Bethany committee endorses reorganization

Bethany Beach’s town code now weighs in at a hefty 7.5 pounds, nearly filling the oversized binder in which it resides. And those who most often lug that robust tome from place to place — members of the town’s Charter and Ordinance Review Committee (CORC) — thought that maybe it was time to give their backs a break, by breaking up the book itself.

Along the way, CORC members also recognized that a reorganization of the code book might be in order, citing an index that they felt was inaccurate and inadequate, as well as a need to organize the two potential portions into appropriate groupings that would mean most users wouldn’t need to carry both volumes.

That brought in General Code Publishers, the company that publishes the codes (in print and online) for Bethany Beach and many municipalities in the area – and across the nation. Company representative Earl Babb offered CORC members his expertise, and a series of proposals, at CORC’s May 18 meeting.

The options ranged from a simply update (already scheduled) to a complete recodification, and prices from the ballpark figure of $11,000 to $13,000 estimated for the simple update to as much as $21,000 with a reworking of the entire town code.

It was up to committee members to decide which option they would recommend to the town, keeping in mind their own work reviewing the code and the proposed costs.

The four options Babb presented:

(1) Make planned updates to the code, keeping existing organizational structures. Those updates include a significant change to the code that pulls amounts for fines and penalties from individual sections and into a single schedule, referenced in the sections of code where the fines were originally noted.

The change was designed to make updates easier and for ease of reference for those using the code (including townsfolk). But it also means a major update of large portions of the massive document this year. For that reason alone, the cost of an update is estimated in that $11,000 to $13,000 range.

(2) Recodify the document, but keep its existing organizational structure, except perhaps to move sections on land use to a second volume. This option would allow General Code to continue ongoing updates with less work — and cost to the town — Babb noted. The company would provide a report analyzing any perceived duplications, conflicts, etc., that currently exist in the code — all for about $15,390, including the updates done in the first option.

(3) Update and reorganize the code, as requested by CORC members, with an eye toward putting related sections together. Babb noted there would be considerable added work for General Code to keep such a reorganized code updated, but said a full renumbering would not be needed — if the town was amenable to some portions of early sections being numbered with higher chapter numbers than later sections, as reorganized. CORC members found no problems with that. Usability was the key. With the updates of the first option, the tab came in at an estimated $17,000.

(4) Finally, the fourth option offered all the bells and whistles — a full recodification, smoothing out conflicts and eliminating duplications, but also reorganizing the code as requested, while providing an analysis of other needed work for the town to go through and update. (Nearby Dagsboro is currently having its code so recodified by General Code, for the first time.) It would all be included at $21,000 (notably much more than Dagsboro, without such a review committee, paid for its much briefer code book).

While that steep figure was initially a hard one for CORC members to swallow, it was quickly made clear that the bulk of the cost for any of the options was the work involved in performing the already planned update — $11,000 to $13,000.

A basic recodification (Option 2) adds $4,000 or less to that base figure; reorganization adds $4,000 to $6,000; while the whole lot can be done for about double the price.

The last price tag was one the committee found hard to accept, right off the bat. “That’s what we do, and we do it for free,” CORC Chairman and Council Member Lew Killmer noted, referring to the company’s analysis dealing with code conflicts and duplications.

Indeed, CORC has spent more than a year reviewing the town code page by page, eliminating such problems and making recommendations for changes to ease use and understanding of the document, including removing the fines and fee schedules to a separate area of code.

That realization pushed CORC members back toward a less comprehensive option — Option 3, at some $4,000 to $6,000 in additional cost above the planned updates to the code. Their unanimous choice on May 18, it would reorganize the book (or likely, two books) as the committee recommended, as well as incorporating the updates.

The recommendation will be forwarded to the town’s administrative office, and Town Manager Cliff Graviet, and could be presented to the council for their agreement in the near future.

The future of code updates and indexing for the town remained up in the air for the committee members, some of whom cited their own abilities to maintain an updated digital copy of the document and perform periodic analysis for any problem areas, with the oversight of the town solicitor, whose involvement is already required when changes are made.

Other committee members expressed concern about the level of involvement and expertise of committee members in the future, and whether the job could be guaranteed to be done as well in the future.

But all agreed that the town is now in need of a clean slate and fully optimized code, regardless of what future CORC activities bring.