Ocean View looks to annexation to fix financial issues

Annexation was the primary subject of the evening at Ocean View’s first brainstorming workshop session with its new council, on Tuesday, April 21. Councilman Richard Nippes first broached the subject as one of the issues he would like the council to work on for this year, in terms of tackling how the town handles public-safety services.

“When calls [from the area] go to 911, they go to the state police and eventually to Ocean View. There’s about 400 homes around town, and those people don’t pay a cent. Could we look at a fee for police services?’ asked Nippes.

He said that, the way Ocean View’s charter is written now, it only takes one homeowner in a proposed area of annexation to oppose that annexation for it to not go through.

“Charters can be changed,” said Nippes. “Pressure has to be exerted on the county or the state to end this practice” of developers opting out of being part of the town, when, geographically, it would make sense that they be part of the town.

Developments such as Forest Reach and Lord Baltimore Landing and Summerfield were mentioned, as well as houses in Country Estates – all places unsuspecting passersby and even some residents would assume were in Ocean View that actually are not.

“There’s actually one house that’s half in and half out,” said Police Chief Ken McLaughlin.

McLaughlin also brought up the recent effort by the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Department to create a special “tax district” covering the areas in and around Bethany Beach, South Bethany, Fenwick Island and Sea Colony to fund ambulance/emergency services and asked if something like that would be feasible.

“I was pretty impressed, to be honest,” he added.

McLuaghlin added that around 30 to 33 percent of all Ocean View police service calls are to the unincorporated areas of Sussex County that surround the town and exist as enclaves inside of it.

Mayor Gordon Wood suggested having a charter committee look at items like annexation and other things to see if there was room for change. “Other towns do that,” he said.

“We can talk annexation all night, gentlemen,” commented Town Manager Conway Gregory. “Since I have been here, there has not been an attitude or good feeling toward annexation in this town. You have to decide: Are in you in favor of annexation or are you opposed? And then we can decide what to do about it. You boys have got to come together, and then we can talk about this.”

The council discussed changing the general attitude in the town toward annexation and trying to figure out incentives to encourage people to want to become part of the town.

“I don’t want to talk about past councils, but the attitude to people wanting to be annexed was ‘Yay, buster – and here are our conditions,’ and that’s wrong,” said Wood.

“There are two types of incentives: one where you say ‘if you do this, we’ll provide this,’ and one where you say ‘if you don’t do this, this is the penalty you’ll pay,’” he continued.

Wood asked if the general consensus of the council was that they were in favor of trying to entice areas where they are already providing services or would it would make the most geographical sense to annex – and with larger developments bordering town, they would have to “look at the money” to see what the consensus was. The council agreed.

The council decided that Gregory and the town solicitor should work to identify some of the issues regarding annexing.

Councilman Perry Mitchell offered that some of the constituents might not be in favor of more annexation and encouraged the councilmen to talk with their neighbors. Councilman Bill Wichmann countered that they would also need to share with people what the down sides were to having developments able to use services but not be a part of the town.

Regardless of the council’s decision, Town Solicitor Dennis Schrader reminded the council that history shows residents are on both sides of the fence regarding annexation.

“The last referendum this town had on annexation, I think the vote was 44 to 44, so that gives you an idea of how the town approaches annexation,” he noted.

Committee could study water-system options

Also on Tuesday, the council decided to form a committee to look at the water system, with Wichmann, Councilman Bob Lawless, Gregory and property owner and local Realtor Kim Hook, if she agrees. Hook has been vocal in her opposition to owners of unimproved lots having to pay the “service availability” charge for town water.

“If there’s a better way to manage, own, sell, lease or get out of the current water system…” said Wood. “I am not an optimist, but I think the time is now. If there is any way for the town of Ocean View to get out of owning the water system, I am all for it.”

Schrader offered that the water system issue is not a new one and questioned the need for a committee.

“I think, of all the people sitting at this table, that I am the only one that had to suffer through all of it,” he said, noting that the water issue is years old. (Coastal Point’s inaugural issue in February of 2004 had Ocean View water news as the top story, and the issue had been under discussion long before that date.)

“No offense to Ken, but this was the police chief issue for four or five years,” Schrader opined, referencing the more recent controversy over the town’s public safety department. “They were as ugly as anything in the last 14 months. We have bonded indebtedness, and we are obligated to pay the money no matter what they [the committee] recommends,” he emphasized.

Schrader said the committee, if formed, should have an accountant and an engineer to give real-life numbers and experience in public utilities to the group.

“The road goes through Tidewater,” said Wood. “Maybe there is something to gain, and there is nothing to lose.”

Schrader also added that the town should be forthcoming in mentioning that the formation of the committee will in no way stop the town’s effort to collect all debts owed regarding water connection, hook-up and service charges.

In other news from the April 21 workshop:

• The council chose to award DeLea Founders Insurance Trust Insurance (DFIT) the bid for the town insurance carrier.

• The council decided they would proceed to advertise the Lampe house as a structure to be moved off the lot and would wait until their May meeting to make a decision about whether to rent it out.

The town already has an interested party that wants to move the house to another lot in town, but council members have said they want to make it known that they are willing to hear other serious bids. Most of the council members have expressed reservations about “going into the real estate business” and have said they are leery of the costs involved to get the house in shape to be rented.