Bethany council approves memorial race

With some key items postponed from their June agenda until at least July, members of the Bethany Beach Town Council on June 15 dealt with several items that were devoid of much controversy.

The council approved, on a 5-0 vote with Steve Wode and Jerry Dorfman absent, plans for a memorial race in honor of former Bethany Beach Beach Patrol Capt. Ed Dean. The race, being organized by some of Dean’s friends and former lifeguards, would be in the form of a 5-kilometer race east of Route 1, through the town, and would be a fundraiser for a memorial scholarship that would help fund higher education for “outstanding” BBBP members.

Town Manager Cliff Graviet said the initial plans had been to hold the event in June but that organizers had been receptive to town staff’s suggestions to move it to an earlier, and less crowded, period. Council members on June 15 approved the race being held on May 17, 2008.

The race, set in the morning, is expected to take no more than three hours for competitors to complete, with volunteers from the BBBP and other active racers working to organize the event. It would follow a route similar to the town’s annual Fourth of July parade, Graviet said.

Dean died in suddenly in June of 2006, at 53. He was a former Rehoboth Beach lifeguard and had been the beach patrol captain in Bethany Beach from 1982 to 1991. Dean had also taught at Sussex Central Middle School and coached a variety of sports, and he had later become principal at Princess Anne Elementary School in Princess Anne, Md.

New trash truck to be purchased

Bethany Beach council members took advantage of advanced planning on June 15 and also voted 5-0 to move ahead with the purchases of the chassis and rear loader portion of a new trash truck.

The two purchased combine to $116,855 — an expense that was already budgeted for the replacement of a seven-year old truck (boasting some 80,000 miles on the odometer) that Graviet said was previously expected to need replacement in 2006.

The truck had luckily, Graviet said, lasted an additional year. Most of the town’s trash trucks, he noted, last an average of three to four years.

While the town’s trash collection services are not a fiscally separate entity, as is the case with its water department, budgetary aims over the last several years have been to ensure that the trash collection operation is self-supporting — including building up funding for future capital needs, such as new trucks.

Communications plan not without controversy

Council members did debate their vote on a communications plan submitted by Council Member and Communications Committee Chairman Tracy Mulligan, questioning whether a vote to accept the plan was needed and whether voting in favor of “passing” or “adopting” the plan would lock the council in to following its recommendations.

Mayor Carol Olmstead noted that the council had spent considerable time at a recent council workshop reviewing and making its own changes to the draft sent up by the Communications Committee, suggesting that the council had already given its tacit approval to the document in doing so.

The plan is largely composed of existing communications practices for the town government and was intended, in part, to document those practices. Also included are some recommended changes and additions to those practices, as developed by the committee — and more recently the council itself.

But some of those suggestions netted opposition from Council Member Wayne Fuller — particularly the suggestion that a part-time staff member might need to be hired to maintain the town’s upgraded Web site when it comes online.

Fuller noted the council’s recent move to double its property tax rate from 8 cents to 16 cents per $100 of assessed value and said he didn’t find the notion of hiring additional staff for the Web site to be in line with the kind of fiscal conservatism the council should be practicing at this time.

Also a source of objection for Fuller was that many of the elements of the plan were already in place, making it, he suggested, largely redundant, and excessive in the additional steps it recommended in certain areas.

Mulligan responded that the town had also chosen to spend some $100,000 on beautification efforts in the current budget and surely could at least consider staffing needs that would help make sure the town’s communications were as informative and timely as possible when expectations for such information were growing.

He also said the information provided was likely to reduce the amount of time other town staff needed to spend answering questions on the same topics, offsetting the costs of having a part-time position maintaining the Web site.

Vice-Mayor Tony McClenny and Council Member Lew Killmer questioned whether the issue needed to rise to the level of a council vote at all, suggesting the most that might be needed was essentially the council voicing approval of the work done without committing to any particular elements of the plan.

Town Solicitor Terence Jaywork put in that he felt there was no danger in voting to approve the plan, since, as a “plan,” it indicated a future direction for the council without locking them into anything.

Council members appeared to take that under advisement, voting 4-1 to approve the plan, with Fuller in opposition over his objections to the plan’s content.

Ordinances tabled until July

The council on June 15 tabled consideration of proposed changes to the town’s code regarding referendums (not yet ready for a council vote), voting procedures (under last-minute changes resulting from recent passage of the state’s House Bill 120 regarding absentee balloting provisions) and property maintenance (to receive additional staff recommendations).

Also tabled last Friday was an ordinance aimed at incorporating the state’s list of fines for motor vehicle infractions into the town code. Jaywork said he believed there had been some confusion between two related ordinances and that the item advertised on the council’s agenda for a second reading was not the one that had received a first reading in May.

Council members opted to table consideration of the issue, with plans to hold the correct second reading and a first reading for the other ordinance during the July meeting.

Also on June 15, Olmstead reported that the final two easements needed to move forward on the planned Bethany Beach-South Bethany beach reconstruction project under the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had been received that morning.

The Corps, she said, had sent out its bid packages on the project one week prior and anticipated a bid-opening during the last week of June. Once the Corps’ Philadelphia section selects one of the submitted bids, its recommendation will be sent to the Corps’ national headquarters for a final decision.

If that proceeds smoothly, the expectations are for a mid-August start date on pre-construction work, with the sand to start flowing onto the towns’ beaches sometime after Labor Day.

Olmstead said the town will keep citizens informed of the status of the project with an information packet that will be available at town hall and on the town’s Web site, as well as with signage on the boardwalk.

Graviet, in his June 15 town manager’s report, noted that the town had also recently sent out its bid packages for the major upgrade of the town Web site. Those were due back this week, with the first — from a Kansas firm — having been received that day.

Work was due to proceed this week on a new lightning warning system that will notify Bethany Beach lifeguards when a lightning strike is imminent in the area. Graviet said work would continue to enhance that system with audible warnings in the beach and boardwalk area.

Graviet reported parking revenue up some 33 percent so far this season, with increases in the parking meter rates from $1 per hour to $1.25 per hour a chief factor in the increase.

The town also recently installed an additional half-dozen bicycle racks in the vicinity of the downtown boardwalk area, he noted, with an eye toward making the area more cyclist-friendly. Graviet said efforts were being made to reach out to downtown businesses so that employees could be encouraged to bike to work and use the racks to store their bicycles.

He also again noted the Bethany Beach Police Department’s outreach efforts with businesses and employees. The BBPD is offering free bicycle lights and safety tips, aimed at preventing the kinds of bicycle-vehicle accidents that have caused serious injuries and fatalities in other resort towns.

Bethany beautification efforts vandalized

Also on the BBPD’s lists of problems to be solved is a rash of recent vandalism in the town. Graviet said spates of vandalism near the town’s public restrooms had recently expanded to “really disturbing” vandalism of the town’s beautification efforts, through the tearing up of flower plantings. He encouraged anyone who spotted someone vandalizing town property — including plantings in the Route 1 medians — to immediately call 911.

Graviet noted that the town will be continuing its pressure-washing activities over the next two to three weeks. He allowed that the work was noisy but said the town was limited as to when it could do it. He asked that anyone spotting problem areas where dirt or refuse accumulates report them to town hall.

The town manager also announced new plans to officially notify residents of planned mosquito-control spraying. He said there had been some recent complaints about the spraying and the town’s previous policy of not notifying residents before it took place.

Now, he said, the town will be announcing the spraying, which will take place on Friday mornings from 3 to 7 a.m., between June 22 and late August. Residents who wish to have their properties excluded from the spraying program are also being asked to call town hall in advance of the spraying.

Finally on June 15, resident Lois Lipsett asked the council for an update as to expectations that the town would be building a dog park — possibly on the former Christian Church and Neff properties off Route 1 that have been designed for some kind of open-space or green-space use.

Lipsett said the dog park had been supported by public statements during the discussion of the Church/Neff parcels’ use and by a petition of some 400 signatures that had been presented to the town.

More recently, Lipsett said she had sent the town a letter about the issue but received no response. (Graviet later refuted that no response had been sent.) She asked whether a citizen could ask to have an issue added to a council meeting agenda.

Olmstead and other council members said they didn’t believe any promise about a dog park had been made and that the issue had simply been overlooked in subsequent discussions.

She and McClenny said they believed the idea had actually been rejected as something that would be better if done on county property outside the town limits, with wider interest than just town residents and wider resources than Bethany Beach itself.

“I couldn’t think of a place in Bethany Beach that would be a good space for a dog park,” Olmstead added.

Council Member Tracy Mulligan said he would be willing to ask for the item to be on an agenda for discussion, but that he personally had some issues with the concept and Lipsett might be better off finding another council sponsor.