With just two months left before Fenwick Island voters may head to the polls to elect council members to four out of seven council seats, they’re already seeing a new face at the council table, as the council voted unanimously at their May 29 meeting to appoint Richard Mais to complete the current term of former councilman Todd Smallwood.
Smallwood resigned on April 27 after selling his Fenwick Island property and thus becoming ineligible to serve. He had served on the council for more than seven years, and his devotion to the town was noted by Town Manager Merritt Burke, who recalled that Smallwood had served on the search committee that hired him as town manager.
“He had a great passion for the beach community, and he will be missed,” Burke said of Smallwood.
While his appointment is recent, Mais isn’t an unfamiliar face for the council. He has previously served on the council, as well as having serving on the Planning Commission and having worked on the Town’s comprehensive plan.
Mais’ appointed term will only run until July 31, as Fenwick Island’s annual council elections are scheduled to take place the next day, Saturday, Aug. 1, from 1 to 5 p.m. at town hall. Four seats, including Mais’, will be up for election this year. The other council members whose terms are expiring are Mayor Audrey Serio, and Councilmen Gene Langan and Roy Williams.
Those wishing to run for a council seat must file at town hall prior to 4:30 p.m. on June 17. The Board of Elections will certify nominees at 5 p.m. that day, with the council holding a special meeting at 6 p.m. to accept the candidate list.
A formal notice of the election will be posted July 10 if an election will be held this year. If four or fewer candidates file, no election would be held.
Burke noted on May 29 that Town staff had recently updated the voter registration list, removing voters who had failed to vote in the last five municipal elections, those who were deceased and those who otherwise failed to qualify. The council unanimously approved the updated list last Friday.
Voters who may have been removed due to not having voted and any new qualified voters must register to vote with the Town by June 30 in order to vote in the Aug. 1 council election. Members of the Board of Elections are also being administered their oath of office as the election season begins.
After-hours parking at town hall considered
Councilman Gardner Bunting last Friday brought to the council an idea that had been considered by the Town’s Business Development Committee: opening up a portion of the town hall parking lot for public parking after town-hall business hours.
Bunting noted that nothing had been found in town code that regulated such parking at present, though the parking bumpers in the lot do specify that they are to be used by those parking at town hall for town-hall business only.
Council members expressed reservations about some elements of the idea, with Bill Weistling saying he felt the spaces along the Community Park should be kept reserved for park users and police only. Williams said that, if the council decided to make such a move, it should be approved for the 2015 summer season only, and stopped if there were issues.
Bunting himself noted that the parking spaces located behind the town hall would likely need to be kept closed to the public’s use, because Town employees and fire company members may need to use them, and mixed public use could make the area difficult to control.
Weistling said also that, if the Town were to open up availability of some spaces, he would prefer they be used by patrons of the local businesses and not their employees. But Serio said she thought it would be difficult to control who used the parking spaces.
Resident Lynn Andrews reminded the council that town hall is sometimes used by outside groups and that allowing public parking at those times might leave no place for the building users to park. Williams suggested a sign could be posted that would state parking at those times was for event attendees only.
“I think it’s worth a try,” Langan said.
Police Chief William Dudley said his only input on the issue was to restrict the back parking area to parking for Town employees only, to ensure access to equipment and parking for police during shift changes would be available at all times.
“There’s nothing in the code to restrict it,” he added, noting that since he’d been with the Town, they had never had a problem with people parking at town hall when they shouldn’t. He said he had been asked in the evenings if it was OK to park there by people who wanted to stop and take a picture of the sunset.
“If someone did park there, there is really nothing there to enforce it,” he said. “There are no restrictions on parking in a public parking lot during certain hours,” he added, suggesting the council could choose to leave the official rules as they stand, or use signage indicating use permitted for town business or employees only.
The council members made no formal motions on the issue and took no vote.
Summertime nautical lighting on hold
The council also opted to hold off on taking action on the idea of lighting up its nautically themed holiday lights on the utility poles during the summer season. The Business Development Committee had also made that suggestion, offering that the lighting would set the town apart from the other local beach towns, as well as enhancing the lighting in front of the town’s businesses.
Councilwoman Diane Tingle noted that the idea of putting banners up on the poles had previously been discussed but that Delmarva Power, which owns the poles, had rejected the idea. She emphasized that the holiday lights really are nautical in theme, rather than holiday-driven, and would help people know they were in Fenwick town limits.
Public Works Supervisor Bryan Reed said he had again talked to Delmarva Power — this time about keeping the lights up — and had been provided with a packet of information about what the company permits on the poles. He said they had suggested it would be easier to get approval for the lights to stay up than for banners to be put up.
Weistling said he was actually concerned about the lights themselves.
“Those lights are pretty old, and we use them two months of the year. And now you’re talking about 12 months,” he pointed out.
Burke emphasized that the proposed new use would just be during the summer, rather than extending to year-round, but Weistling said he was concerned about them still being out in the elements the rest of the year.
Reed confirmed that the lights had originally been purchased in 1996 but had been refinished since then. Only incandescent lighting had been available at the time, but he said the Town several years ago had switched them to LED bulbs, which he said not only light up well at night but substantially reduce the power used.
Serio said she recalled previous discussions of concerns about the wiring of the lights and about possibly needing to purchase new ones just for the holiday use. Reed said the vendor for the lights now powder-coats them for use on utility poles.
Serio asked him to do more research on the lighting options and bring the information back to the council.
Town switches solid waste, recycling collection vendor
The council on May 29 voted unanimously to accept a bid from Waste Industries for the town’s residential solid waste collection and disposal, and its recycling collection. The company was the low bidder on the bundled services from among three vendors, including the current vendor. Burke said the new bundled price, with a three-year contact, would save the town $25,000 over the current contract rate.
The contract with the current vendor, Republic, expires Aug. 31. The new service with Waste Industries would begin Sept. 1 and run through Aug. 31, 2018.
Also on May 29:
• The council voted unanimously to extend a building permit for the Boettcher residence at 9 W. Bayard Street beyond June 28. Building Official Patricia Schuchman told the council that the owner had recently had a health issue that had delayed the project by many weeks but expected it to be completed by the end of the summer. She suggested a six-month extension of the permit would be more than adequate to complete the work. She noted that a recent two-month extension of another permit had come perilously close to not being long enough.
• The council voted to create a separate fund to support maintenance and servicing of the Town’s parks. In the past, the sale of memorial bricks and donations have helped supplement such financial needs, but Burke noted that the Community Park had become weathered and the new Canon Street Park would need some work in the future.
The fund mirrors a street-maintenance fund the Town already has, in which 10 percent of realty transfer tax revenue is banked for street maintenance. Under the park funding proposal, 5 percent of realty transfer tax will be set aside for operation and maintenance of both parks.
• The council also unanimously approved funding up to $25,000 for planned upgrades and repairs to the Community Park, which needs its gazebo replaced, new rubber mulch to replace existing wood mulch (including excavation and removal of soil) and new landscaping. Lighting in the park is to be removed, as it is only open during daytime, and any irrigation needs are to be determined later.
The Town is using a County grant to replace two spring toys in the park with a passive play device. Burke said funding would be coming from funds repurposed from a West Dagsboro street paving project that have not been used. He noted high expectations for transfer tax revenues in the current fiscal year and said he felt some or all of the proposed park projects should be done.
The Town is not eligible for a DNREC 50/50 grant for the existing park areas, as it previously used such as grant there, but it is eligible to use any money approved under the potential grant for the plans to improve the existing grassy area of the park into an area for elementary-age children.
In addition, the former sandbox is being repurposed as a vegetable garden. The memorial to longtime town resident, council member and historian Mary Pat Kyle has also recently been moved outside the confines of the park itself, and Kyle’s daughter Amy took the time on May 29 to thank the Town for making that move and how it was done.
• Burke reported that a DNREC recycling grant will allow the Town to replace the recycling containers on the beach and bring the existing ones back to town hall for residents to use, increasing the total number of containers by about two dozen.
• Burke urged people to contact their state legislators about proposed reductions in funding for Municipal Street Aid, from $5 million last year ($6 million previously) to just $3 million, total, or about $19,000 per town (down from $30,000). The funding in the past has been used to the sidewalk along Route 1 and repave the area in front of town hall.
• Reed said the Town was reminding residents not to use black plastic bags for placing yard waste on the street for collection, as they are no longer allowed by the State. He said Town employees had picked up some bags that had been placed out recently, as the next yard-waste pickup in the town isn’t until mid-June.
• Beach Patrol Capt. Tim Ferry said the lifeguards had gotten off to a great start over the Memorial Day weekend and were fully staffed, with training started for rookies. They will be out on weekends until June 11, when they will work for a half-day, and then start full-day coverage on June 12 for the rest of the summer. He also thanked the council for the approval of purchasing a new ATV to replace a seven-year-old one, which was sold for $1,000, helping offset the $7,000 cost of the new one.
• The council unanimously approved a first reading of a revised sign ordinance that makes slight changes to the square footage permitted for signs, better defines “feather flags” and permits A-frame signs to be used year-round within property lines, instead of just during the summer season. They also approved changes to reduce the number of feather flags allowed but permit flags other than state or U.S. flags, permitting up to one feather flag per unit or per business when a business has multiple units, as well as to permit signs on subdivided buildings.
• The annual town bonfire is planned to take place Sunday, July 5, with a rain date of July 6.
• Serio emphasized that no decision had been made on the issue of freeboard and building height, a week after a public meeting on the subject. She said the Town will advertise any meeting at which that subject is to be discussed. Serio said one of the issues being considered was whether to collect public input by referendum, either binding or non-binding, and that Burke was researching that issue.
Council members were divided on whether they felt the public now understands the issue, after so many had attended the prior week’s meeting.
• The Town recognized administrative assistant Lynn Massey, who retired after five years with the Town. She was given a tribute from the council and a park brick recognizing her time with the Town.