South Bethany park proposal still controversial

The South Bethany town council held a brief meeting on Friday, Sept. 10, and residents took the opportunity during “Citizens’ Privilege” to voice their opinions on the proposed park project near town hall.

Town residents first spoke against the possible Richard Hall Memorial Park project, which has been the source of an ongoing dispute in the town for months.

“My wife and I have been residents here for 38 years. We’ve raised five children here, had 16 grandchildren live here off and on during the summer,” said resident Dick Ridgway. “During all of those years, the children know where the beach is, where the sand is… They’ve never asked for a park. I think we’re overstepping what we think we need here. I think it’s a good idea that the council bought the property. I have no objection to that. I feel that it would be improper to spend a considerable amount of money. I think we should leave it the way it is.”

Councilman John Fields, who was leading the meeting as mayor pro-tem, noted that the town has committees working on a survey to be sent out to property owners to get a clear overview of how the town’s citizens view the possible park.

“They’re working very carefully so that it will be very honest and fair, accurate and complete, and I’m confident that once the survey results are in, the council will respond to the results in an appropriate manner,” said Fields.

Fields noted that, for a number of years, there has been a group of South Bethany residents who have wanted to establish a town park. Now, with the town’s purchase of an adjacent property, there is land that could be designated for a park.

“Essentially, we have one question, do you want something there or no. It has turned out to be a considerable task to ask just that one question,” said Fields.

Fields noted there is no determined percentage of votes, for or against the park, that council will be looking for when surveys are returned, saying, “The survey is to provide the council with an opinion. No standard, at this point, has been set by the council.”

One resident asked what the cost of such an undertaking would be for the town. Fields replied that there is a divide in the town, where some say the park would be built through donations alone, while others say it will have to cost the town and citizens money.

“We’re dealing with the issue of what the coast will be. If the committee decides there will be a cost, that will be a part of the survey question,” he said.

Councilman Tim Saxton, who is chairman of the town’s Budget and Finance Committee, said they are waiting for the park committee to deliver a list of pros and cons.

“We believe there will be comments on both sides that will affect the budget,” he said. “Most of the recommendations on costs are going to come from the town manager. It’s going to be his evaluation of what they are, based on the input we give him. We’re trying to keep it so that there’s no pro group or con group in the middle of it — it’s a true evaluation that’s independent.”

Another resident questioned why the town has not presented more information on the proposed park, and if there is a timeframe for the survey and project details.

“We’re not deliberately dragging it on and on,” said Fields. “The committee meets when it can meet; we do what we can do. There’s things take time. It’s taking longer than what we thought it was going to take.”

“I’ve been quoted in the press saying we’ll have it in September,” he noted. “I’ve been quoted in the press saying we’ll have it in October. Now the press can quote me saying we’ll have it in November. We want it done right.”

Also last Friday, Town Manager Mel Cusick gave his monthly report, saying the town had submitted that day their application for recertification for the community rating system, which allows everyone to get a discount on flood insurance due to the town’s response to the threat of storms and flooding.

Cusick also said that the ambulance service committee had met earlier that day with representatives from Bethany Beach, Sea Colony, South Bethany and Fenwick Island. They voted to adopt the annual budget for the service, and there will be no changes as far as fees charged to property owners for services, he said.

Councilwoman Sue Callaway gave the Beautification Committee’s report, stating that at a previous town council meeting, the proposed Adopt-a-Canal and Road End programs had been approved by council. The committee is now working on finalizing the details of those programs, as well as drafting applications, flyers and program guides.

Saxton said the Budget and Finance Committee has been working on long-range planning.

“We have charged the sub-committee to put funding numbers around those plans. Short list: future paving of roads, street drainage, walkways over by the dunes,” he said. “On the revenue side, we’re working on methodology to ensure obtaining all rental tax,” he added, as many rentals are now booked over the Internet.

Saxton also requested that council discuss and vote on updating the town’s financial and administrative software.

“A couple months ago, we received the IT plan for the next five years. Within that was a proposal to improve our financial and administrative software. In our budget, right now, we have $30,000 for capital expenditures in the IT area. The software package has come in at $32,525, negotiated so that the cost will be paid over two years.”

The cost includes the conversion of the town’s current system to the new one, as well as installation. There is no need for the town to purchase additional hardware, he noted.

“Our goal in this is to make our finance and administrative job much more efficient, and we believe this will,” said Saxton.

Cusick noted, “A lot of municipalities switched to it a number of years ago, “adding that the town has budgeted for the software for three years but had not been able to actually purchase it due to other expenses.

The council voted 5-0 on Friday to approve signing a contract for the software, with the condition that it may be paid over a two-year period, as to not exceed the town’s $30,000 budget for the improvements for the year.

Councilman George Junkin gave a report from the Canal and Water Quality Committee, saying the committee has been working on trying to educate the community about harmful practices that residents control on an individual basis.

“Things such as lawn care,” offered Junkin,” Too much fertilizer is bad for the canals.”

He also noted that many community members have voiced an interest in oyster gardening, which has been a pilot project in both South Bethany and Fenwick Island. He said that the floats needed for additional gardens could either be purchased or made and the town would be able get oyster spat from the Center for the Inland Bays.

The town council will hold its next workshop on Sept 23, at 6 p.m. in town hall.

For more information, call town hall at (302) 539-3653.