Fenwick considers adding beach rental concession

The Fenwick Island Town Council met on Monday, Feb. 1, to discuss the possibility of allowing beach equipment rentals on the town’s beaches. They decided on Monday to ask the opinion of Town Solicitor Tempe Steen on the notion’s viability and planned to have another special meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 10, at 10 a.m., followed by an executive session.

Coastal Point • File Photo: A Steen’s beach vending employee installs a rental umbrella on the beach in Bethany Beach. Fenwick Island officials are now discussing whether to allow similar vendors in Fenwick.Coastal Point • File Photo
A Steen’s beach vending employee installs a rental umbrella on the beach in Bethany Beach. Fenwick Island officials are now discussing whether to allow similar vendors in Fenwick.

After Councilwoman Vicki Carmean said she would be “totally against” any vendor providing food because of the money it would take from local business owners, the council came to a consensus that food sales was not the direction they were headed. Rather, they were discussing the possibility of beach equipment rentals, such as chairs, body boards and umbrellas.

Councilman Todd Smallwood opened the meeting by saying that, instead of talking about what other towns do in terms of concessions, they should have a roundtable to see how citizens feel about the prospect of beach rentals.

Town Manager Win Abbott said he had originally estimated potential revenues of about $20,000 for the town from concessions, based on the state park’s numbers. But, after talking with state park staff and staff in towns such as South Bethany, he said the number would be more like $7,000. Mayor Audrey Serio disagreed and said that number seemed on the low end.

“I think that is totally off-center,” said Serio, adding that comparing something to South Bethany wouldn’t be “apples to apples,” since they had a vendor simply providing things like “icies and popsicles.” She said she believed the number was received from the state was more like $28,000, but she was quick to add that the original premise of adding concessions in Fenwick Island had simply been to find extra revenue.

“We had to find revenue or taxes have to go up, and it was seen as an easy revenue source from those that are using our facilities, our streets, our lifeguards and not already paying taxes,” said Serio of concessions, adding that she did not like that word. “If the state is getting 20-something-thousand dollars per year, why are we the only town that does not have some sort of rental group? That’s where all this came from.”

The council then discussed the logistics of where rental stands might go before Councilman Bill Weistling Jr. said he would “like to go back to the concept...”

“We are mostly residential, less than a mile from the beach. I don’t see where we would make money,” he said. Smallwood added that they should let the businessman offering the services decide, “to see what a bid could be. And if we see the number is too low, then why do it?”

He also said he didn’t believe it would be “earth-shattering” income, but Serio reminded the council that a little bit of money adds up.

“We need to get a number, and while I am getting a number, we need to think again. Sometimes you have to think on the smaller side, as well. Of course, I am one of those people that knows you have to spend money to make money...”

Smallwood asked the mayor if she had a “break point,” a number she thought would make it worthwhile to pursue, adding his own might be $8,500.

“Is there something we could compare that to?” asked Serio, saying that it was hard to pick a number without knowing what to compare it to.

“We don’t have enough information to make a decision,” added Councilman Gene Langan.

The council decided the mayor would ask Steen about the process, and also the parameters under which the town could control the quality of the materials if they did decide to go ahead with rentals.

“I am willing to wait, willing to keep an open mind until we get a number,” said Smallwood.

Councilwoman Vicki Carmean asked if there would be any type of conflict-of-interest in asking Steen, since her family has owned Steen’s Beach Service – a rental service that caters to Bethany Beach and Ocean City, Md. – for years. Serio said she believed that it did not pose any conflict.

“This is someone who knows. Regardless of what her name is, she has worked with other towns on this. If she says, ‘yes,’” added the mayor, “we’ll ask her about the bid process, the parameters on quality, the time frame and insurance. We’ll just find out if it is viable.”

The town will have another special council meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 10, at 10 a.m., to discuss the beach rentals again.