Bethany council candidates take their cases to the voters


Bethany Beach voters will take to the polls on Saturday, Sept. 7, between noon and 6 p.m., to select three town council members from amongst four candidates — three incumbents and a lifelong resident aiming to add his voice to the mix. (Dorian, your name is not on the ballot, so just move along…)

Current council members Joseph Healy, Jerry Morris and Patrick Sheplee are all running for re-election — Sheplee for a second two-year term after an electionless 2017, Morris for his third two-year term after joining the council in an electionless 2015, and Healy for a seventh term, having served on the council for 12 years. Lee Bunting, who grew up in the town, would like to join the council. This is his first time running for the office.

Healy, Morris and Bunting are all full-time residents of the town, while Sheplee is a part-time resident. At least four of the seven total council members must be residents of the town, but all may be residents. Voters can vote for up to three candidates.

Those wishing to vote in the Sept. 7 election must be: 18 or older; and either a freeholder in the town for at least 90 days prior to the election or a full-time resident for at least six months prior to the election.

Bethany Beach property owners who are listed on the Town’s property tax list are not required to register to vote in Town elections. Residents of Bethany Beach who do not own property must register to vote at least 30 days prior to the election. Residents may register at Town Hall or request a mailed registration form by telephone, mail or by email.

Absentee ballots may be requested via affidavit, which can be obtained from Town Hall or online at www.townofbethanybeach.com, and must be filed no later than noon on election day, at which point they can be provided with an absentee ballot via mail or in person. The ballot must be filed before polls close on the day of the election.

The Coastal Point conducted its traditional Q&A with the council candidates again this year, and their answers to our questions appear below, in alphabetical order.

 

Lee Bunting

 

Q. Pedestrian and bicycle safety remains a concern for many in the area, especially during the summer. What are your feelings on the subject, and how would you like to see it addressed during your term on the council?

A. Pedestrian and bike safety are a significant concern. The problems escalate each summer season because there are more people, bikes and cars. There is serious overcrowding and the town’s streets cannot support uncontrolled growth. If this is allowed to continue, Bethany may lose its identity as a family seaside resort.

I believe we must do a better job of controlling busy intersections by guiding people to make safe decisions. If elected I would investigate using crossing guards and crosswalk upgrades, walk/stop signals, and flashing warning lights at the appropriate times and places. I would advocate using the bike police supported with signage to educate bikers that they must ride the same direction as cars and obey traffic laws. I would provide additional bike racks spaced throughout the town. Bicycle safety and equipment clinics are helpful in raising the public awareness.

I would investigate repairing or installing raised permeable sidewalks. I would revisit and update the 2010 Speed Limit Study done by the University of Delaware. I would work with real estate agents and bike rental shops to help educate our vacationing guests of proper safe street etiquette. I would meet with our state elected officials, DelDOT and neighboring towns to help alleviate this life-threating concern.

Q. With an increasingly extended visitor season and additional attractions, such as Central Park, the Assawoman Canal Trail and the Dinker-Irvin Cottage museum, do you feel the Town needs to be concerned about parking capacity? How would you like to see the issue addressed?

A. The overcrowding and rapid pace of growth is placing an undue parking burden on the owners and residents of the town. Metered parking spaces and residential parking permits are at capacity. Other alternatives especially public transportation, like our Town Trolley and shuttles from neighboring communities, should be considered. Neighboring communities should be involved in transportation for their residents and share in the cost of the Town expenses.

Q. What are the issues you feel the Town needs to address in the next two years, or beyond? How would you like to see them addressed?

A. During my two-year term, I would like to focus on three key areas. The first is policies and procedures, and that would help citizens be more informed and involved in their town government. I want the Town to publish monthly dashboards with colored charts and graphs to increase high-level reader comprehension of data. I will hold “Meet the Town Council” meetings as way to have more people involved in the town government and make it user-friendly. I will make my email available to anyone that wants to contact me directly.

I would like to see the Town’s capital projects, such as Central Park, Collins Street renovations, and the comfort station improvements be completed on time and on budget.

Finally, I would like to update the Bethany Beach Comprehensive Plan with special interest to ensure in our infrastructure, such as water, roads and sewer, are in good order, and technology, such as phone, TV and Wi-Fi service are the best available.

Q. What are your qualifications to be a member of the Bethany Beach Town Council? What else would you like voters to know about you before the election?

A. Last year I retired from a 37-year career in the YMCA, 29 years as an executive director working with boards, committees and volunteers. During that time, I worked successfully in municipal meetings to seek zoning approvals, acquire property, form partnerships, raise funds from both the private and public sector, and operate major facilities that serve youth, families and communities.

I have supervised multi-million-dollar operational departments, and managed budgets like those in Bethany Beach. I have written and administered federal and state grants. I took a proactive role in the YMCA public advocacy program, meeting with state, county and local elected officials to get things done.

I will bring those experiences, as well as a fresh perspective and new energy to the council. Growing up in Bethany Beach has instilled a strong passion and love for the town. I will work tirelessly to preserve the beaches, meet the needs of the residents, reach out and work with the business, and protect natural and cultural resources.

 

Joseph Healy

 

Q. Pedestrian and bicycle safety remains a concern for many in the area, especially during the summer. What are your feelings on the subject, and how would you like to see it addressed during your term on the council?

A. The work that the Town has completed on Cedarwood Street and South Atlantic Avenue should have a positive effect on safety in that area of Town. There is more to do on Collins Street with the planned pedestrian pathway, but the speed bumps and signs seem to have helped. I still believe that restricting the speed limit to 20 mph on Collins Street, even if unenforceable because of DelDOT control, would be a subtle reminder that there are safety issues on this very busy street.

Continuing our discussions with DelDOT to install signalized pedestrian crosswalks on Route 1 is a priority, and they have committed to studying Route 1 and Kent Avenue this fall, in connection with the installation of lights in the median along Route 1. Bicyclists and pedestrians must also help by obeying traffic signals and traveling on the proper side of the road.

Q. With an increasingly extended visitor season and additional attractions, such as Central Park, the Assawoman Canal Trail and the Dinker-Irvin Cottage museum, do you feel the Town needs to be concerned about parking capacity? How would you like to see the issue addressed?

A. I am not sure that parking capacity will be adversely affected by an extended visitor season, since we do not anticipate that the daily crowds will be as great during the summer. In any event, we have a limited number of parking spaces, and that fact doesn’t change.

What we have done to alleviate the problem is establish an area for shuttle buses (for a substantial fee); maintain the trolley system for our citizens (over 40,000 passengers/year); purchased to lease some remaining available property for parking; and increased bike racks and scooter parking. We continue to look at other ideas. One additional measure to consider is extending the period for operation of the trolleys to cover popular off-season events.

Q. What are the issues you feel the Town needs to address in the next two years, or beyond? How would you like to see them addressed?

A. Some of the important issues for us to continue to focus on include: beach and dune preservation; public health and safety; maintaining the sound financial condition of the Town; working with the Army Corps of Engineers, DNREC and neighboring communities to reduce flooding and address the growth in surrounding areas and its impact on infrastructure and our Town; preservation of remaining wetlands; and improving Wi-Fi service.

Another important area we should continue to address over the next five years is what I would call “strategic planning issues.” We need at least that time frame to provide funding for major capital acquisitions, maintenance projects, as well as safety and security projects and issues.

Q. What are your qualifications to be a member of the Bethany Beach Town Council? What else would you like voters to know about you before the election?

A. During and after a career as a CPA in the business-finance arena, I served and continue to serve as a member of the Town Budget & Finance Committee and town council. During my time as a council member, I have contributed to the resolution or progress on a broad range of issues, including preservation of our beach and protective dune; construction of our modern water plant; major street improvements; public health and safety; development of our Town park, now under construction; stricter building standards; stormwater management and flood mitigation; exploring high speed Internet options; and renovation of the comfort station at the boardwalk, on which work should begin soon.

In all these and other matters that come before the council, I have welcomed public input and considered the interests of all affected citizens. I am proud of the fact that, with careful financial planning, we have been able to operate very effectively and fund capital improvements over the years without large tax increases and, except for the water tower, without borrowing. (That loan was approved by public referendum and will be paid off early.)

Based on my professional background, knowledge and experience in our Town government, relationships built up with other municipal, county, state and federal officials, record of accomplishment and commitment to the Town and citizens of Bethany Beach, I believe I have the necessary qualifications to continue to serve as a member of your town council. Therefore, I ask for your vote on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019. Your consideration of my candidacy is very much appreciated.

 

Jerry Morris

 

Q. Pedestrian and bicycle safety remains a concern for many in the area, especially during the summer. What are your feelings on the subject, and how would you like to see it addressed during your term on the council?

A. Pedestrian safety remains a concern because the narrow streets in Bethany were not designed for the foot, bike and vehicle traffic we have today. With other members of the town council, we have approved a number of measures to improve safety. For example, the South Atlantic Avenue and Cedarwood Street projects have been completed. Plans for a pedestrian pathway on Collins Street are out for bids. This summer, we added speed bumps, extra stop signs and solar speed indicators to Collins Street.

Future projects for both North Atlantic and South Pennsylvania Avenues will take into account pedestrian/bicycle/automobile usage, as well as the unique physical characteristics of those streets. All these projects have and will continue to be done with public input and funded out of reserves.

We have coordinated with DelDOT to facilitate their plans to install lighting in the median along Route 1 through Bethany Beach. We have renewed our numerous, previous requests for the installation of pedestrian-activated lights at crossings on Route 1 and now have assurances that they will conduct the necessary study for such a project (to include Kent Avenue) this fall.

Q. With an increasingly extended visitor season and additional attractions, such as Central Park, the Assawoman Canal Trail and the Dinker-Irvin Cottage museum, do you feel the Town needs to be concerned about parking capacity? How would you like to see the issue addressed?

A. There are a finite number of parking spaces in Bethany (1,800 total parking spaces — 800 are for residents and 1,000 are metered). During the months of July and August, our population surges from 1,000 residents to some 20,000 residents/visitors. We cannot increase parking to accommodate that many residents/visitors.

People have suggested that the Town purchase or lease land for a park-and-ride property outside of Town. This would necessarily entail significant costs for any purchase/lease of land, as well as for increased staffing, equipment costs and other related expenses. In addition, we would still fill the 1,000 paid spots, and the increased crowds from such a facility would overwhelm the beach and boardwalk. The infrastructure is not capable of handling any more people. So, in a way, parking is self-limiting, in terms of crowds.

We try to accommodate our own property owners by running trolleys, which in the summer are used by more than 40,000 riders. We have also increased bicycle racks and scooter slots, and we charge fees for shuttle buses from neighboring communities. The demand for parking is considerably lower in the extended season, and I don’t believe it is a major issue now. However, we should continue to monitor the situation.

Q. What are the issues you feel the Town needs to address in the next two years, or beyond? How would you like to see them addressed?

A. There are a number of projects which we have begun that I would like to help shepherd to completion: The park as a centerpiece of the Town will be completed this fall; the almost complete conversion of the Dinker-Irvin Cottage to a public museum showcasing the history of the Town; the resurfacing and pedestrian/bicycle improvement projects on South Pennsylvania and North Atlantic Avenues and Collins Street; continuing to explore the use of pervious paving in future construction; acquisition and preservation of remaining wetlands; funding for a bladder dam at the entrance to the Loop Canal; and a flood gate at Fred Hudson to help alleviate flooding.

We also need to continue to educate pedestrian and bicyclists regarding rules of the road and homeowners regarding their obligation under the Town Code for cleaning and maintaining their swales to help alleviate flooding. We continue to work with other coastal towns and surrounding communities to address with the County Council the ongoing out-of-town development issues.  Together we can continue to make needed progress.

Q. What are your qualifications to be a member of the Bethany Beach Town Council? What else would you like voters to know about you before the election?

A. In my 45-year career as an engineer with the DuPont Co., I was basically a problem-solver. I learned to listen to my customers, develop solutions to problems, review proposed solutions with customers and, with their agreement, proceed with the solution. The skills acquired in that career have been helpful in serving the Town and citizens of Bethany Beach.

When I retired in 2010, I became more interested in the issues and daily operations of the Town, after owning property here for 35 years. I wanted to help where I could. To gain the necessary knowledge I believed I needed to be truly effective, I volunteered and over time served on a number of Town committees, including: Budget & Finance (currently chairman); Charter & Ordinance Review; Non-Residential Design Review; July 4th parade; and the Planning & Zoning Commission. I have been a member of Town Council for four years and am currently Secretary-Treasurer.

To further my education and effectiveness as a public servant, I have earned 40 credit hours in local government planning and leadership classes provided by the University of Delaware Institute for Public Administration for Elected Officials. Based on my background and experience, I believe I have the necessary qualifications to continue to represent and serve all of the citizens of Bethany Beach on the Town Council.

 

Patrick Sheplee

 

Q. Pedestrian and bicycle safety remains a concern for many in the area, especially during the summer. What are your feelings on the subject, and how would you like to see it addressed during your term on the council?

A. Safety of our citizens and visitors is a top issue for the Town and council. It is especially critical during the summer season as our population swells from 2,000 to 20,000 people. During my term on council, we have taken several steps to improve safety. The improvements that we made last year on South Atlantic Avenue and Cedarwood Street provided for dedicated pedestrian and bicycle paths. After much public input, we passed a safety improvement plan for the east end of Collins Street that included additional stop signs, safety signs, speed bumps, as well as a dedicated pedestrian/cyclist path. We plan to have that path completed this fall.

We have worked with South Bethany to lobby DelDOT to provide improvements along Route 1 (Coastal Highway). Through these efforts, we will be getting lights installed in the median from Fred Hudson Road through South Bethany. We are requesting that this be done as quickly as possible, with a commitment from DelDOT that it will be no later than FY 2021.

We will continue our efforts with South Bethany to have DelDOT add additional crosswalks across Route1 with blinking pedestrian crossing lights. We are also requesting to have a crosswalk installed on Kent Avenue at Collins Street and the pedestrian path improved between Collins and Wellington Parkway. I support all these efforts.

During a council meeting concerning my vote on the Collins Street improvements, I stated that I believe that the safety of our citizens and visitors is of paramount concern. I still take that position.

Q. With an increasingly extended visitor season and additional attractions, such as Central Park, the Assawoman Canal Trail and the Dinker-Irvin Cottage museum, do you feel the Town needs to be concerned about parking capacity? How would you like to see the issue addressed?

A. Like pedestrian and bicycle safety, parking is a constant issue for council. (There are a couple of other issues that fall in this same category, and I bet you know what they are.) Bethany Beach was not designed to handle the amount of traffic nor people that we have here during our summer season. Streets are narrow, and parking is limited. We have approximately 1,900 total parking spaces in Town (this includes the first block west of Route 1); 1,000 of those spaces are metered and 900 are permit-only. This year, the Town issued 5,200 permits — both residential and business parking permits. In the summer, there simply are not enough spaces to meet the demand.

Some years ago, the Town created a trolley system that runs throughout the town during our summer months. The system is subsidized by the Town. Last year 40,000 people rode the trolleys. That’s 40,000 people that were able to get into town without driving or parking. I very much support continuing this valuable service.

We all know that some communities outside of Bethany Beach provide shuttle buses to bring their residents into Town. We charge those buses a significant fee to drop off and pick up their passengers. The passengers that ride on those buses do not have to find a place to park, and they provide additional revenue to Bethany Beach. I am in favor of this system and continuing to annually review the fees that we charge.

Fortunately, our parking issues are limited to the summer season. Unfortunately, they are exacerbated by the physical size of Bethany Beach and how popular we have become.

The council always looks for ways to improve our parking problems. I support this effort and every effort to make walking and cycling into town as easy and safe as possible (see my answers to question No. 1 above).

Q. What are the issues you feel the Town needs to address in the next two years, or beyond? How would you like to see them addressed?

A. (1) Maintain our current and proven successful financial approach — this will allow us to complete major capital projects without the need to borrow or raise taxes and fees significantly.  It will also allow us to continue the very important buildup of SERF (Storm Emergency Relief Fund).

(2) Complete the Dinker/Irvin Town Museum and our Central Park — both will be beautiful additions to our Town.

(3) Investigate the use of permeable surfaces throughout town. Our success on South Atlantic and Cedarwood proves the benefit of this type of surface. I am in favor of using these in future Town projects and looking into the viability of requiring them in private building and renovations.

(4) Continue to explore the preservation of the last large parcel of wetlands in Town — similar to what we did when we acquired 26 acres of wetlands where the Nature Center now sits. I support the potential acquisition of this parcel of land, but only if it is practical and affordable.

(5) Approve funding for the upgrades to our public restrooms at the bandstand — these facilities are small, outdated and very difficult to keep clean. We have explored other locations to build public restrooms, and there just aren’t any. Although we are limited in how much bigger we can make the restrooms, I support the improvements that have been designed by our engineers.

(6) Continue our street improvements to include North Atlantic and Pennsylvania Avenues. We had great success with South Atlantic and Cedarwood, and we must continue these street improvements. Council will have to set priorities and assure that we have the funds to pay for the projects. I want to emphasize that it has not been decided where to go next, and nothing will be done without extensive public input, especially from the homeowners directly affected. We know that the improvements will not be identical to what was done on South Atlantic. This is a multi-year project that I support.

(7) Explore all potential improvements to ongoing issues — pedestrian and cyclist safety, Wi-Fi capabilities and flooding. I don’t like just lumping these together, but they are all issues that have been around for a long time, issues that Council deals with every year, and issues that I will continue to look for solutions.

There are many other issues that the Town and Council face and that I will continue to address.  Due to space limitations, I have only identified the major issues.

Q. What are your qualifications to be a member of the Bethany Beach Town Council? What else would you like voters to know about you before the election?

A. My wife, Karen, and I have owned our house in Lake Bethany since 2000. Soon thereafter, I started my local involvement with our homeowner’s association. I am currently a member of our Board of Directors and the treasurer. I expanded my volunteerism to the Beach & Bay Cottage Tour, Operation SEAs the Day and our annual Fourth of July parade. Karen and I have sold T-shirts on the boardwalk and picked up trash along Route1 on Earth Day.

I got involved directly with the Town eight years ago, first as a member and chair of the Audit Committee and currently as a member of the Charter & Ordinance Review and the Fourth of July Parade committees.

For the last two years, I have served as a member of our town council.

I did all this because I love Bethany Beach. I have demonstrated my involvement and commitment to the community and our Town. I have a proven track record and you can see the positions that I have taken on key issues. I have the experience and the knowledge to be an effective member of town council. I listen to people, and take all facts and opinions into account before I make a decision. And I always take the position that I feel is best for the town as a whole.

I thank you for reading this and ask for your consideration when you cast your vote on Sept. 7.

 

By M. Patricia Titus

Managing Editor