Fenwick officials seek to increase borrowing in future for storms

Date Published: 
Nov. 3, 2017

If a coastal storm were to hit Fenwick Island, the town council wants to have to have some financial power ready to go.

The Fenwick Island Town Council recently proposed changing the town charter to increase their borrowing limits. Currently, Charter Section 34 permits the Town to borrow up to $500,000 in one year for current expenses — an amount that hasn’t changed since 1965.

Now, they’re proposing being able to borrow up to “5 percent of the total assessed value of all non-tax-exempt real property.” Such short-term loans would have to be repaid within 10 years.

Right now, the value of 5 percent of all real estate in the town is about $1.5 million dollars, said Town Manager Terry Tieman.

The change could help the Town recover faster in an emergency, such as a coastal storm event, until DEMA or FEMA potentially repaid the Town.

“We’re a coastal town. … We have to accept the fact that we’re susceptible to storm damage,” said Councilwoman Vicki Carmean, who referenced the southern U.S. states and territories crushed by recent hurricanes. “Those places were devastated, and I know there’s insurance money that eventually comes around, but I would feel more comfortable having this behind Fenwick in case something really bad happened.”

“We’re not looking to borrow money right now. This is to have emergency fallback in case we ever” had storm damage, said Mayor Gene Langan.

The change could offer the Town better flexibility in an emergency, but the draft of the charter change only specifies that the money be used for “general purposes.”

When Tieman researched other towns, she said, “Most places were doing 5 percent, and I think for a town our size, that would get you through a pretty big construction project.”

The increased borrowing limit should make things smoother, Tieman said. For instance, when Fenwick built a new police station several years ago, they had to borrow money, repay some of it, and then borrow more to finish the project.

The charter already allows the Town to borrow up to 25 percent of real property value for capital projects relating to utilities or other “permanent municipal improvements.”

The first reading of the change passed on a 5-2 vote this week. Councilwoman Julie Lee said she wanted an amendment requiring such borrowing be only by supermajority vote. Councilman Roy Williams said he didn’t approve of the text as written.

The draft also proposes change to the title from “Borrowing for Current Expenses” to “Short Term Borrowing.”

A public hearing and final vote will be scheduled for a future meeting.

Concern for beach replenishment

Langan expressed some concern this week that scheduled beach replenishment may bite into the summer season.

Although the $17.2 million contract to replenish sand in Fenwick, South Bethany and Bethany Beach is scheduled to begin after New Year’s, Langan said he fears it might not start until spring.

“Unfortunately, they have 240 days to complete the dredging, which, by my calculations, would bring us to the end of summer, and we really don’t want this going on during summer,” Langan said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Philadelphia District has awarded Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company the contract for the project, and officials have said work is expected to begin sometime after the New Year’s holiday.

Dune grass and fencing are part of the project Langan said.

“Unfortunately, it’s a government project, and our hands are just more than tied,” he said. “There’s nothing we can do about it. We’ll keep working with the Corps, and we’ll keep working with DNREC.”

Moratori-ummm

Fenwick’s two-year moratorium on new hotel and motel uses is set to expire on Feb. 26, 2018. Since there has been little to no discussion on hotels lately, Lee suggested that the Town discuss and possibly extend the moratorium.

It was originally prompted by public concerns when the Town increased density for existing hotels and motels.

The moratorium does not forbid the three existing hotel/motel businesses from renovating, although Town staff have yet to receive any permit requests from The Sands Motel, whose owners had originally requested those code changes in order to upgrade the property.

Setbacks in setback vote

After a public hearing and some discussion, the council agreed to table a final vote on a proposed ordinance that would allow some businesses to keep mechanical equipment stored in their property setbacks.

Council members requested to see a diagram at the next meeting that would show exactly how commercial lots and their neighbors would be affected by changes to Code Chapter 160-5.C. (Area Regulations — Commercial).

As proposed, corner business lots would be allowed to have mechanical equipment (such as mechanical pumps, ice machines and more) encroach 4 feet into their 15-foot side setback. Also, businesses with mechanical equipment immediately adjacent to the building could encroach within 6 feet of the rear property line.

Some residents said they were worried that the change would place equipment closer to their homes. But until the council changed the code earlier this year, businesses had no rear setback limitations at all.

When stricter setbacks were proposed (mirroring similar changes is the residential zone), business owners advocated for some leniency in order to maximize floor space and prevent noisy mechanical equipment from having to be installed on rooftops.

The Town already requires screening around most of the ground-based mechanical equipment, and commercial rear-yard setbacks must have a 5-foot vegetative stormwater buffer adjacent to residential properties.

In other Fenwick Island Town Council news:

• An arrest was made in connection to a rash of area thefts, but investigation is ongoing, said Police Chief Bill Boyden.

He estimated that in 90 percent of the cases, cars stolen from had been unlocked or front doors on homes weren’t dead-bolted.

“You can’t leave your cars unlocked anymore. This is not 1972,” Boyden said. “We’ll probably be getting more reports, because so many houses didn’t realize their houses had been entered, because this guy left no damage.”

He begged people to call the police if somebody or something seems “off” in their neighborhood. Police want to know, he said.

• The mayor thanked citizens for volunteering to fill 98 positions on 15 various boards, committees and commissions. Committee chairs for 2017-2018 are: Audit Committee, Gardner Bunting; Business Development, Tim Collins; Beach, Becca McWilliams; Budget, Gardner Bunting; Building, no chair; Dredging, Bernie Merritt; Charter & Ordinance, Bill Weistling; Emergency Management & Infrastructure, Gardner Bunting; Environmental, Mary Ellen Langan; Finance, now a permanent committee, Richard Mais; Pedestrian Committee, Vicki Carmean; Planning Commission, Winnie Lewis; and Technology, Gene Langan.

Audrey Serio will be appointed Board of Elections inspector when the group convenes in summer. Craig Lambertson and Tim Collins received new terms on the Board of Adjustment.

• The council voted unanimously on an unspecified action on a personnel matter after an executive session on Oct. 27. They would not comment on the issue, other than Richard Mais saying it was not regarding a current town employee.

• After a successful first month, local businesses will continue offering discounts and deals at Fenwick First Fridays, on Nov. 3 and Dec. 1.

• The 10th annual Turkey Trot will be held Thanksgiving morning at 8 a.m. Pets and costumes participants are being invited for the 2.2-mile fun-run and walk. There is no charge, but donations will be accepted and commemorative T-shirts will be sold, to benefit local volunteer fire companies.

• The Town’s holiday tree-lighting will be Saturday, Dec. 2, at 6 p.m.

• The Environmental Committee has again noticed rapidly dying pine trees across town, indicating that pine sawyer beetles have carried pinewood nematodes, which spread rapidly along already weak or dying trees. People are being encouraged to remove the dead trees immediately, to prevent further spread.

The Fenwick Island Town Council will skip November’s monthly meeting and convene again on Friday, Dec. 8, at 3:30 p.m.