The South Bethany Town Council spent several hours on Thursday, March 25, discussing two projects and their potential impact on the Town’s budget for the 2022 fiscal year.
The two issues — maintenance of the town’s canal system and proposed renovations to the town hall — brought forward a variety of ideas from the council.
Councilman Frank Weisgerber, chair of the council’s Canal Water Quality Committee, gave a lengthy presentation on two main possibilities for cleaning and maintaining the town’s canal system.
Weisgerber told the council that the two choices he would be comparing are a contract with a private company, SOLitude, based in Georgetown, or having the state Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control (DNREC) clean the canals.
The differences between the two choices are mainly in the cost — the SOLitude option would be much more expensive — versus availability. If the Town were to depend on DNREC to clean the canals, Weisgerber said, the Town would be dependent on when DNREC had the manpower and equipment available to do the work.
If SOLitude were to be contracted, the Town would have more control over when the work would be done, and would be more able to address issues when they come up.
That flexibility comes with a cost, however. SOLitude would charge $15,000 per month to bring in equipment to clean the canals, in addition to $1,500 a day to do the work.
“The State charges nothing,” Weisgerber said, but he added that “we have no say on when they come.” The state crew, he said, “won’t bring it here for a week in May and then come back in June. It’s a one-time shot; they wait till it peaks,” he said of the algae and grasses that build up in the canals in warmer weather.
Mayor Tim Saxton said that he, Town Manager Maureen Hartman and Weisgerber “have really struggled with DNREC getting that harvester here. We’re not first on their list.”
Weisgerber said he thinks of the canals “like our lawns. If you treat it early, nip it in the bud, you’ve got it under control.
“I’m not a big fan of letting this … sit there,” he said of the problematic vegetation growths.
Even if the Town were to hire SOLitude, DNREC may still have a role in the canal maintenance, Weisgerber said — namely, helping the Town find somewhere to “offload” the vegetation that is pulled from the canals.
“We’re waiting for a response,” he said.
Saxton congratulated Weisgerber for “thinking outside the box” to solve the annual canal maintenance issues.
After some discussion of how much to add to the 2022-fiscal-year budget for a potential contract with SOLitude, Saxton and the council agreed that $30,000 to $35,000 was a good “ballpark number” with which to move forward.
“It’s OK if your estimate’s wrong,” Saxton said.
Council Member Derrick Abbott said, “The question is, can we add that to the budget, and what do we have to take away from the budget in order to do that?”
Ultimately, the council voted to add $28,000 to the budget, in addition to $7,000 already earmarked for canal maintenance.
The council on March 25 also discussed upcoming renovations to the town hall, which are estimated to cost $281,883, and include an addition to the rear of the building and other upgrades to the front of the building, such as new windows.
Council Secretary Carol Stevenson’s suggestion of turning a staff bathroom into an office for Saxton got mixed reviews from the rest of the council.
“I don’t think it’s a burden for the staff” to lose one of several bathrooms available to them, she said.
There could be a code-compliance issue because the existing number of bathrooms was “grandfathered,” and if one was removed, “at that point, you’d be taking action to make the building even less compliant," said Lauren Wandel, an architect with George, Miles & Buhr.
Council Member Dick Oliver said he felt that Stevenson’s idea “has merit” but wondered if a proposed conference room in the addition could double as an office for the mayor. “That room would sit unoccupied 99 percent of the time,” he said.
Council Treasurer Randy Bartholomew said the Town’s budget “is pretty flexible” at this point.
“We have a good sense of where we are,” he said, adding that he supported Oliver’s idea of a combination office and conference room.
The council also discussed the contents of a proposed survey of town residents that would form the framework of the town’s five-year update to its comprehensive plan. The update would represent the halfway point in the 10-year life of the town’s full update to its comprehensive plan, which is its blueprint for development and has the force of law.
One of the issues the council is considering putting in the survey is what to do with the triangular piece of land adjacent to the town hall, which is currently partially wooded.
Stevenson said she felt the Town should ask residents whether they would like to see amenities, such as additional walkways or bicycle paths, as well as whether the town hall lot should become a park or a playground.
“I think we have a new community here,” she said. “All the local towns are putting in parks, so maybe we need to get on the bandwagon.”
Mayor Pro-Tem Sue Callaway said she favored “a more open-ended question,” such as whether the Town should explore options for use of the property. She agreed with Stevenson that the town’s full update of its comprehensive plan, due in 2026, “is a long time from now.”