Frankford water plant set to go online soon

After years of concern, confusion, controversy, effort and, finally, construction, Frankford’s new water plant is about to come online. At the Aug. 2 meeting of the town council, Councilman Jesse Truitt said the town was on schedule to turn on the new water plant sometime between Aug. 16 and 20. At that time, the town’s water will start coming from the new plant.

The council this week also unanimously approved a forbearance agreement with the State of Delaware that will end litigation between the town and state, as part of the town’s efforts to try to get its water plant project back on track. Under the agreement, the town’s payments for the new water plant are being waived for a year, though the change is an offset only, and doesn’t change the amount the town owes for the project or the payments it will have to make.

Minor problems with the town’s existing water system have persisted, with many calls for water distribution leaks reported in June. Town Administrator Terry Truitt noted on Monday that technicians checking on a persistently leaky valve on behalf of Tidewater Utilities had reported that the minor fixes that had resolved the issue in the past were no longer doing to job. Instead, the town will have to purchase a new valve.

Terry Truitt on Aug. 2 also asked the council for retroactive approval of $1,131 spent to purchase six palettes of salt on an emergency basis, to carry the town over from the old water plant’s operation to the start-up for the new one. The council gave unanimous approval to the expenditure.

Dealing with some complaints regarding water bills, council members on Monday suggested that the town try to limit its dealings with tenants and deal more directly with landlords.

The issue arose after one new tenant had asked the town for a water-meter reading at the start of her occupancy but then complained to the town that she was being asked to pay for a water bill that covered the period prior to that occupancy. Terry Truitt had acknowledged that the billing period in question would seem to be the responsibility of the prior tenant, or – at the end – of the landlord. While the landlord did end up paying for the bill in question, he raised concerns about how the issue had been handled.

In the end, the council was of the consensus that landlords should be calling town hall to ask for a water-meter reading when tenancy changes, and they should handle any discrepancies about who should be paying for a given water billing period directly with their tenants, rather than the town getting involved.

Currently, the town sends duplicate bills to both the landlord and tenant, which garnered approval from the landlord in question. Terry Truitt said she has and would continue to try to get those meter readings done as soon as possible after receiving a call from a landlord.

The timeliness of water billing was also raised as an issue on Aug. 2. Truitt said she generally dates water bills about two days after when she begins working on them, to allow for time to prepare the bills and get them mailed. But two residents present at Monday’s meeting said they didn’t feel they were getting their bills in a timely manner.

Resident Jerry Smith suggested Truitt should allow for delays in mail delivery so that water customers have a full 30 days from the day they receive their bill in which to pay it. But Councilwoman Cheryl Workman noted that most companies that bill customers on a regular basis require payment by a given number of days from the billing date on the bill, not from the date of its receipt by the customer. A credit card company, for instance, might require payment within 25 days of the billing date, rather than within 30 days of its receipt.

Truitt noted that the town had been thrown off its every-odd-month billing cycle for water customers by both the unexpected death of town employee Jim Reardon last fall and the double blizzard that hit the area with feet of snow back in February. Both had limited the town’s ability to do water-meter readings, she said, but the town is nearly caught back up, though. Truitt again offered for any water customer who wishes to receive their bills via e-mail that service. All she needs is their e-mail address, she said.

Resident Greg Welch again challenged the council this week on the legality of the town’s recent water increase, which went into effect with the July 1 start of the fiscal year. Welch said his complaint to the Delaware Attorney General’s office had yielded the response that the AG’s Office had no enforcement power over the town.

Welch specifically complained on Aug. 2 about being billed at the new, higher rate in the bill issued in July for a period including months prior to July 1. Terry Truitt noted that the bills hadn’t been pro-rated for June and July. She said the town’s auditor only accounts for the town billing for water service six times per year.

“That just doesn’t make sense,” Council President Greg Johnson said of the higher billing. He said he’d queried Town Solicitor Dennis Schrader on the issue, and had been told, “That’s the way it’s been done as long as [Schrader has] been in Frankford,” citing budget and billing cycles. “I agree with you,” he told Welch.

Returning to the issue of the legality of the increase in the water rate, Welch made a gesture with his armpit regarding the council’s action to which Johnson took offense, asking Welch to leave after reminding him that the council had heard his objections at several prior meetings. Johnson curtailed further discussion of the issue and the council closed the meeting with an executive session.

Also on Aug. 2:

• The council unanimously approved the contract for the DJ who performs at the town’s Fall Festival in October. The festival this year is set to be held Oct. 30 – the Saturday before Halloween – from 1 to 4 p.m., with official Frankford trick-or-treating time again set for between 4 and 6 p.m., following the festival.

• The council set its September meeting for Sept. 7, at 7 p.m., setting aside a regular tradition of postponing the post-Labor Day meeting by one week.

• Police Chief William Dudley reported an extremely busy July, with 24 complaints and 14 traffic arrests. He said he had several criminal warrants pending, with location of suspects still outstanding in those cases. Dudley had identified one scofflaw who had led him on a low-speed chase on a mini-bike. The chief said the suspect had left behind a cell phone and other property, leading to his identification.

• Dudley is also seeking to revive the town’s annual observation of the National Night Out, which was observed nationwide on Aug. 4 this year but the town observes in August, prior to the Labor Day weekend. Due to a full schedule last year, the town didn’t hold its Night Out, and Dudley said a lack of the grant it received in prior years, to cover the town’s more-than-$500 in costs, was posing a problem in 2010.

The council declined to combine the event with the fall festival, and Dudley said he would look into raising financial support for the event with donations from the community. The town traditionally offers hotdogs and hamburgers for the event, and it has invited residents to bring out their own ethnic foods to share.

• In response to an inquiry from the council, Dudley pointed out that the town’s existing curfew law is “antiquated” and “doesn’t have many teeth in it.” The council might want to update it to deal with modern Frankford and its minors, he said. Dudley said a 10 p.m. curfew is the general rule of thumb, while the town has traditionally tried to associate a curfew with the types of businesses that are open that late – in this case, only one business is open late enough to pose a concern, he said. But he noted that there had been problems recently with some – mostly female – students from another school district coming into the town and causing problems.

• Dudley on Aug. 2 also noted Delaware’s new noise law, which prohibits noise or music coming from a vehicle that can be heard within 50 feet. He said he has already written several tickets for violations.

• Workman reported on efforts to work with Gov. Jack Markell’s office on getting repairs made to railroad crossings within the town. She said the current plan was to try to get funding to repair the crossings in order of degree of repair needed, most to least, with Daisey and Frankford Avenue being at the top of that list.