Although religion is a topic best left at the door when it comes to political discussion; for a second month in a row, the Salem United Methodist church’s chimes were once again the hot topic at Selbyville’s monthly town council meeting, held on Monday, Jan. 5. Ready to formalize last month’s decisions, council members offered an amendment to Chapter 108 of the town code, pertaining to noise, written up by the town’s legal team.
The amendment, as adopted Monday on a unanimous vote, grants an exception to churches, synagogues, mosques and other similar religious organizations, allowing them general freedom to play music and chimes as perceived reasonable by a reasonable individual. The amendment also leaves room for further specification of distance and volume level for monitoring, in the event that future turmoil over the issue should arise.
The dispute about the bells originates in a section of the town code that was originally added to prevent disturbances in the form of loud house parties or outdoor performances. As the code does not specify that a noise violation happens when it occurs specifically at private property, versus a religious institution, there was room for dispute as to what is or is not a noise violation.
Seeking to avoid creating future problems with another black-and-white law, the council on Monday decided it best to leave the new amendment open-ended, with room for future specification as needed. The new amendment leaves room for clarification on times of day, volume and duration of music.
The town council also made it apparent that individual problems, such as the current dispute over the church bells, are best handled in a friendly manner, without need of laws and council intervention.
Their decision was not enough for some parties involved, however. The battalion of church parishioners were quick to state that they were “always willing to do the right thing” but felt that the church should be flatly exempt from the noise code.
As the discussion continued, it became increasingly apparent that nearly everyone in the room was not only in favor of the church’s ability to use the bells but that the vast majority of those present were, in fact, parishioners at the church. Their passion on the subject was obvious, as countless onlookers brandished their opinions, prepared to fight for their cause.
This general eruption from church supporters drove a response from two individuals seated quietly in the back of the room.
The Fox family, who bravely acknowledged themselves as two of the original complainants, explained that they reside in very close proximity to the church. Their jobs as emergency medical technicians require both of them to work 12- to 24-hour shifts, which often put them home and headed to bed around 8 a.m. At 9 a.m., and again at noon, the church begins playing their chimes, which originate right outside the Foxes’ window. The result is that the couple receives only a few short hours of rest before they return to another 12- to 24-hour shift at work.
The Foxes further noted that since this issue came to light, they had received copious negative attention and insults. A number of news stories, they said, painted them as enemies of the church who were out to silence the religious message.
The couple aimed to clear up that impression on Monday, saying, “We’re not non-religious. We love and know all of the hymns they play; but we need sleep to be able to work!”
Council stuck to their guns, however, reaffirming that they didn’t feel any specific legal intervention was required and encouraging both parties involved to devise a solution that didn’t require further laws to be written or create opportunity for further dispute in the future.
The Foxes then offered a compromise.
At present, Salem United Methodist plays their chimes three times a day, for 5 minutes each time – once at 9 a.m., once at noon and once around 4 p.m. The Foxes asked that the 9 a.m. chimes be eliminated, allowing them at least a few hours of sleep before the lunchtime bells.
Church representatives agreed that this was not an overzealous request, and said they could easily play their bells only in the noon and 4 p.m. time slots, although perhaps for a bit longer, maybe 6 minutes at a time. The compromise put the issue to rest, allowing the council to move on to other items on their agenda.
Public hearing set on short-term rental policy
Mayor Clifton Murray announced on Monday announced that a public hearing would be held at their February council meeting, pertaining to the issue of short-term rentals within town limits. He emphasized that is not the desire of the town to serve as a beach rental community and, as there were a number of suspicions that such activity was going on within the town, he said the council felt it necessary to hold a public hearing on an ordinance that would aim to deter such rentals. That hearing will take place on Feb. 2.
Wastewater agreement reached with county
Town officials on Monday also confirmed that the town had reached an agreement with Sussex County regarding increased use of the county’s wastewater outfall into the Atlantic Ocean, raising the approved capacity from Selbyville to 2 million gallons from the current 1.5 million gallons.
County council members in December had debated how to determine the cost of that increase to the town, after having previously allocated the higher capacity for the town in its long-range plans. The council formally approved the increase and, faced with a change in council makeup on Jan. 1, shepherded negotiations between the town and county staff on the issue of cost before the end of the year. The new agreement will ensure the town has sufficient outfall capacity to meet the maximum output of its current wastewater treatment plant.
Also on Jan. 5:
• Three members were appointed to the town’s Board of Elections. Sandy Gibans, Virginia Pepper and Bonnie Maull will all serve on that board. Ken Madara was also appointed to the Industrial Park Committee.
• Also discussed at the meeting was the possibility of a townwide curbside recycling program. Municipal recycling programs, as is implemented in neighboring towns, offer a discount to town residents who sign up for the program versus what they would pay as individual subscribers to curbside recycling with the Delaware Solid Waste Authority.
Although participation would not be a requirement, the program also serves to give those who are unable to make it to designated recycling drop-off centers an option to recycle and reduces the amount of solid waste the town produces.
• Police Chief W. Scott Collins announced that the town’s new police car is being outfitted with equipment and will soon be operational. He also happily announced that recent disturbances at Dublin Steakhouse and Erin’s Pub have quieted down and said he has received no further complaints about the establishment.
• Finally, it was reported that the town’s sewer had been inspected on Dec. 2 and had passed all inspections with flying colors. State officials looked over operations at the facility and found everything to be in top-notch condition, officials reported. The plant is in compliance with all state and federal regulations, they said.