Fenwick Island police increasingly helping state troopers

This summer, Fenwick Island Police Department saw a marked increase in time its officers spent assisting the Delaware State Police. During the regular Fenwick Island Town Council meeting Sept. 16, Police Chief William Boyden described why FIPD is more frequently leaving town boundaries to assist the state police.

DSP, he said, has one trooper covering southeastern Sussex County, an area from the Cypress Swamp to Fenwick Island, and north to the Indian River Inlet.

According to Boyden, this is not new. One trooper has covered that area for several years.

Boyden said the state police have suffered from police and budget cuts. Sussex County officials have also been told the county is 11 troopers short on its allocation of troopers, at least partially due to overall trooper shortages. Troopers are also being increasingly reallocated from road patrol to specialized units because of state and federal orders.

“I think every agency in the U.S. is having the same problem,” Boyden said. “We’re just unique down here because we’re a little department surrounded by nothing. There’s nothing out here except Ocean City.”

FIPD generally assists DSP with such incidents as burglar alarms and auto collisions, rather than higher-consequence crimes such as shootings, said Boyden. As such, FIPD will go out and maintain the scene until DSP arrives, attending to immediate injuries or property damage.

The point is to “just go out and make sure everyone’s OK,” Boyden said.

FIPD assists northward to the South Bethany vicinity and eastward to Williamsville, where Selbyville police can then assist.

Most of the action is on the Route 54 corridor, he said.

Boyden said Fenwick Island Police Department is happy to help because the state police do an “enormous amount” to support Fenwick.

However, the calls are increasing, and police available are not.

In 2010, FIPD assisted DSP for 13.5 hours in July and 18 hours in August. In 2011, FIPD assisted 18.5 hours in July and 24.5 hours in August.

The 33 percent jump is due in part to a busier summer season. Yet Boyden said he only expects the numbers to increase in the future. He did say he had expressed his opinion on shortened patrols multiple times with the state police.

The town council plans to draft a letter of concern to the Delaware State Police, forwarding the message to legislators, as well.

Parking a concern

Several citizens expressed frustration on Sept. 16 over non-residents parking their cars in empty lots en route to the beach.

Those visiting Fenwick Island who are not parking in their driveways or in a designated parking lot they’re entitled to use as customers of a business are required to acquire a parking permit at town hall and use designated parking locations.

The permits can be purchased by non-residents, but many chose to use uncontrolled church, bank or business lots after-hours, without paying for parking or a parking permit. That means lost revenue that the town could use to pay lifeguards and maintain beaches.

Serio explained that the council had discussed ordinances that could address the problem with the town solicitor until it was “blue in the face,” but the Town can only post signs citing the ordinance against parking in certain places.

The Town cannot make arrests on private property without the property owners’ permission, Serio said.

Groups and businesses with their own parking lots would have to agree to post signage, and they would have to police their own properties.

There is no way to differentiate who is present for a meeting or for beach access, Council Member Diane Tingle emphasized.

“It’s unfortunate that people take advantage of the situation even though it says ‘No Parking,’” Serio said. “It is a problem. … It’s everywhere.”

Also at the Sept. 16 council meeting:

• Town Manager Win Abbott’s last day of work was scheduled for Sept. 21, as he departs to become the town manager in Milford. Mayor Audrey Serio thanked Abbott for his service to the town.

“We wish you luck in your next endeavor,” Serio said. “It’s been a good relationship.”

Abbott thanked the council, describing his “great pleasure” in working for Fenwick Island.

Beginning Monday, Sept. 26, Tom Wontorek will serve as interim manager until a replacement is hired. Serio said at least 25 people have applied, and applications are being accepted until Oct. 15.

• The town’s annual financial audit is under way, and Council Member Gardner Bunting said the town should be in good condition. With the sale of several large properties, the realty transfer tax brought almost $265,000, or 160 percent more revenue than in the 2009-2010 fiscal year.

“At least we’re on the [economic] backswing,” Bunting said, although he noted the housing market is not where it once was.

“All the departments of the town are working hard to make the best use of the taxpayers’ money,” said Abbott.

• Construction has begun on the new public safety building, as evidenced by frequent tremors throughout town hall as pilings have been put in place. A fence now surrounds the construction zone, to discourage people from walking around “because it’s not safe,” Council Member Gene Langan said.

The foreman plans to run construction six days per week. Despite the building’s close proximity to the public works building, the Council said the design incorporates safety precautions, including a firewall.

• The proposed first reading for Chapter 120, Property Maintenance, was rescheduled for the October council meeting.

• The new Employee Return to Work Policy was amended to include rules that an employee who is provided with a temporary work assignment may not work outside of the modified duty job description. Employees will also seek medical services outside of normal business hours when possible, and with the approval of the town manager.

• The beach accessible Mobi-Mats appear to have had a successful first season and will be stored within Public Works for the winter.

Serio said the Council will look at the budget and possible grants to obtain more of the mats in 2012, ultimately deciding their placement next year.

“Our hopes are we can leave those and increase them,” Serio said.

• Some of the oldest houses in town will be open for the Fenwick Island Historic Cottage Tour on Oct. 8 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Limited tickets are available at Warren’s Restaurant and Sea Shell City. For more information, call (302) 539-1827.