The Ocean View Town Council has taken a hard look at its draft budget for the 2019 fiscal year and is now looking to raise the Town’s property taxes 100 percent.
At the Town’s budget workshop last month, council members voiced concerns that even a 50-percent property tax increase would still have the Town in the red by 2021, as it weans itself off transfer taxes — a revenue source known to be unreliable.
“We are essentially fixing a problem that has been tripping along for a good 15 years,” said Mayor Walter Curran, “where they should’ve taken that transfer tax and allocated it toward capital projects and started raising taxes quite a bit years ago, and it didn’t happen, so now we’re going to have to bite the bullet.”
“As painful as it is… 50 percent wouldn’t do very much for us,” said Councilwoman Carol Bodine. “We have to be responsible.”
The Town is facing a long list of capital-improvement projects — specifically those involving drainage — and those numbers continue to rise. Without an increase in taxes, including capital improvement projects as they cost today, the Town would be in a $500,000 deficit by the 2021 fiscal year.
“I think, at this point, I’d have to say that, to raise less than 100 percent — which carries us to a positive number, a very small positive number, all the way up to Fiscal Year ’22… I think that’s the right thing to do,” Curran said. “The numbers are crystal-clear. There’s no smoke-and-mirrors. We’ve got a freight train rushing toward us, and we have to derail it.”
“I agree, we can’t keep kicking the can down the street,” said Councilman Tom Maly, adding that the Town needs to make an effort to educate its citizens as to why they are choosing such an increase.
Curran said the Town should put together a clear and concise position-paper on why the raise in taxes is needed.
“It’s very important they understand that,” said Curran.
Based on 2018-fiscal-year assessed values and tax rates, a home assessed at $200,000 would see a monthly tax increase of $27.55. A home assessed at $300,000, $400,000 or $500,000 would see a monthly increase of $41.33, $55.10 or $68.88, respectively.
The list of planned drainage projects includes Woodland Avenue Extended, Woodland Park, Woods Circle, Country Village and more.
Town Finance Director Sandra Peck suggested the Town pay for the road portion only of the Woodland Avenue Extended repairs through the Town’s Street Repair & Replacement Trust Fund.
“Because, this year, we’re only paying for sidewalks out of that fund,” she said. “So, I’m suggesting we actually do the roadwork as well.”
Bodine asked Public Works Director Charles McMullen when the roadwork on Woodland Avenue Extended would be completed.
McMullen said the Town needs to complete condemnation on six properties whose owners have not signed off on the work, but that he believes the project would be started in the fall, with the drainage portion being worked on first. He said he would like the project to be completed before the summer of 2019.
McMullen also discussed the drainage pipes in Woodland Park — all of which are ruined, he said, due to trees being planted in them.
“They all have to be removed and replaced — every single one of them,” he said of the pipes, adding that the Town has received estimates for additional Avon Park and Wedgefield drainage repairs as well.
“They just keep adding up and adding up, Mr. Mayor,” he said, “drainage project after drainage project after drainage project.”
McMullen said plantings in drainage ditches and easements are something the Town needs to address, because it is costing the Town money.
During “Citizens’ Privilege,” resident Ann Scoleri said she believed the Town could reduce its budget by reducing the amount of Town employees by half.
“The Town’s not getting bigger, but we keep paying out and paying out,” she said. “I think we should think about reducing our employees, because I think we have a lot of employees who don’t do a whole lot.”
The council also discussed promotions, versus step-raises, noting that step-raises do not exist anymore. Everyone who works for the Town is eligible to receive a 3 percent raised based on performance, separate from a promotion. However, those in the police department were automatically given a 6 percent raise with a promotion.
“I don’t think any increase should be an automatic 6 percent,” said Curran.
Councilman Frank Twardzik said he was in favor of maintaining the additional 6 percent increase, because a promotion equates to more responsibility.
Town Manager Dianne Vogel said the practice’s genesis dates back to an old ordinance from the town code that no longer exists. The chapter included a pay plan.
“When you adopted the new personnel manual, it doesn’t include a pay plan, which it shouldn’t,” she said. “It also says that the new personnel manual supersedes any old one… However, there is a fine line in the new manual that says the council, at its own discretion, can adopt any rules they so choose. So, if you want to keep step increases continuing as they were done, that’s where it came from.”
Ocean View Police Chief Ken McLaughlin said he believed it was adopted as far back as 2001.
“That has been the standard for as long as I’ve been with the Town.”
Curran said that instead of being given the 6 percent increase for extraordinary performance or special achievement, the raise became routine.
“It became an ordinary thing, by virtue of the fact that they’re getting promoted, they’re entitled to that raise and pay, and they’re going to get that raise and pay. A promotion is an ordinary cause of business from my perspective... It’s not extraordinary; it’s not an achievement…
“It should not be an automatic 6 percent. It should be 3 percent — what everybody else has got on a regular basis — and if a case is to be made for something extraordinary, then by all means the chief should make that case for individuals. It should not be an automatic raise.”
Twardzik said if the Town were to decrease from a 6 percent increase to a 3 percent increase, it would give employees the perception that the Town was moving backwards, not forwards.
Curran urged people to remember that the Town just made salary adjustments with the Hendricks’s model, which were deemed to have addressed any issues that had previously existed.
The council voted 3-2 to reduce the additional promotion percentage for the police department from 6 percent to 3 percent, with Twardzik and Maly opposed.
“Mr. Mayor, I think you just opened Pandora’s box,” said Twardzik.
“I think when you sit down and look at this rationally, everybody is going to have an opportunity to get ahead. They’re all starting from a better base this year than the past couple years,” responded Curran.
In other Town news:
• The Town will hold a Candidates’ Night on Monday, March 26, at 6 p.m. Residents may attend the night to learn more about the District 4 candidates, incumbent Carol Bodine and resident Berton Reynolds.
• The council voted unanimously to grant the Millville Volunteer Fire Company $84,203.71 from its Emergence Services Enhancement Fund, to help the non-profit emergency services organization purchase 22 new mobile radios.
• Resident Steve Cobb praised Police Chief Ken McLaughlin for helping him take an active-shooter class in Rehoboth Beach.
“What Ken does in his department extends far, far away from Ocean View. I want to thank him. That class was well-attended,” said Cobb, noting that it was put on by the Rehoboth Beach Police Department.