canals for trash.

Additionally, a $50,000 grant obtained by Cusick is set to improve pollution and drainage issues on the west side of Route 1, while the Town is still working on getting a grant for rain gardens on the highway’s east side. Junkin had also noted that the Town likely won’t hear anything for a few more months about its proposed pilot project for diffusers/aerators in the Anchorage Canal. He said he planned to continue to lobby the council to support the project in next year’s budget, so it could move forward even without the grant. Junkin noted that the town survey had listed canal water quality improvements as the third most important on a list of 15 desired items.

Also on Feb. 10:

• The council voted 5-0 to approve the slate of members for the 2012 Board of Elections.

• Headman said the town would make sure the town was cleaned up ahead of the 2012 Beach & Bay Cottage Tour, which is expected to include one or more South Bethany homes. “We’re very pleased about that because we have a great town and we like visitors to see that,” he said. “We want to look good those two days.”

• Resident Mary Suaso reported that the town’s historical society was going to be taking part in a presentation on March 7 on the Storm of ’62 in Rehoboth Beach, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., at which it would have a display table, a presentation with photos and discussion of the storm’s impact on residents. Anyone with pictures and information to add to the display was encouraged to call Suaso. A second presentation, on March 8 at South Coastal Library, will focus on the storm’s impact on South Bethany specifically. Ocean City’s Lifesaving Station Museum is also set to commemorate the storm’s 50th anniversary on March 7.