Ocean View aims to be a good neighbor

After weeks of growing tension between the neighboring municipalities and an unresolved mystery over which Ocean View official might have given Millville a $220-per-hour cost quote on contracting Ocean View police to patrol in Millville, Ocean View council members at their Nov. 20 council workshop tried to put the entire situation behind them and move forward in a spirit of cooperation.

The quoting of that $220 figure and ongoing discussion in Millville in recent months of possibly contracting for police service with Ocean View instead of the Delaware State Police had led to questions at the council’s November meeting about a possible violation of the Ocean View council’s new communications policy.

Councilman Roy Thomas had said then, “If Millville has a request of Ocean View, they should go through the proper channels. … If Millville wants something, Millville should ask for it. … There shouldn’t be a number being thrown flippantly around.”

According to Mayor Gary Meredith, the situation had only devolved since the November meeting, with an unnamed council member reportedly telling Millville Mayor Donald Minyon that Millville’s council members shouldn’t be discussing anything with Ocean View officials at events they both attend, such as meetings of the Sussex County Association of Towns (SCAT).

Meredith said the exchange had disturbed both Minyon and himself, when he had later heard about it. “I’m very unhappy with this,” he told the council on Nov. 20. Councilman Bill Wichman said Minyon had also told him about the exchange with the unnamed council member, which Wichmann said he found to be self-defeating.

Wichmann said the value of the SCAT meetings was precisely in the ability of towns to discuss things such as mutual needs and emergency preparedness without resorting to clear policy violations and backroom deals.

“I don’t think this was helpful,” he said. “It doesn’t build any kind of positive relationship.”

Thomas also praised the value of casual communications between the two towns, but he questioned why the Ocean View council was taking so much time to discuss goings-on in Millville. Meredith agreed that the issue had been overblown, but he said he felt the way forward through the tension was to look at scheduling a joint meeting between the councils of both towns.

“We have to work together sometimes,” Meredith emphasized.

While the council members agreed the idea was good, Thomas said he believed Delaware state law precludes such a meeting by requiring all municipal governments to meet only inside their own jurisdictions. Technical advances may give the council a way around that, but the existence of a legal barrier for a joint meeting in a single location was supported on Nov. 20 by Town Solicitor Dennis Schraeder.

Thomas further said he felt the town could also benefit from closer ties with other nearby towns, such as Bethany Beach, which he said he felt was a better match for Ocean View in that it has basically reached its build-out point and has no plans for further annexation. Thomas also pointed to the similar size of the towns’ police departments, as well as the existence of public works and utility-related responsibilities.

“We have a lot in common with Bethany,” Thomas said.

Thomas recommended that the towns get around a legal restraint on joint council meetings by assigning the mayor and Town Manager Conway Gregory to set up their own meetings with Bethany and Millville officials, through which such mutual issues could be discussed now and on an ongoing basis.

Further, Thomas advised the council to set a time prior to February for the council members to discuss exactly what they hope to talk about and obtain through such cooperative relationships. Wichmann pointed particularly to a need to work on and coordinate the towns’ emergency operations plans. Council members expressed support for the idea.

Questions about police cost estimate resolved

The mystery of who had given Millville officials a $220-per-hour quote on the cost of police services was also resolved on Nov. 20, with Gregory’s admission that apparently he had been the party in question.

“No one ’fessed up to that,” Gregory said of the November council meeting. “But it’s been brought to my attention that I was the one responsible for that.”

Gregory explained that he’d been asked to come to a Millville council meeting on July 2 to discuss possible cooperative efforts between the two towns. In a July 3 memo to the council members and again at a July 10 council meeting, Gregory said, he’d reported on what he’d said to Millville officials.

“I do not recall giving any figures,” he emphasized.

But when Millville officials later considered whether to ask Ocean View to contract its police for part-time patrols, they referenced a $220-per-hour figure for the OVPD’s services, versus a $74-per-hour quote for continuation of contracts with the Delaware State Police, and subsequently voted to continue contracting with the DSP.

As it turned out, Gregory said, the $220 figure wasn’t outside the ballpark. In a subsequent cost analysis, Gregory said the cost to the town, including depreciation on town police vehicles and a percentage of the new town police station, would run about $195 per hour, when carried out through 2015.

That, he emphasized, would only be the direct cost to the Ocean View taxpayer, which he said he felt the town couldn’t fairly charge to Millville when the town government exists to serve its own taxpayers.

“That’s not too far off the $220 figure,” Gregory admitted.

Meredith confirmed on Nov. 20 that Minyon had told him Millville had garnered their $220-per-hour cost quote from Gregory, as well as a similar estimate from a council member. Minyon had told him Millville had been aware that neither figure was an official quote or element of contract negotiation.

As to the issue of a possible violation of the council’s communications policy, Gregory pointed to both his July 3 memo and discussion at the July 10 council meeting of the visit to Millville. He also noted that the council hadn’t adopted its communications policy until September, rendering the entire question moot.