The Frankford Town Council announced this week that they are seeking people to serve on a revived Charter Committee.
“It’s important we get the changes made we want,” said Council President Joanne Bacon.
Councilman Greg Welch said he had served as the committee’s chair and would be willing to do so again.
“We need a group of people who want to meet to do it,” said Welch.
While the meeting on March 5 was well-attended, no one immediately volunteered to serve on the committee.
“What is the approach this time for the charter?” asked property owner Kathy Murray. “What is going to be the approach for addressing the items? Last time, we spent almost a year and we were no further along than where we started. That’s why I have declined.”
“Same here,” said resident Liz Carpenter. “I felt like we were talking in circles.”
Welch said the issue of the Town’s elections had caused the greatest amount of disagreement, and he offered to allow someone else to chair the committee.
“It wasn’t the issue of you chairing,” said Murray. “We could never get passed the whole issue of a property owner having the right to vote or a maximum of one non-resident serving on council. We went back and forth… It got ugly at times.”
Welch said that, as he recalled, there were issues with the idea of allowing for property owners to vote as non-residents.
“We wanted to go with the state voter registration system, and that wouldn’t allow that for work, I think,” he said. “We didn’t get good counseling from our attorney or the state election commission... It didn’t seem we were getting consistent, good answers on anything.”
While most of the area’s towns do not allow non-resident property owners to vote or run in town elections, the exception has generally been its beach towns, including Bethany Beach, South Bethany and Fenwick Island, all of which allow non-resident property owners to vote, though the number of non-resident votes per property has been increasingly restricted.
Those three towns also allow a number of non-residents to serve on town council, though it is commonly restricted to a minority of the council and not for council officers.
“It’s pretty rare,” said Welch. “And, it’s probably for a reason.”
“I understand that,” said Murray. “What I’m saying is, there were a number of other items that needed to be addressed, and we couldn’t even get passed that. My reason for declining is there was one individual who just really, really controlled the meeting, and it was very not productive.”
“I don’t know how to have a meeting any other way,” said Welch. “We met and discussed the issues.”
Welch said the idea of going over the charter with a fine-toothed comb is an “unrealistic goal.” He noted that the council would like the committee to review and establish a process to pass ordinances in the charter, a process to amend the charter, making a provision to allow for a town manager, creating a rough draft for the budget and defining a quorum.
“We shouldn’t even have to do that. A quorum is what a quorum is,” said Welch. “But because there was an issue with it, we’re going to change the charter and define what a quorum is.”
The council also announced this week that they would need volunteers to serve on the Town’s budget committee. Carpenter and property owner Robert Murray volunteered, and Councilwoman Velicia Melson will chair the committee.
Heroin death spurs concerns about coverage
Carpenter also brought up a recent heroin overdose death in the town and noted her concern for public safety.
“It’s constantly an underlying threat in this community that doesn’t seem to get any better,” she said, adding that she’s concerned about the Town’s police coverage, which is currently being contracted out to the Delaware State Police. “It may, in fact, make the situation worse, because it’s just 12 hours of coverage” per week.
Carpenter said she doesn’t have a solution but wanted to share her feelings.
“It’s a rampant cancer in our community.”
“Believe it or not, from what I’m hearing, it’s not just Frankford,” said Councilwoman Pam Davis. “This is our first major one, where [other towns] have dealt with 12 or 14 already… It’s always bypassed us… Now, it’s starting to get here.”
Carpenter said she understands it’s a problem, but it doesn’t make her “feel any safer,” saying she believes the Town should revisit its decision on the police coverage.
“I was a proponent on going in with Dagsboro, come hell or high water. That was my opinion of it. I understand why council made the decision it did, but, yes, I believe there needs to be regular, routine, consistent, community-driven police coverage in this town.”
Councilman Skip Ash said the Town would have to raise its taxes 60 percent to afford that kind of coverage.
“I’m pretty fiscally conservative,” said Carpenter, “but my understanding is taxes have not been raised in quite some time. I think setting a percentage of tax increase that’s implemented over a number of years… because expenses are always going to go up with inflation… Taxes need to go up so much of a percentage implemented over a certain amount of time… I’ve never lived in a place where the taxes didn’t keep up with the times.”
Resident Ab Franklin said that, in the 26 years he’s been retired in the town, there has only been one tax increase. He noted, however, that not everyone has a pension or income that would support an increase.
Kathy Murray said she believes the Town needs a town manager to go out and bring people into the town.
“Get leads on businesses who want to develop in the area,” she said.