Carmean urges look at Fenwick police resources

Fenwick Island’s town council and residents heard from Councilwoman Vicki Carmean on the issue of public safety last week, at their monthly council meeting.

“I’m not here to criticize the police department,” she warned up front. “We have some fine officers.”

Instead, Carmean presented the council and residents with a slideshow showing her three main concerns: the police “station” itself (part of the town hall), 911 calls and the lack of an accounting system for those calls taking Fenwick officers outside the Fenwick Island town limits. The latter issue mirrors recent concerns in Ocean View as council members have scrutinized the amount of town resources used to supply police officers to nearby areas, such as Millville, that do not have their own municipal police departments.

Carmean said she would like to get a better definition of “emergency” as pertains to the times when Fenwick officers leave the town limits – often at night, she point out, when only one Fenwick officer is on duty.

“We pay for this,” she said, referencing their time spent outside of town limits. “And if an officer gets hurt, what happens?”

Carmean presented the council with statistics she found, which show that, from January 2008 to October 2008, Fenwick officers spent approximately 120 hours – “conservatively” – on matters outside of town limits.

That’s a number former mayor Peter Frederick said was actually quite small: “120 hours in eight months is 15 hours per month at 24/7 coverage,” he said. “It works out to be 2.5 to 3 percent, which doesn’t seem like a bad deal at all.”

Police Chief William Boyden added that the Fenwick Police Department gets a great deal of technical and logistical support from the Delaware State Police, whom they supplement when responding to calls from outside the town limits. He compared it to an “I scratch your back, you scratch mine” type of relationship.

“We also get all our dispatch, forensics and IT support free,” he added.

Boyden pointed out that, while Fenwick does get that “enormous amount of service from the state police, the manpower is not there,” he said, referencing the number of state troopers who are assigned to cover all of unincorporated Sussex County – something he said has been a problem for years and “is getting worse.”

“I’m just asking council. We need to have an accounting of this,” said Carmean. “If somebody has a gun or is bleeding, I don’t care [if Fenwick officers respond]. But don’t tell me checking on fireworks is an emergency, or going into Ocean City, when they have a gazillion police officers.”

Carmean also asked about when Fenwick might hear back from Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company members who had come to Fenwick Island officials in February with a concept for a new fire station that might encompass Fenwick Island’s public safety department, as well.

Mayor Audrey Serio said, “Talks with the fire department are continuing, and we are still in discussion. But, unfortunately, we are on the same page as everybody with funds.”

Accommodations for the town’s public safety department have been a topic in the town since at least late 2005, when discussions of renovating the town hall to potentially provide a better space for police functions, among other uses, eventually ended in the entire project being scrapped.

Serio said this week that it may be time to set up an ad hoc committee to look at public safety issues, as well as to look at other departments in town.

“I really don’t want this to be dropped,” added Carmean. “There is always room for improvement, no matter how good an organization is, or thinks it is.”

In other news from the July 24 council meeting:

• The council approved a first reading Chapter 160 Zoning on “Small Wind Energy Systems.” Because it is a zoning issue, the town will also hold a public hearing before the council votes on whether to adopt the ordinance.

“Charter and Ordinance worked on this for quite a while,” said C&O Chairman Bill Weistling Jr. “We modeled it after Ocean City’s and tailored it a bit for our town.”

• The council also approved a first reading on Chapter 73 “Burning, Outdoor—Bonfire Fee and Penalty,” and a first reading of a charter change in Section, 15 “Vacancies and Forfetures.”

Weistling said the recommended change in Chapter 73 came after looking at the fee schedule. In removing the sections regarding bonfire fees and penalties, they can have bonfire fees strictly in the fee schedule, he said, so “any future changes don’t have to go through an ordinance change.”

The proposed change to Chapter 15 would be a charter change, which would require approval from the state legislature. They propose to delete Chapter 15 in its entirety and add a new one in its place. The chapter deals with council vacancies and forfeitures. It also specifies that council members cannot miss more than three meetings per fiscal year.

• Officials noted that property owners will now see a “comprehensive refuse fee” on their tax bills, which will encompass fees for trash pickup, curbside recycling and bulk trash pick-up. Fenwick council members voted recently to switch those services to a single trash hauler, rather than continuing separate curbside recycling service from the Delaware Solid Waste Authority, with whom the town’s contract was set to expire and for which costs would have significantly increased.