New Fenwick Island sign divides council

The Fenwick Island Town Council met on Sept. 26, with a full agenda. The council approved the purchase of an electronic sign for town hall with a vote of 4-2, with Council Members Todd Smallwood and Vicki Carmean dissenting. The purchase is contingent upon Homeland Security funding.

Town Manager Tony Carson explained that they had had plans to refurbish the existing sign out in front of town hall with an LED sign and, in talking with the installer, had learned that other towns had gotten funding through Homeland Security. That was last spring. On Sept. 15, seven months after applying for the $15,974.26 grant, Carson got a response that Homeland Security would fund the purchase.

Carmean said she was embarrassed to be using Homeland Security money for such a purchase and would not support it. She also noted that Fenwick Island has an ordinance banning the use of intermittent or flashing signs — something that the sign would have the capability of doing — although other council members assured residents that it would be a stagnant message, rather than a flashing one.

“It feels weird having something at town hall that is not permitted elsewhere,” she said.

“But it wouldn’t be flashing,” interjected councilwoman Diane Tingle.

“It would be the same as now, but in a different form,” said Carson.

Smallwood added that he likes the current sign and think it fits in with the character of the town.

“I think we should lead by example, but I reluctantly support it,” said Councilman Chris Clark. “If we can craft how the messages are put on the board, it’s just tough luck to the businesses...”

Carson added that current ordinances do allow stationary boards that light up, they just forbid flashing or intermittent signs.

Former mayor and resident Pete Frederick was not in favor the sign’s purchase.

“Just because Homeland Security is dumb enough to give us the money, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have more integrity than to take it,” he said.

The council also approved a first reading of a change to Chapter 73 – Burning, Outdoor: 73-2 -Issuance of permits, deposit. The proposed change will double the number of bonfires allowed on the beach from three per night to six and also add the language “on alternating streets on the beach.” After opposition from residents, the council passed thee first reading with a vote of 5-1, with Carmean dissenting.

“In the past year, more people have asked for permits, and we see no reason to restrict it,” said Police Chief William Boyden. “I don’t think, with the exception of Fourth of July and other holidays, that you’d have six fires burning, but you’d have the option.”

He added that the safety issue had been thought about and addressed in the ordinance by the addition of the verbiage “alternating streets” and that the town could benefit from the added revenue from permitting.

“I think it’s excessive,” said resident Mary Pat Kyle. “While some people build the fires appropriately, others build it right on top of the dune. I don’t see a need to double it. It’s a nuisance that we all enjoy — I just don’t see the need.”

Other residents asked if six fires were burning at the same time if the police officers on duty would not be consumed with fire duty.

“There were more violations this year caught and enforced,” answered Boyden. “It takes no more time to check on six than it does three. They have to go from Lewes to Atlantic streets anyway.”

Frederick expressed concerns that, while Fenwick Island is the only coastal town to allow bonfires on the beach, it is a magnet for people for that very reason. Carson assured him that permit-seekers have to show their lease or prove residency before being granted a permit.

Kyle reiterated that bonfires are a great thing – in moderation. “We all love them. They are a family tradition. We just don’t need six. It’s silly.”

Council on Sept. 26 also unanimously approved a first reading of an act to amend the town charter to modify and modernize provisions concerning borrowing money and the issuing of bonds.

“Before, we were only allowed to borrow $100,000 for capital projects,” explained Carson. “At the time, it was enough; but now, time has caught up with us.”

He said that, with a renovation of town hall anticipated the future, Town Solicitor Tempe Steen recommended the changes to modernize the charter. Also, while reading the original charter, they found there was no provision for absentee voting, and this modernized amendment allows for that. It also added the verbiage “the registration books of the town hall shall be conclusive evidence of the right to vote at the special election.”

Frederick asked where it addressed short-term borrowing, and Carson replied that that was taken care of in Section 34 and the maximum for that was $500,000.

Frederick also asked about qualifications of voters for special elections and noted that 16-year-olds could be deciding special elections. Council members said they would check if it was official state language and ask Steen for guidance if it needed to be clarified.

Council also approved a first reading change to Article III, Registration.

Section 13-23 Registration, regarding dates and times, currently reads: “registration of qualified voters shall cease on June 30 for the annual election and 30 days preceding any special election.” The new wording is: “registration of qualified voters shall cease at 4:30 p.m. on July 8 for the annual election or the next business day if July 8 falls on a Saturday, Sunday or holiday. Registration for a special election shall cease at 4:30 p.m. on the business day preceding such election.”

Sec.13-31 Registration, regarding registering by mail, currently reads: “received by the registrar not later than 30 days before any election in which the person desires to vote.” The new wording is: “received by the registrar by 4:30 p.m. on July 8 for the annual election or the next business day if July 8 falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or holiday. Registration for a special election shall cease at 4:30 p.m. on the business day preceding such election.”

According to Coucilman Bill Weistling, the purpose of these changes is to set more precise dates and eliminate the 30-day requirements and allow more time for voter registration.

In other news from the Sept. 26 council meeting:

• In response to one particularly busy day in late July for lifeguards, with the rescue of six children — all of whom were ages 7-10, according to Fenwick Island Beach Patrol Capt. Tim Ferry — Rep. Gerald Hocker (R-38th) will be officially recognizing the guards for their efforts with a personalized tribute from the state House of Representatives.

• The next Environmental Committee meeting will be held Wednesday, Oct. 8, at 2 p.m., and Sally Boswell from the Center for Inland Bays will be speaking about rain barrels. The public is being invited.

• The next Charter and Ordinance Committee meeting will be held Tuesday, Oct. 7, at 9:30 a.m.

• The next Planning Commission will be held Tuesday, Oct. 14, at 2 p.m.

• Carson reported that in August, 36,120 pounds of recyclables were picked up. He reminded residents that curbside recycling would now be on a first- and third-Friday schedule.

• Carson also thanked Public Works and the police department for being prepared for the recent weather event, though Fenwick, as with most coastal towns, was spared significant damage. “We continue to be prepared for the worst and hope for the best,” he said.