Bethany adopts $8.4M budget, parking and water hikes

The Bethany Beach Town Council at its March 20 meeting unanimously approved the budget for the Town’s 2016 fiscal year, which begins April 1. The budget calls for $8.4 million in revenue, with $7 million going to operating costs and $1.4 million to capital projects and debt repayment.

Council Treasurer Jerry Dorfman noted that that budget before the council, including proposed increases in parking and water use rates, had been recommended for adoption by the Budget & Finance Committee.

The fee increases add 25 cents per hour to the parking rate, raising it to $1.75 per hour, with commensurate increases in the costs for daily and weekly parking passes and for shuttle buses from outside communities. (Rehoboth Beach recently raised its metered parking rates from $1.50 per hour to $2 per hour.)

Again citing a lack of increase in the Town’s water rates in seven years, Dorfman explained that the proposed 21 percent increase still keeps the Town’s rates below that of private water companies serving other local towns — most recently having been about 50 to 75 percent of those private water suppliers’ rates, he said.

The average water customer is expected to see an increase of about $55 per year in the water bill as a result of the increase.

The council was split last week over the issue of a proposal in the budget to include $40,000 for the purchase of two large outdoor holiday trees for the Town.

Mayor Jack Gordon said he didn’t feel the expenditure was “appropriate or needed,” as part of a budget in which the parking fees were being increased to cover a $165,000 shortfall in summer revenue and while the Town is evaluating ways to fund a storm emergency relief fund.

“I consider it a frivolous expense,” he said of the trees. “The town looks beautiful during the holiday season, and I don’t believe it will significantly enhance the appearance of the town or allow people to enjoy the season more.”

Councilman Chuck Peterson said that, while $40,000 might be too much to spend, he felt the Town could get similar holiday trees for $22,000 or less from a different vendor.

“Most of the decorations between town hall and the beach are gone now,” he said of the holiday decorations once used by the town. “It’s important we do something between here and down there.”

Councilman Bruce Frye said he felt the Town needed to support the business community during the winter holiday season, “However, I find it hard to justify the $40,000 price tag. I would be happy to compromise on $22,000.”

Councilwoman Rosemary Hardiman agreed, stating that $40,000 was too much, but that she felt “The business community would favor something to draw people down there at that time of year. It would be beneficial for them.”

Dorfman, though, said he agreed with Gordon, noting the two decorated trees that are displayed each year in town hall. “Almost every pole has something referencing the Christmas holidays,” he said of other Town holiday décor, “and we cater two parties each year … for adult and kids.”

“It’s not that we’re not festive,” he said of the Town’s existing décor, reiterating that he felt $40,000 was too much to spend with the funding of the storm emergency fund still to be accomplished. Asked if he could support the compromise figure of $22,000, he said he could.

Gordon reiterated his opposition to spending anything on the trees.

“We’re talking about December. You talk about supporting the shoulder season. I could see how the business community could be enhanced by something we’d done then, but the end of December is not a shoulder season. There are very few businesses open. A few restaurants are open for a few days here or there.

“I don’t see this as assisting the business community at all, in doing anything. I think even $22,000 is an excess of money to be spending on things like that when we have other projects going on that I think funds could be expended on more appropriately.”

The council voted unanimously to remove the $40,000 amount from the proposed budget, and council members then went on to approve, on a split vote, that a maximum of $22,000 be spent.

On a side note, Town Manager Cliff Graviet also told the council that an estimated $12,000 for two portable restrooms to be placed at Oceanview Parkway and Wellington Avenue, near the handicapped-accessible beach ramps, was being put on hold, due to the extended permitting process required to get approval from the State. He said that, if the units are not approved, the funding will revert to the budget.

The council then voted unanimously to adopt the proposed budget, with the amended $22,000 figure for the holiday trees.

Dorfman’s report for the first 11 months of the Town’s 2015 fiscal year, given at the March 20 meeting, reflected 109.8 percent of budgeted revenue having come in and 88.7 percent of budgeted expenses having gone out, both having increased from last year’s figures, at 101.3 percent of revenue and 87.7 percent of expenses at the same point in 2014. The Town’s revenue has continued to exceed its expenditures.

Town pays for

replacement vehicles, mobile command center

Dealing with additional financial matters, the council on March 20 also voted unanimously to approve a $69,000 supplement to the 2015-fiscal-year capital budget, for funding needed to replace two Town vehicles that had been totaled, as well as the purchase of a used command center for the Town.

Graviet noted that the two vehicles in question were a nearly new Chevy Tahoe police vehicle that had caught fire and been burned beyond recovery, and a 12- to 14-year-old vehicle used by the Town’s code enforcement department that had been struck head-on on Route 26. The Town was compensated by its insurance company with $62,000 total for both vehicles.

Additionally, following up on the council’s decision to purchase a largely unused mobile commence center from the Town of Smyrna last year, the supplement included $10,000 for that purchase.

As discussed prior to that 2014 vote, the command center would primarily be used as a base of operations for Town officials, should the town be evacuated, such as in a storm. The “mobile office” was originally purchased by Smyrna for use as a mobile command post for its police department, at a cost of $90,000, and had been driven only 100 to 200 miles, and largely stored inside, before that Town decided to sell it.

During the October vote, Graviet had said that, looking at significant storm events that had happened up and down the East Coast, including Hurricane Sandy, he recognized that in some cases municipalities had lost their town halls and were not able to establish any sort of presence in their towns after a storm, some of them forced to work out of police cars.

With the mobile office outfitted as an office — and not as a mobile command center, he emphasized at the time, with a nod to emergency command facilities inside the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company’s fire hall — he said it might not only prove useful for events such as triathlons but, “more importantly, be available to use in the event of any significant weather event,” in which case it could be used by the Town to “help people deal with the bureaucracy” that can come into play after such events. He said the vehicle would continue to be kept inside when not in use.

The council voted unanimously last Friday to approve the total $69,000 supplement.

Town goes blue with new flags, readies maintenance yard

The town council unanimously approved a change to the official Town flag at their March 20 meeting, opting to do away with a fade-prone white background and substitute a shade of blue that had been shown to hold up better in the weather.

Gordon said the Town of Bethany Beach symbol displayed on the flag will remain the same. Only the background color of the flag will change.

“It’s not just the background, but the logo and lettering that fades away rapidly,” Killmer said of the existing white-background flags. “The blue seems to hold up extremely well.” He added that there was no historical note of what the colors of the Town flag should be, so there will be no departure from any official color scheme. “I think these will be much more appreciated by the public,” he said.

The council last week also approved a contract for $40,690 submitted by John Macklin & Son Demolition Inc., for demolition and disposal of an old poultry farm house and removal of debris, brush and scrub trees from a recently purchased 7-acre parcel on Blackwater Road in the Clarksville area, which carries a Frankford mailing address.

Graviet said the property was to be used by the Town as an alternative maintenance yard once the existing structures, debris and brush are removed and cesspools and pits are closed. The Macklin & Son bid was the lowest of three received for that work to clear the lot. Some of the dirt currently being stored on the Town park property at Routes 1 and 26 is to be used to fill in the cesspools and pits, he noted.

Also on March 20:

• The council unanimously approved the awarding of concessions for summer-season classes that include yoga, Pilates, aerobics, boot camp and kids’ exercises classes in the beach and boardwalk area on summer mornings. All of the providers are licensed and insured, though half of them are new this year, Councilman Chuck Peterson noted.

Additionally, there will be a new “junior artist” program offered this summer, with five-week mid-morning and afternoon sessions that will be offered several times this summer. Peterson said the art class could be moved to the Bethany Beach Nature Center, as needed.

• The council recognized DelDOT inspector Jantzen Burton for his work in overseeing the Town’s Streetscape project. In awarding a certificate of appreciation, Gordon praised Burton for his interaction with the public, saying he had gone over and above in all of his duties.

Graviet noted that the recognition also reflected that the project is “very, very close” to its completion, with the core of the project completed to specifications and the final layer of paving having been done last week. He said only a punch-list of items regarding the paving and some construction and finish work was yet to be done and that it was anticipated in the next few weeks.

Graviet said final striping was part of that work, and that because of that still needing to be done, he anticipated that the intersection at Atlantic Avenue and Garfield Parkway would remain impacted by lane closures until Easter weekend.

• The council presented its annual grants to the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company and the Friends of the South Coastal Library.

• Frye reported on his attendance at the American Shore & Beach Preservation Association’s conference in Washington, D.C., in February, saying that he had come away believing that the state is taking the most cost-effective approach to protecting its shorelines, with high dunes and wide beaches.

He added that while Bethany was on the vanguard regarding “freeboard” in setting minimum building start height at 18 inches and base flood elevation is a “minimal standard,” that it was expected that a 2- to 3-foot freeboard would be recommended at some point in the future.

Further, he said, a Coastal Communities Caucus had been formed as voting bloc on coastal issues, such as beach replenishment, and U.S. Rep. John Carney (D-Del.) had been encouraged to join the group.

The next anticipated beach renourishment work in Bethany, Frye said, would be in 2016, but it is, as always, subject to funding approval. This coming fall could see another budget battle over the issue in Congress. But Frye said that, if funding is found, a late 2016 or early 2017 renourishment project could come to Bethany and other Delaware beaches.

• The council unanimously approved a contract submitted by Delmarva Veteran Builders LLC to complete the Town’s new pump house as part of its new water tower system. The original estimate for the cost of this final phase of the project was $350,000 to $500,000, but bids earlier this year, Graviet said, had come in at in excess of $865,000. The town engineer had been asked to redesign the facility, with the resulting bids having come in at between $402,000 and $585,000. Low bidder DVB had been recommended.

While the new water tower could be put into use sooner than the anticipated pre-summer operational date, Graviet said that if it was, it wouldn’t work the way officials had wanted, which is as a system moving stored water between the older standpipe and the new tower. He said he expected the system to be operational, as designed, before the summer season begins.

• Graviet reported on plans to install this week a new digital sign on the guard house on the boardwalk at Garfield Parkway. The 14-by-52-inch sign will be used to disseminate information on concerts, event cancelations and other community information, he said, with town staff able to change it remotely.

He said they had looked around for a sign that was not digital but hadn’t found any suitable alternatives. The new sign is located on the side of the guard house, not on the face that is most visible from Garfield, he emphasized, and the plan is to use more “bland” colors in the display, he added.

• Gordon announced plans for the Bethany Beach Nature Center to again host its Earth Day events, this year on April 18. He said plans for the 2015 event included a related film to be shown at town hall, with a shuttle transporting people between the locations.

• Graviet reported that the new town trolley route has been established and a new flyer is being published to provide route information to users. Additionally, he said, the Town has produced a brochure containing information answering frequently asked questions about its decorative plantings and will also have a dedicated page on the Town website for such information.• The former “change” booth once operated by the Town’s parking staff will again be used by the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce this summer, Graviet said, but will be placed in a slightly different location, due to the reconfiguration of the bandstand end of Garfield Parkway as part of Streetscape. He said the group plans to man the booth for additional time this summer.