South Bethany reexamines fees, recycling


South Bethany Town Council members dove into a hefty sheaf of issues at their Aug. 24 special meeting/council workshop, addressing everything from fines for tall grass and municipal recycling to beachside smoking and planned canal dredge and tidal pump project bids.

Councilman Jay Headman, supported by those who formed the committee on the issue, reported to his fellow council members on the proposed tidal pump project, declaring it ready to go out to bids for a consultant who would further test the town’s concept, estimate costs and timetables, and consider what the town would need from state and federal entities.

Headman said they had no idea what the consulting fees might run but expected to receive a number of bids that would let them establish a reasonable amount. The tidal-pump project, meanwhile, is expected to cost well into the millions, and the consultant will be the one determining preliminarily how many millions that figure might run.

Council members, with Councilman John Fields absent, voted unanimously to approve the move to go to bid on the consulting portion of the project.

Thanks were issued to former Councilman Lloyd Hughes, who spearheaded the original development of the concept and continues to advise on the project, as well as to the engineer-heavy group of committee members who worked on developing the basic requirements for the consulting bid.

Canal dredge soonheading out to bid

Council members likewise gave the thumbs-up to going out to bid on the town’s planned canal dredge, with a design-build model for the work. Town Manager Mel Cusick said he anticipated the results of a final legal review on design-build from the town solicitor in coming days, but the arrangement was otherwise ready to go forward, with council approval.

Cusick noted that the town’s contract with Duffield Associates would still require an addendum for design work, even if the project was re-bid by the town for the construction phase, while going to the design-build (D/B) model would permit Duffield Associates to obtain its own bids and work with bidders to get the best price, as well as oversee the actual work. He said a similar process was being used regarding the construction of the new town hall.

Mayor Gary Jayne added that the D/B model had streamlined the Indian River Bridge project for the State of Delaware, creating less “red tape.”

Council members saw that as a plus, voting unanimously to move ahead with the D/B model for the project.

Fines for tall grass get steeper

Councilwoman Bonnie Lambertson brought forward to the council a draft of a revised grass ordinance. She noted that there had been some confusion over enforcement issues under the existing ordinance, with both a finite limit of 10 inches on grass height and specific dates at which compliance would be checked.

The new draft of the ordinance simply removed the enforcement dates, firming up the town’s limit of 10 inches of height for grass before fines will be assessed and the town forced to cut the offending yard at property owner’s expense.

There, also, some changes were made, with previous commentary that the town had been pushed into the “grass-cutting business” by virtue of not having fines and fees steep enough to encourage property owners to cut their own yards instead of just letting the town do it.

Instead of varying fees for grass cutting from $50 and up, the draft proposes a cost of $100 to $200 per incident, at the discretion of the code-enforcement official, who Lambertson said might lean toward $200 unless there was a reasonable emergency that prevented compliance. Additional fines would still be able to mount to $500 for egregious offenses.

Lambertson noted that all lots within the town had been able to be cut within a five-day period after heavy rain flooded some lots, so there would no longer be an excuse for lots going uncut for a month or more.

Additionally, Lambertson said they had added language clarifying that trimming of weeds was also required, to avoid weeds growing up around sign posts and other incidental hardscape elements. (Beachfront and wooded lots are not included.) She further specified the inclusion of invasive phragmites as weeds, recognizing that the fast-growing reed must be zealously controlled — and preferably eradicated.

That last change held concerns for some of the council members, who were worried that the town would end up fining non-resident property owners for phragmites that shot up over the winter, while they were gone. But they were generally in favor of anything that might encourage eradication of phragmites.

Council members agreed to send the ordinance to a first reading at their September meeting.

York Road walkway to be extended

The council also agreed to move forward with a further extension of the York Road pedestrian walkway. Cusick said he had looked into the costs involved in extending the walkway from Carlisle Road to the curve of York Road and believed the tab would be less than $10,000, which could be pulled from Municipal Street Aid funds.

The walkway would be a 4- to 5-foot path separated from vehicular travel lanes by a painted stripe.

Recycling reconsidered

Council members somewhat reversed their position on municipal curbside recycling from a previous monthly council session, opting to send the issue to the town’s planning commission for further research and study.

Previously, council members had seemed reluctant to consider the special reduced-rate deal being offered by the Delaware Solid Waste Authority (DSWA) for municipalities that sign up for curbside recycling. The program was announced in conjunction with the opening of curbside recycling to all properties in the state on an individual basis, at $36 for six months.

DSWA had told towns they could be looking at as little as $1 per pickup if they signed up as a municipality, the cost of which could be passed on to property owners or residents.

But, as with many of the local coastal towns, some were skeptical that renters and part-time residents would want or use curbside recycling, and they were further concerned about pickup schedules, errant recyclables during rental changeover and owner absences, and whether people would pay for curbside service instead of taking their own recyclables to Fenwick Island or Millville.

However, recent research into those issues by Fenwick Island Town Council Member Chris Clark had yielded some positive responses from the DSWA, in both Clark’s eyes and those of both towns’ councils. He had told his fellow council members that DSWA would be willing to tailor pickup dates for summer and off-season periods, provide covered bins and make other adjustments that could tackle all their concerns. The entire DSWA effort is geared to reducing landfill use.

That intrigued South Bethany council members enough for them to open the door to the idea once again. Planning Commission members will be looking into the same kinds of issues Clark has discussed with DSWA officials, just as Fenwick Island continues to research its options and consider whether it will join the DSWA’s municipal program.

Gassinger and other council members remained skeptical as to whether a vacationer in the town for a week would use curbside recycling, but as in Fenwick Island, proponents noted that many already have curbside recycling at home and even take their beach recyclables back with them in some cases.

In the meantime, any property owner or resident wishing to have curbside recycling service can sign up at the $36 rate for six months of weekly pickups ($54 with yard-waste pickup). Many in the area have already done so, while towns continue to consider the municipal option. Both individual recyclers and the towns may also be able to make special arrangements with their existing trash haulers, possibly including reduced rates.

Individual property owners and residents across Delaware can now sign up for curbside recycling online at www.delawarerecycles.com if they have a credit card or use the PayPal service, or with a mail-in form on the DSWA brochure for the program. Residents with general questions about this, or any other DSWA program, should call the Citizen’s Response line at 1-800-404-7080 or visit www.dswa.com.

Building fees scrutinized

With ongoing concerns in the area about the real estate market and resulting reductions in transfer tax income for towns, South Bethany officials are taking another look at their revenue streams. They were surprised to find out how low they rank in terms of the building permit fees the town assesses for new construction.

Indeed, a survey by Code Enforcement Official Joe Vogel had revealed that the town ranked well below most area towns, charging only 30 or 40 cents per square foot of planned construction, depending on type. In comparison, Fenwick Island charges some 3 percent of estimated cost of construction — about 10 times the fee in South Bethany.

Dewey Beach charges 2 percent of construction cost, while Bethany Beach fees come in at $85 per square foot on 3 percent of the project and Dagsboro similarly charges $85 per square foot on 1.25 percent.

“We are way under everybody else,” Jayne said.

Some council members questioned whether building permit fees were intended to be a revenue-generating device, but they agreed that with other towns charging so much more, the town was unnecessarily losing potential revenue on the same basis upon which their neighbors were making much more. “We’ve been derelict in not having done that,” Jayne said of raising the fees.

The council members agreed to hear a proposal for increased fees at a future council meeting, after further research has been done by Vogel and Cusick.

Also at the Aug. 28 meeting:

• Council members unanimously appointed resident George Junkin, who has served as part of the tidal-pump committee, to serve fill a vacancy on the town’s planning commission. Jayne noted that he believes Junkin has been in the town longer than anyone other than Gassinger. Junkin said his family had purchased their South Bethany property in 1953.

• Jayne said he would respond to a letter from a property owner who had suggested the town ban smoking on its beaches, a la a San Diego, Calif., ban targeted not at secondhand smoke but rather at the environmental damage caused by cigarette butts left on the beach. Council members were unanimous in agreeing the butt problem was significant but said enforcing a ban was impractical. Instead, the town will look to better signage regarding disposal of cigarette butts when signage improvements are made in conjunction with the anticipated beach reconstruction project.

• Council members unanimously agreed to reduce the frequency of publication of the town news letter — The Zephyr — to just twice a year. Previously, the newsletter had been produced four times each year, and more recently, three times per year. Gassinger recommended the move on the grounds of cost savings of $1,763 annually, noting that an individual mailing might be needed for special circumstances between newsletters.

With that in mind, Rubinsohn and Headman championed shifting to e-mail for informing the public, with the ability for citizens to opt for either e-mail or printed format. They, with Ronin, agreed to research the e-mail option, as well as to decide when the two remaining issues of The Zephyr will be published.