Bethany Beach boardwalk summer 2020 (copy)

While some local businesses struggled in 2020 in a summer of mask mandates and limited capacity for social distancing, a busy summer of 2021 is anticipated, and a lack of available employees is impacting the Town's summer operations, as well as those of other local businesses.

Staffing shortages are hitting the Town of Bethany Beach hard, Town Manager Cliff Graviet told the town council at their June meeting.

With 16 seasonal hires last summer, he told the council at their June 18 meeting that he was only able to hire nine seasonal employees for 2021, facing competition from fast-food franchises offering $15-per-hour starting wages and a lack of J-1 visa-holding international student-workers.

Graviet said he was continuing to advertise for employees, and was pushing hiring efforts on a digital front, hoping to attract younger people to apply to work for the Town.

The impact of the staffing shortage has been significant, Graviet reported. The Town hadn’t installed its accessibility-enhancing MobiMats yet this season, he said Friday, adding that he hoped to have that done on Sunday morning.

It also hadn’t been able to utilize the beach cleaner it purchased a few years ago for “a sizeable amount,” despite normally using it three or four times a week in the summer. “Some of the visitors and residents are beginning to notice,” he said of the lack of regular beach cleaning, adding that he hoped to have the work done that night, for the first time this season.

International student workers (copy)

Each summer, international student-workers come to the area from around the world, working at local businesses during their busy season and getting to experience the U.S. St. Martha's Episcopal Church in Bethany Beach hosts a annual picnic to welcome the student-workers. But this summer, the lack of J-1 visa-holding workers is among the factors putting a pinch on local businesses, as well as the Town of Bethany Beach.

Additionally, he said the beginning of the season is usually the time when town staff clean swales, but that has not been done, and Graviet said he had instead had to resort to hiring an independent crew to do the work, which had only started on June 17. He acknowledged that farming the work out was expensive but said he would employ the outside crews to finish the work, versus letting the swales continue to hold water through the summer.

Hardiman praised Graviet’s decision to ensure the work was getting done, by finding alternatives to solve problems, versus not doing anything.

“It’s going to be costly,” he warned.

But Hardiman said it was upholding a “standard of excellence” that people appreciate.

Graviet said he was glad the Town had decided to scale back its entertainment offerings for the summer to just one bandstand performance per week and the weekly Movies on the Beach showing.

“I hate to think what we would have in terms of cleanup” and other related tasks should the usual entertainment schedule have been put in place for 2021, calling for entertainment often being offered three or more nights per week, along with the movies showing and a weekly bonfire event.

Graviet also reported at the June 18 council meeting that:

• The new phone system at town hall had been out for the better part of a week — not due to the new phone system itself, but to a Verizon issue. The cables for the new system have now been installed in the building, with most of the wiring to convert the phone system completed, and that conversion process to be done over the next two to three weeks — work he said he hoped would go seamlessly.

• Around the end of July, six to eight electric vehicle charging stations are to be installed around the intersection of Pennsylvania and Atlantic avenues, on the north and south sides of the street, and possibly in the gravel parking lot the Town has east of the Blue Crab restaurant. The stations will be in existing pay-to-park parking spaces and will remain pay-to-park spots. The installations are similar to those being used in Ocean City, Md., he said.

“I think we can accomplish that,” he said, noting that the idea had been encouraged by the Electrical Vehicle Institute and was contingent on easily bringing electric service to those locations, which he said was something he hoped they could accomplish, “if not in July, then shortly thereafter.”

Vice-Mayor Lew Killmer noted that there has been a push by the State of Delaware to require municipalities and property owners making significant renovations install electric vehicle charging stations, which he said has been resoundingly opposed by the 57 municipalities and county governments that are members of the Delaware League of Local Governments — not over the electric charging stations, but over the idea of it as a mandate.

“I’m glad we’re doing our own and not being forced to,” Killmer said.

Graviet said the project could be used as an example for the DLLG of municipalities doing such projects of their own volition.

• The Town has “hit a brick wall” with DNREC on permitting the proposed landspit restoration project at Lake Bethany. Asked whether there was an issue with staff at DNREC being available to consider the permit application or whether there was opposition to it, he said he wasn’t sure, but that he believed it hadn’t “reached the point where they would have told us whether they have a problem with it.”

He said he was asking Mayor Rosemary Hardiman to contact state legislators to get the project permitting moving before more trees on that property are lost and there is more erosion as a result.

“It would be very difficult to get a permit to restore it as is,” he said, should erosion continue unabated while a permit application languishes in DNREC hands.

• A plan to review the impact on parking changes for street ends and beachfront lots to determine the impact of those changes on parking revenue hasn’t yet been implemented.

Graviet said it has proven challenging to get a clear idea of whether those specific changes are impacting revenue, but that a look at the larger parking picture showed there has been 11 percent more usage of the pay-to-park parking system this year than last year. The beachfront lot data was more difficult to determine, he said, because many people use the separate parking machine systems there. He said he hoped the trend of increased pay-to-park usage continues for the rest of the summer.

In other council news from the June 18 council meeting:

• Killmer reported the recent death of former councilman Jerry Dorfman after a battle with cancer. Dorfman was elected to the council in 2005 and served on it for nine years, including multiple years as the council’s secretary/treasurer, as well as serving on the board for the Bethany West homeowners association.

“He always had a great sense of humor,” Killmer noted of Dorfman, also noting that Dorfman had gone to the movies with Killmer and Graviet once a month.

“He was a fixture around here, and he will be missed,” Hardiman said, adding that she thought Graviet would miss his advice.

• Killmer reported that the Planning & Zoning Commission is working on the latest update to the Town’s comprehensive plan. The work has largely involved responding to the goals in the prior iteration of the plan and seeing how well they have done, and whether they had any new goals or changes for the updated plan.

• The council voted unanimously to set Saturday, Sept. 11, from noon to 6 p.m. as the time for the upcoming town council election. Candidates must file a written notice of intent to run before 4:30 p.m. on July 28. The council also appointed the Town’s election board and slate of election officers, including three new members, all of whom, Hardiman noted, are residents of and property owners in the town. The annual council reorganizational meeting has been set for Sept. 20 at 10 a.m.

• Finally, the council unanimously approved the purchase of a used 2013 Chevy Silverado pickup truck for $27,500. Graviet noted that the council in the current fiscal year’s budget had approved the purchase of two additional vehicles for the Town. One was a “runabout” vehicle to be used by town staff for mail runs, etc., in lieu of the van that the council member use when they travel on Town business, in an effort to reduce the wear on the van.

The second vehicle was to be a pickup that the town’s lifeguards could use. Graviet noted that in the past couple of years, the Town had purchased a used vehicle, but hadn’t known the vehicles’ exact origins or use circumstances, and they did not hold up as well as had been hoped.

This year, because of the economy and other factors, Graviet noted, new cars have been harder to come by and used cars are being sold at a premium. He said staff members had spent time looking for suitable vehicles and had eventually located the Silverado, which he said had very few miles for its age, and has a NADA/Blue Book value of $31,000 or private-sale value of $32,000 to $35,000, to be purchased by the Town for $27,500.

Graviet said the purchase cost was going to be split between the Town’s Water and General Revenue budgets, with the truck that the newly purchased one replaces in the Water Department being given to the lifeguards. That second vehicle has about 70,000 miles on it, he said, and is in serviceable condition.

“They should get a good number of years of use from it,” he said, noting that, in the future, the Town will be storing the lifeguard vehicles over winter to reduce usage and keep them serviceable, versus passing them along to the Public Works Department for use in the winter.