The Bethany Beach Town Council at its Feb. 13 council workshop reviewed the most recent draft of the Town's budget for the 2018 fiscal year. A public hearing on the budget is planned in March.
Finance Director Janet Connery said the draft calls for $9.4 million overall, with $7.7 million of that in operating costs, $600,000 for capital projects and $488,000 for debt repayment.
She said the projected revenue had been derived from adjustments to the prior year and the fact that revenue was “coming in healthily,” up $511,000 — much of that from the rental tax increase the council approved last year. She said property taxes were also coming in well, with transfer tax revenue “very healthy” and building permit fees showing a lot of construction going on.
“If you were wondering when the housing boom will die off — well, it's not this past year.”
Connery said the only proposed change in taxes or fees for the 2018 fiscal year is an increase of $148,000 in trash-related fees, up 18 percent — from a $50 per property per year increase that was due. “If we don't adjust it now, the sanitation reserves will drop near the recommended minimum in about two years,” she said, adding that the increase should last them for five to six years.
She noted that the Town's service is 10 percent cheaper than competitors but offers more pickups and more services, and includes yard-waste pick-up, which costs extra for others. Additionally, the Town will be going to weekly curbside recycling pick-up, starting in the next few weeks.
“There's no comparison to what we provide here,” Town Manager Cliff Graviet said of the competition.
The capital budget includes $200,000 for paving projects, $66,000 for a new aluminum roof for the lifeguard/comfort station (which has constantly lost shingles due to the beating it takes on the ocean, Graviet noted, and will be fully replaced for the first time), $100,000 for the initial park design, $140,000 for development of the Town's new Blackwater site for equipment and document storage and office space.
Planned capital expenditures in the Water Department are for budgeted replacement of equipment, she noted.
Vice-Mayor Lew Killmer cautioned the council on assuming that Municipal Street Aid funds will be forthcoming from the State this year. Connery said the $200,000 paving figure included both Town funds and anticipated State aid.
The Delaware League of Local Governments “is working on that,” he said. “It's still intact, but it's based on the former governor's budget, which has already been ripped up.”
Minor capital expenditures in the draft budget include replacing computer servers that will no longer be serviced in the next year or two, replacement of handheld ticket-writers and a police camera system.
Funding is also increasing for the Town's Poseidon Festival, which will expand this year from a weekend to a full week, in the week before Memorial Day, and is being organized again with the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce and the Bethany Beach Ocean Suites hotel. The Town will feature an expanded entertainment lineup for the bandstand.
Connery also offered an update on the Town's Storm Emergency Relief Fund (SERF). By the end of the 2018 fiscal year, March 2018, she said, it will hold more than $1 million. The council has yet to set a goal figure for the fund, which is being set aside for storm-related costs not including beach replenishment. A $5 million figure has been discussed in the past but no figure was ever formally adopted.
Killmer questioned whether there was some point at which the fund would get large enough that it would garner negative attention from state legislators, who might decide that a town with such a large reserve might not need funding from the State as much as some others.
“There's an easy answer,” Graviet said of any such questions: “Boardwalk replacement.”
Connery said the boardwalk is essentially “uninsurable,” because the damage would be excluded as wind damage. Graviet said the most recent estimate for its replacement was more than $8 million, “And that's an old estimate,” he emphasized.
He noted that Rehoboth Beach has $6 million in reserve.
“Both communities are being proactive that way.”
Council considers need for video record
Also on Feb. 13 the council considered setting a policy for the use of audio-visual equipment for Town business — essentially a policy on what meetings should be livestreamed online, recorded with video or recorded with audio only.
Gordon admitted that the issue had arisen because of request he'd made, to have the video of a recent Board of Adjustment meeting put online due to public interest.
BoA Chairman Vahan Moushegian Jr. said board members had been “upset” that the meeting was being recorded and put on the Town website without them being aware. He said the town council couldn't currently legally compel the BoA to have the recording put on the site without an ordinance change, because it is an independent body. But the BoA can decide on its own whether it wishes to have the meetings livestreamed or recorded for later viewing.
“The board members do not object. Personally, I find it useful, especially for the minutes. They were upset they were not informed it was being done.”
Graviet noted that some town committees meet in the upstairs meeting room, which is equipped only for audio recording, which cannot be scanned for content, unlike the livestreamed video recorded in the council chambers. The council holds its regular meetings in the council chamber, but its workshops and special meetings generally are held in the conference room.
At present, Planning Commission meetings (also held in council chambers) are being both livestreamed and recorded with video for later viewing.
The council expressed a general consensus that the “statutory committees”— the Planning Commission and Board of Adjustment — should, ideally, be recorded with video and livestreamed, but that the BoA would have to decide for itself.
Councilwoman Rosemary Hardiman suggested that having other committee meetings, as well as the council workshops, recorded could be useful to citizens. But the council consensus was not to add video recording to the meetings held in the conference room — to stick with the audio-only recordings.
Moushegian recommended that if recording was expanded to other committees, the Town make sure to inform the committee members or their chairpersons first.