Bethany extends beach concession contract

Bethany Beach Town Council heard a request Nov. 17 from a long-time business owner to extend his beach concession contract, which runs through 2008, for another three years, until 2011.

Ron Steen, owner of Steen’s Beach Service, told the council he lost “a lot of stuff” during Tropical Storm Ernesto, which pounded the coast in early September. Specifically, Steen said, he lost 400 beach chairs, 22 umbrellas and 22 stands from which he rents those items. “It’s a loss. It’s a bad loss,” he said.

“I was lucky it wasn’t worse,” said Steen, who credit members of the Bethany Beach Patrol and “good Samaritans” with helping to save some of his rental equipment.

In seeking to extend the contract beyond the original five-year period, Steen said he wants “to spread the losses (from the storm) over five years instead of two.”

Some council members wanted to make sure town regulations on bidding don’t require the town to rebid the contract. “We’re not on any funny ground?” asked Council Member Steve Wode, who also noted that in the past 10 years, no other companies have bid for the beach concession.

Steen’s current contract requires him to pay the town $36,300 for the license to operate his umbrella, chair and boogie board rental stands on the town’s beaches during the summer months.

Mayor Carol Olmstead noted that Steen’s contract does not provide for an extension beyond the stated five-year period. Vice-Mayor Tony McClenny asked Steen how he would feel if the town rebid the contract for 5 years now instead of in 2008.

“Obviously, I’ve been doing it a long time, and I’d like to stay for a while,” said Steen, who added he’s been in the beach rental business in Bethany Beach for 49 years. “I didn’t shortchange the town.”

Council Member Lew Killmer said he feels Steen should pay the town more for a re-negotiated contract than he would under the current terms. “This town has also suffered losses,” Killmer said, referring to the beach frontage lost during Ernesto.

Ultimately, the council brought to a vote a proposal to grant Steen a new, five-year contract, to expire in 2011, with a 6 percent increase in the license fee. The council voted unanimously to table Steen’s request until town attorney John T. “Terry” Jaywork has approved the proposal. The issue will be placed on the agenda for the council’s December meeting.

In other business:

Mayor Olmstead announced an award given to the town by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society for “outstanding public plantings and improving the quality of life through horticulture.”

A plaque commemorating the award will be placed in the garden beside the town hall. The plaque is one of 22 given by the society. Olmstead lauded the contributions of town horticulturist Melinda Linde to the beautification of the town.

The council approved a changed to the town code reflecting the town’s decision to require all town employees to participate in the state’s County and Municipal Employees Pension Programs. The town must have full employee participation in the programs in order to qualify for the statewide programs.

McClenny announced the town’s Charter and Ordinance Review Committee (CORC) is awaiting a response from state elections commissioner Frank Calio regarding the town’s absentee voting regulations. McClenny also said the committee held an “active discussion” at its last meeting on possible modifications to the town’s regulations regarding referendums. “We’ve found some deficiencies and we’re addressing them,” McClenny said.

Planning Commission Chairwoman Kathleen Mink said the commission is beginning discussions of long-term planning, with a goal of “charting a course” for the town.

Olmstead also reported on recent meetings with members of Delaware’s Congressional delegation regarding beach replenishment. “We were encouraged to stay the course,” Olmstead said.

A public meeting with a senior Congressional staff member regarding the Bethany Beach and South Bethany beach replenishment project is being planned for the first week in December, Olmstead said.