SBPD vets to have pensions

Veteran police officers of South Bethany will vest in the state pension plan three years from now, following a compromise decision at the March 11 town council meeting.
A main topic of discussion at two prior meetings, council members had debated how many years of prior service the town should “buy in” for their officers.

Police Chief Joe Deloach had presented the advantages of the “Delaware County and Municipal Police/Firefighter Pension Plan” at earlier meetings, and options for buy-in.

As Deloach pointed out, the state pension would guarantee health insurance rates as those available during employment, and officers would receive assistance with prescription drug costs. The state plan also includes a survivor’s benefit (for a spouse), which he called a real morale booster.

Deloach also said towns participating in the state plan typically found it easier to attract experienced personnel.

Jayne said they’d received only 14 applications for the position vacated by Cpl. Lev Ellian nearly a year ago.

“Of those, only two came to be interviewed, and Joe (Chief Deloach) said a lack of a pension plan was the main issue,” Jayne said.

Finally, the pension plan would institute mandatory retirement after 25 years. “The feeling is, higher-priced officers would retire, and we would fill in with younger ones as they leave,” Jayne noted.

“There are many advantages,” he said. “Many towns have put their police into this pension plan, and others, like Bethany Beach, are considering the possibility of doing the same.”

“There is one hook, however,” Jayne pointed out. “To go back and buy prior service is not an inexpensive thing.”

And it takes 10 years of service to vest in the pension — if police officers leave the force before making that mark they receive no pension whatsoever.

Deloach had recognized the cost would be a sticking point, and said he hadn’t bothered to bring council a proposal for purchasing all of the department’s prior service — that would have cost more than $700,000, he said.

Even to buy in 10 years and get everyone vested right away, the cost would have been $352,000. Nevertheless, a majority seemed to favor the 10-year buy-in at the Feb. 25 budget meeting.

However, by the next budget meeting (March 8), the vote was split three ways. Two council members were still strong for 10 years, but another two favored a five-year buy-in, at a considerably lesser $137,000.

The others suggested compromise, and on March 11, council unanimously opted for the middle road — a seven-year buy-in, at $216,000.

As Jayne pointed out, that gave everyone the same time in the state pension plan (the town bought in five years for its municipal workers, two years ago).

• In other business, council followed the county regarding the International Residential Code (IRC) and International Building Code (IBC) with a second reading of an ordinance to that effect.

• Council members also unanimously adopted the boatlift ordinance into law, less than 24 hours before the moratorium on said boatlifts expired. New, residents can now build boatlift/dock combinations (with certain restrictions). Another section clarified bulkhead inspections and appeals.

• There was discussion on various dredging projects, and Council Member Bob Cestone reported on the Sierra Club appeal of the Assawoman Canal dredging permit. The next hearing before the Environmental Appeals Board is scheduled for March 22, 8:30 a.m., Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) auditorium in Dover.

• Council Member Bonnie Lambertson said she’d been in communication with Winergy (offshore windmills) representative Robert Link – allegedly a real “smooth talker.” Lambertson hoped to find a local venue where Link might address the public regarding wind energy.

• Finally, Council Member John Fields applauded the Planning (and Zoning) Commission for taking on the town’s Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP). According to Fields, they expected few changes to the existing plan en route certification, and so had decided to do it themselves, at a considerable savings.