Filing deadline for Bethany seat is May 18

Bethany Beach Town Council Member Bob Degen dropped a bit of a bombshell at the council’s April 15 meeting, announcing his resignation from the council and town committees, effective May 1.

The council’s only non-resident member, Degen cited difficulty in dividing his time between those duties, his work in Internet technology security, his religious studies and his duties as a pastor.

Degen was first elected to the council in 2002. He was re-elected in 2004 by a narrow margin, coming in just ahead of former Council Member and Mayor Bob Parsons in the final tally. That term is not due to expire until September 2006, leaving the issue of Degen’s replacement an important one in the town’s near future.

The replacement process will closely mirror the process used to replace then-Mayor and Council Member Joe McHugh earlier this year, after his resignation. (McHugh was also re-elected in 2004.)

Those interested in serving the remainder of Degen’s term must submit an application to the town manager’s office by 4 p.m. on Wednesday, May 18. Candidates must be at least 21 years old and otherwise qualified to vote in annual town elections.

Once the applications have been submitted, they will be considered by the remaining members of the town council, who will elect the replacement at a special meeting set for 2 p.m. on Friday, May 20.

Previously, such special meetings have included statements from the applicants stating their qualifications and reasons for wishing to serve on the council. The method of election is generally decided at the commencement of the special meeting, with a clear majority of supportfor a given candidate being sought.

Lew Killmer was selected to replace McHugh in the previous instance, receiving a narrow margin of support from council members over Parsons. (Degen was the deciding vote, having initially abstained in the voting.) Parsons said April 16 that he was not yet prepared to announce whether he would seek the newly open seat.

Mayor Jack Walsh said Degen had added dimension to the council and that his seat would be hard to fill. Echoing the feelings of other council members, Harry Steele called the announcement “a shock” and said Degen would be missed.

Also at the April 15 meeting, council members unanimously agreed to pursue an amendment to the town charter that would define the allowable and prohibited uses of the former Neff and Christian Church properties.

The move came in the wake of a previous 3-3 tied vote on whether to accept a $250,000 state Department of Natural Recourses (DNREC) grant that would have tied the use of the Christian Church property to restrictions for open space and parklands.

While council members had supported the concept of the uses, some had objected to the strict restraints imposed by the grant requirements, particularly on the town’s ability to sell it or change its use at a later date.

Steele said he had changed his thinking on the grant, having previously supported it because of the use restrictions but having since decided the charter amendment was a better method for such.

Killmer pointed to Town Solicitor Terence Jaywork’s opinion on the matter, which stated that the restricted use for the property might be a high price to pay for the grant, especially considering the unknown nature of the future and the potential council needs for the property down the road.

The determination of use restrictions and allowances on both properties was passed on to the town’s planning commission, while the charter amendment was to be drafted by Jaywork.

Emphasis was replaced on restricting future changes to the uses to those done with a super-majority of the council members in place at that time. The super-majority would be a margin above a simple majority — currently 4-3 — but its exact makeup to be determined.

While passing such a charter amendment prior to mid-May would allow it to get to the state legislature for the current session, Jaywork noted no need to rush the decision to make that deadline. Planning Commission Chairman Phil Boesch agreed, emphasizing the need to incorporate input from the town council on the issue, as well as from the public.

Council members also unanimously approved a mission statement and charter for the town’s Budget and Finance Committee at the April 15 meeting. It was the first of the anticipated mission statements to be formally sent to the council for approval. The other committees’ mission statements are still pending.

A first reading was held for the town’s proposed swimming pool ordinance. The ordinance is based on the Standard Pool Code of 1999 and was designed, in part, to place all pertinent elements of the town code in a single location. Killmer noted that the draft ordinance still needs a legal review by Jaywork. Steele praised Killmer’s work in developing the draft for the Charter & Ordinance Review Committee.

Council members voted to make a $500 donation to the Beebe Medical Center capital fundraising drive for expansion of emergency and general services. The idea had originally been raised in October 2004 but voting was postponed.

Degen supported the idea, but Steele said he (despite not wanting to be a curmudgeon) was concerned about the town making the donation, saying, “It’s not my money to give away.”

“There are other worthy causes,” Steele added, noting concern that making the donation would be opening the town up to requests from other organizations.

Degen asked whether McClenny, as town treasurer, could verify the funds were available. He did so, but Steele said his concern wasn’t about the availability of funds but instead about the precedent it set. Degen said he felt the precedent already existed, with the town making annual donations to the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company and Millville ambulance service.

The council members voted unanimously for the donation, with Steele abstaining.

McClenny presented the town’s financial report, through March 31, and noting that was also the final day of the town’s fiscal year. He said 110.6 percent of anticipated revenue had been collected, compared to 116.84 percent collected at the same point in 2004. He said 96.64 percent of expenditures had been made, compared to 92.52 percent in 2004.

He chalked the difference up to the town’s water department, saying its revenues had been budgeted anticipating a full year of increased rates versus the six months that were actually taken.

Vice-Mayor and Cultural and Historical Affairs Committee (CHAC) Chairwoman Carol Olmstead reported that her committee had been investigating a possible tax credit that might be available to owners of historical homes in exchange for conveying the exterior of their homes for preservation purposes.

Olmstead said the committee had also taken on a project at the request of Town Manager Cliff Graviet, enlarging some historical photos of the town for placement on the walls of the town hall. The photos are currently on display in public areas of town hall, as well as in its conference room.

Graviet, in his town manager’s report, noted that the town had been the recipient of several homeland security grants, in addition to a nearly $50,000 grant previously given to the town’s police department.

The new grants include $53,000 in funds for increased security for the town’s water system, $16,000 for security at the town hall and $32,000 for public safety and the communications system.

The town has purchased three automatic change makers in a trial effort to expand availability of change in the downtown area. The machines are intended to be brought inside during the winter to extend their lifespan.

Graviet also noted that a recent survey of the former Neff and Christian Church properties had shown that a third of the combined land is federally protected wetlands. That fact will have to be weighed in discussions of their future use.

A workshop to review recommendations for the town’s pedestrian and bicycle safety plan is set for Monday, April 25, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the South Coastal Library.

Graviet said 90 percent of police, lifeguards and public safety employees were expected to return to the town for the summer season.

Marking of driveways on the east side of the town was set to start April 18 and run through April 20. Steele said he preferred the existing temporary markings — two small dots and an arrow — to the planned yellow lines and questioned whether that marking system could be used instead.

McClenny noted that he had received a single comment that the yellow lines were “tacky” but he pointed to the original two-street experimental project that had been regarded as a success for enforcement and ensuring driveway access for property owners.

Graviet emphasized that the project had been designed to aid enforcement and said he didn’t believe the dots and arrow would prove sufficient to indicate where people were allowed to park versus where driveway locations were. He acknowledged that he had also received complaints about the appearance of the yellow lines, though.

Boesch said he would personally prefer to take his chances with having his driveway blocked to having the lines painted in front of his driveway.

Graviet said property owners were not required to have the lines if they wished not to, but builder Mark Dieste said that he, as an owner of several east-side properties, had actually never received any of the notices sent by the town asking owners to indicate their preferred driveway locations.

Council members listened to the concerns about the process but opted not to freeze the anticipated start date, which was looming with mere days left.

Finally, council members unanimously granted the town’s summer boardwalk exercise concession to the single bidder, Cristel Grandel. The beach yoga concession was awarded to its single bidder, Silver Lotus Yoga, with Degen the single opposing vote. Degen explained that he opposed the yoga concession each year on the grounds that yoga is religion.