South Bethany council rejects police claims

The South Bethany Town Council has found “no merit” to police officers’ claims of improper promotion, pay and benefits.

In a June 30 letter, the town’s six fulltime police officers alleged that they have not been paid or promoted as they should be.

Since the council’s Aug. 11 rejection letter could lead to possible litigation, Mayor Pat Voveris was mostly tight-lipped about the issue. But she did address the situation at a public meeting later that afternoon.

“Council appreciates and values all the employees. We have always treated employees fairly in both compensation and benefits,” Voveris said. “Council is currently responding to [police department] employees’ demands. We did not initiate this.”

In May, the council approved two years’ worth of back pay for police who did not receive proper holiday pay.

“All of our employees receive paid holidays in our annual companions. In back pay for police working holidays, I personally determined this number, and our finance director verified my calculation,” Voveris said.

“Yet legal demand came on June 30, one month later. … Council recognizes the efforts of all of our officers, but finds no merit in their claims,” Voveris concluded.

The police are paying for accountants LaRosa & Associates to issue, with some assistance from a law-enforcement support agency. Voveris would not say how much the Town has paid for review by Archer & Greiner P.C., since the attorney’s bill hadn’t arrived yet. She promised to update the public as the Town is able.

Residents fear for outsourcing

Someone has figuratively shouted “outsourcing” in a crowded theater, and now people are panicking. Some households have erected signs stating “KEEP OUR SOUTH BETHANY POLICE DEPT! NO OUTSOURCING.”

But Voveris said outsourcing has become a big deal before even being raised as a town council topic.

“Outsourcing was not something in the demand letter. It was not something in our response letter. We have never had an agenda item [or] discussion on outsourcing. I don’t really know where this comes from.”

She stopped short of complying with resident Dennis Roberts’ demand that the Town reject the notion altogether.

In an effort to better understand police costs and needs, the town council recently hired a consultant to study the police department operation, policies and procedures. While South Bethany has its own full-time police department, some local towns, including Millville, have found that hiring the Delaware State Police for additional patrols is a much less expensive way to have a part-time police presence.

“Our council strives and practices to maintain competitive salaries and benefits for all Town employees,” Voveris later wrote in a public email. “We must, however, balance these efforts with our need to maintain fiscal responsibility and a sustainable budget plan to continue forward.”

People also spoke in favor of the police and against outsourcing at the past two council meetings.

“I believe they are the heart and soul of this community,” said Roberts, adding that he couldn’t imagine that outsourcing would provide the level of attention town citizens now receive.

“I think we all need to support the police department by giving them the raises they deserve and the promotions that were promised over the years, and I hope council will address that soon,” said resident Pat Fox. “As you will see from the signs going up in this community, people care about the police department, and we’re behind them 100 percent.”

Voveris discussed recent employee raises, and she later wrote, “This council works to keep our people well-compensated in benefits and money. We are very cognizant that we have good employees, and we want to keep them and we want to maintain a standard here.”

“We’re going to keep our police department?” resident Mike Matera asked Aug. 11.

“We’re working toward an amicable resolution,” Voveris said. “I don’t know how this came up. I mean — keeping a department, outsourcing — that’s not the conversation right now. It’s never been discussed, and it’s not an agenda item. Right now, we’re trying to respond to the demands that have been made.”

She later wrote, “Council has not had any discussions regarding this topic. Council is responsible and considerate and engages in new action only after serious deliberation. We ask that our owners consider this and refrain from quick judgment.”

Property owner Sharon Polansky said it’s premature and inaccurate for what she called “fear-frothing” signs to suggest that there is heavy contention over the topic yet.

“The topic of outsourcing is reasonable to entertain. … Should it be considered, in a town where escalating costs and services of all kinds threaten to exceed our budget [?] … [p]erhaps yes, but this debate has yet to occur, and for partisan views on this topic to suggest there is controversy and contention in our town over this topic is plain wrong,” Polansky stated.

Despite fierce loyalty to the police department, she said, “Instilling fear and compromised safety is not the way to debate this topic.”

In other South Bethany Town Council news:

• The town council recognized photographer and property owner Leigh Dwyer for her service to town and support of the beach patrol.

• The first step in someday dredging the neighborhood canals is to study the seabed. The Canal Water Quality Committee is researching costs for a sediment core sampling to determine true depth to the sand base of the town’s canals.

• South Bethany’s 10-year Comprehensive Plan update was approved by the State. The legally-binding document is designed to help guide the Town in future land-use decisions.

• The topic of street lights is being tackled again — this time by the Planning Commission. In creating a town-wide master lighting plan, commissioners are brainstorming a vision statement and lamp designs, and potentially hiring some outside expertise for the plan’s highly technical aspects.

• Although aboveground power lines are considered unattractive by many, it’s too cost-prohibitive for the Town to ever move them underground, council members said in response to a public question. Moreover, if Delmarva Power didn’t move lines underground during the Route 26 road widening project, they said, it’s unlikely the company will make cosmetic changes to South Bethany’s roads. Plus, they said, it would be more difficult for them to service underground lines in a flood-prone town.

• Citizens asked the town council to consider requiring parking permits for the west side of Route 1, especially where vehicle owners may find free parking. Councilman Tim Saxton agreed that now is the time to proactively consider permits, rather than punitively requiring them when residents of new housing developments west of town come looking for beach parking in a few years.

The South Bethany Town Council’s next workshop meeting will be Thursday, Aug. 24, at 2 p.m.