Less than two weeks after the Frankford Town Council approved a budget that included a 45 percent increase in town water rates, a room full of residents attended August’s regular council meeting — many with questions about how the Town spends its money.
Unlike the four meetings regarding the potential water increase that were held in July, which less than a handful of residents attended, the council meeting room was full for the Monday, Aug. 6, council meeting.
The meeting veered from its regular agenda for more than 30 minutes after residents began complaining about crimes in the town that they feel are not being addressed satisfactorily by the Town’s current arrangement with Delaware State Police, which patrols the town for 12 hours each week.
Resident Liz Carpenter told the council about several situations on or near her own property, beginning with one involving drug use on her neighbor’s property.
“They’re shooting up literally next to her chicken coop,” Carpenter said.
The neighbor also called Carpenter at 1 a.m. on a recent morning, “terrified, because there was a drunk, homeless man sitting in a lounge chair on her property,” Carpenter said. The neighbor “asked the man to leave, and he wouldn’t, so she called the state police, and it took them over 10 minutes to get here… and by the time they got here, he was gone,” Carpenter said.
On another night, Carpenter said, “It seems the same man had been on my back patio,” because there was a “beverage” on a table in her yard. Carpenter said her produce stand is being “constantly robbed, and I mean significantly — every day. The State is not an effective way to police this town, and it just feels like it’s literally going to hell in a handbasket,” Carpenter said.
“There’s drugs literally outside my back door. There are people who should not be on our property on our property … late at night. … There’s a lot of theft going on — at least there is for me. It’s really scary at this point.”
When residents expressed concern about a tent that had been set up on Walnut Street and lived in — complete with an air conditioner — Council Member Skip Ash told the audience that state police had “been there today” to deal with the situation.
One resident, who would not give her name to the Coastal Point, said the man living in the tent has fires at night and “If that gets into the poultry stuff, that’s going to be a mess.”
“Today, it was addressed,” Ash said, adding that the police were not able to contact the man living there, but that he is also a suspect in a theft.
Carpenter also said, “I personally feel that since we shut down the police department, that people know that, and that this town is absolutely running amok. It’s a mess.”
Other residents complained about traffic issues on weekends, and the speed of the traffic coming through town.
“You would to pay for more state police?” Ash asked Carpenter.
“I’d rather partner with Dagsboro, but I was in favor of that before that vote was made,” Carpenter said. “Something needs to happen. What’s happening now is not working.”
Council Vice President Greg Welch said he had been in favor of the proposed partnership with Dagsboro police as well, but “It seemed like there wasn’t much appetite” for the increase in costs that would have come with it. “That’s why we didn’t do it. That was a good plan, but it would cost about $120,000 for the year,” Welch said.
Ash interjected that the plan would have mandated a 60 percent increase in town taxes.
Then the conversation turned to the increase in water rates that was approved last month. Despite the fact that two budget meetings and two hearings on the budget were advertised and posted on the Town website, there was some question about exactly what that will entail, given the fact that the water increase had been approved last year but not implemented.
Welch and Council Secretary/Treasurer Velicia Melson appeared to disagree over what would transpire, because Welch referred to the need for the council to “re-do it,” referring to the rate increase, and address the proposed increase in the fee that out-of-town residents pay at the same time. “We’ve got to change our ordinance anyway,” Welch said.
“Then you’re not going to abide by your budget,” Melson said. “You’re going to have a shortfall in your budget,” she said, because the budget called for the implementation of the rate increase by September.
At last month’s budget hearing, the council had discussed the Town already losing two months of increased revenues due to the delay in passing the budget.
Town Clerk Cheryl Lynch said the increase had been advertised the week before. Welch expressed concern that there seems to be no record in town council meeting minutes of the original approval of the rate increase.
Melson also said the Town’s budget did not address the fact that the Town owes the state Office of Drinking Water for loans associated with the Town’s water system that were contingent on fluoridating the town-supplied water, which has not taken place.
“So, you’re still $30,000 in the hole,” Melson said.
When one resident expressed concern about the 150 percent increase in the fee paid by out-of-town users, the council meeting took another turn, into a discussion about the merits and issues associated with annexations into town of contiguous properties.
The increase in the out-of-town fee was done, in part, to encourage those who use town water to annex into the town, Welch said. But he added, “We haven’t had any successful annexations … for anybody’s lifetime.”
Ash said, “I’ve been here since 1987, and we haven’t annexed one square foot.”
Welch said the council has met with property owner Nino D’Orazio, who owns land on which 14 mobile homes are located, and that “He wants to know how much it’s going to cost… and so we’re looking at his property and trying to figure out what the deal is.”
The 14 mobile homes, located on a 1-acre lot, are currently on a single water meter, which would have to change if the property is annexed into town, Welch said.
“It’s very dense,” Welch said of the complex, adding that “It’s got conflicts with our zoning, and we’re trying to figure out how we can make it a go.”
“By doing that, will you establish a procedure for anybody else in town that has a similar situation?” asked property owner Kathy Murray.
As far as making concessions for future annexations, Welch said, “If that’s going to be the stumbling block, you might want to consider it.”
“There’s a lot of properties surrounding our town that might not conform to our zoning, and they’re not going to change their use to annex in,” Welch said, using examples of lot sizes and building sizes. “Especially if it’s a stumbling block for a bigger annexation behind it… you might have to make some concessions and accept things as they are, because they’re grandfathered — call them grandfathered, call them whatever — because if you don’t accept them, it’s not going to go anywhere,” Welch said.
When Murray asked whether the Town would block a new project because it doesn’t conform, while allowing an annexation with the same issue, Welch replied, “I think you have to take each case through the planning and zoning process, and hear it out.”
In other business at the Aug. 6 meeting, the council announced that Scott Chambers of the Dover law firm Schmittinger & Rodriguez will be the new town solicitor. After the meeting, Council President Joanne Bacon said the Town might have “jumped the gun” on announcing the hire, since Chambers has to be admitted to the Sussex County Bar Association before formally accepting the position.
The council is also moving forward in hiring a new maintenance person, having narrowed the field of applicants to five, all of whom were to be interviewed in the coming days, with hopes of having a new maintenance person on board within two weeks.
By Kerin Magill