Bethany meetings enter the digital age

Bethany Beach Town Council meetings are now officially on the record, or rather the computer disc, as the town’s new recording system faced its inaugural use on Friday, Feb. 18. The system was purchased to automatically record meetings in a format that can be more easily accessed and searched.

Mayor Jack Walsh and Town Manager Cliff Graviet noted that all comments made during recorded meetings will be preserved, including those from the public in attendance.

Among the first items recorded was the town’s monthly financial report from Secretary-Treasurer Tony McClenny. For the fiscal year to date ending in January 2005, the town reported 97.23 percent of its anticipated revenues collected, compared to 105.02 percent at the same point in 2004.

McClenny attributed the bulk of that difference to revenues that were originally budgeted for a full year of increased water fees. The increase was delayed until October 2004, reducing the resulting revenues by the increase amount for half the year.

Expenditures were similarly contrasted, with 82.27 of anticipated expenditures made, compared to 78.35 percent at the same point in 2004.

The town further dipped into its budget, but all for a good cause. Walsh recognized the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company for its public safety efforts in the town and surrounding area. The company was awarded a $20,000 contribution. The public was also invited to stop by the fire hall to see the building progress for the new facility.

Walsh noted that the town of South Bethany had agreed to split the costs involved in Bethany Beach’s contract with beach-replenishment consultants Marlowe & Co. Walsh thanked the South Bethany Town Council for joining in on the project and helping to shoulder the costs.

Both towns are included in a single Army Corps of Engineers project area, which is planned for a 50-year reconstruction, pending federal funding for the bulk of the work. That federal funding has been in jeopardy under presidential budget proposals in recent years.

On a related note, Walsh said that he had met with the Sea Colony board of directors on Friday, Feb. 11, to discuss a variety of concerns, the chief of which was beach replenishment.

Walsh said he had engaged in a long discussion of the issue, with Sea Colony representatives proclaiming their interest in getting involved with the neighboring municipal reconstruction projects on both sides of the development. Walsh said he had pointed those representatives to people with whom they could discuss their project.

Other issues discussed with Sea Colony included the neighboring intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and drainage concerns, Walsh said in concluding his mayoral announcements.

McClenny also noted for those in attendance that Council Member Wayne Fuller was recovering nicely from heart surgery in the preceding days. Fuller had asked that well-wishers wait to visit him until he had returned home from the hospital.

The town’s Communication Committee, headed by Walsh, received unanimous approval from the council to proceed with its plan for a town informational brochure and magnet. The brochure will include information on town regulations, parking locations, lifeguard service and emergency telephone numbers, as well as a calendar of events.

Similarly, the planned informational magnet will contain important telephone numbers and other information in an abbreviated format.

The town also took a moment to thank former Planning Commission Chairman Cal Baldwin for his years of service to the town. Baldwin, who lives in Maryland but still attends Planning Commission meetings, was presented with an award in the shape of a miniature totem pole — a replica of the town’s signature landmark.

McClenny, reporting for the town’s Budget and Finance Committee, noted that the committee plans to present the draft budget for the 2006 fiscal year at the council’s March meeting. A public meeting on that draft budget will be held prior to the council vote.

The town’s quarterly tax assessment, which is performed only on properties with significant changes since the previous assessment, netted a change in only one property. McClenny noted that one other property that had previously been missed in assessments had since had its status rectified. One additional property that had previously been designated as exempt was also reevaluated and will now be assessed.

Graviet announced in his town manager’s report that a number of bids had been received for the town’s bandstand project. But not one of the bidders had been willing to guarantee completion prior to the summer season. Instead, the work will start in September or October, he said.

The clock purchased for the boardwalk is also delayed in arriving in the town. Its delivery is some weeks past due, but Graviet said the company supplying the clock had said it had been shipped and should arrive in the next three weeks. Trash receptacles on the boardwalk are also being replaced, to provide a more attractive receptacle than the existing orange and white plastic containers.

Upgrades to signage along Route 26 was set to begin this week, while work to repave common alleys is proceeding into the surveying and preliminary stage over the next few weeks. Graviet said the alley paving would require “substantial participation” from neighboring property owners to rework grades near the newly paved areas.

Finally, Graviet announced that he would be working with Town Solicitor Terence Jaywork to develop a trash policy that could be administered from the town manager’s office.

The move was the result of discussions with the town’s Charter and Ordinance Committee (CORC) as to how trash receptacles and other trash collection issues could be most efficiently controlled by the town, most importantly for the benefit of its workers. The committee had endorsed giving Graviet’s office broad powers to decide and enforce such issues.

Council members voted unanimously to accept on second reading the International Flood Plain Code, deleting references to manufactured homes (which are not allowed within town limits) and inserting language requiring all enclosed areas be fully vented per regulations. The ordinance also updates flood zone maps in the town. (Council Members Harry Steele and Fuller were absent from the meeting.)

It was also unanimous when council members voted to accept the town’s final draft of a Comprehensive Development Plan. The plan was the topic of a public hearing prior to the meeting and will now proceed to the state level for acceptance before it can be formally adopted by the town. The plan is required to be revised every five years and is reviewed annually for any needed changes.

Council members also heard first readings of proposed ordinances regarding the selection of the Planning Commission chairperson and the dissemination methods for the town’s public records.

The first ordinance would bring town code into compliance with state law requiring the commission chairman be selected by the commission and not by the mayor or council. The record ordinance would allow the town to use computer discs to disperse public records, rather than requiring paper copies only. It was an update recommended by CORC.

Both ordinances will have a second reading before they can be voted upon and adopted by the town.

Council members unanimously approved a $177,200 contract with Kercher Engineering Inc. for an engineering study and implementation documentation on drainage work in Bethany West. The extensive survey was designed to provide the town enough information to potentially allow the bulk of work to be done by town employees.

The Bethany-Fenwick Chamber of Commerce was the beneficiary of a $300 donation from the town to its capital campaign. The Chamber is aiming to raise $225,000 for its renovations and had contacted the town requesting a donation.

For its $300 donation, the town can receive a tile engraved with its name as a donor and installed at the site. It was noted that both South Bethany and Fenwick Island had been contacted by the town and professed no plan to donate to the Chamber’s fund, though both paid $100 in membership fees.

Former Mayor Joseph McHugh pointed out that the Chamber also receives regular funding through fees paid by businesses within the town, as well as a portion of the state’s hotel and motel tax. McClenny voiced support for the Chamber, noting its support for town businesses and its tourism base. Council members voted unanimously to donate the $300.

There was also no disagreement on a request to purchase seven ticket-writing units with printers for the town’s parking division. The $27,523 contract was a budgeted item for updated equipment that will allow parking officers to write and record tickets on a device the side of a personal digital assistant (PDA) and transmit the information in real time to computer servers in the town hall.

The upgrade received the recommendations of Graviet and Public Safety Official Ralph Mitchell as something that would speed up the process and provide more infallible data. It will also allow parking officers to verify scofflaws while writing tickets and either provide a written reminder of unpaid tickets or apply the town’s new boot law to immobilize the vehicle.

Council members unanimously agreed to accept the contract for the new devices. The town records approximately 12,000 in violations each year. The existing ticket-writing devices are no longer being supported by the company that provided them.

Finally, council members also unanimously approved a $28,900 contract for irrigation systems for six areas of the town. The range of bids on the contract was $17,000 to $42,000; but Graviet noted that low bids were from newer companies, which offered a different type of fitting from the other, more experienced firms. The proffered bid was the lowest of the higher-end bids, Graviet said.

In closing the meeting, Jaywork requested the council give official permission to Walsh and Vice Mayor Carol Olmstead to sign documents for the closing activities on the town’s purchase of the Neff property. That permission was unanimously granted.

Jaywork said that now that legal obstacles blocking the sale had finally been cleared, the closing was expected to take place in the coming week to 10 days, from February 18. The sale price for the property is $690,400, with $11,000 credited to the town for previously options taken on the sale.

There was also a $10,000 down payment made by the town, leaving $69,000 due at settlement. The remaining funds will come in the form of a $600,000 mortgage, Jaywork said, to be repaid over five years, in annual payments of $120,000 plus 7 percent interest.

The town has announced no formal plans for the property, which is one of the few large parcels of undeveloped land remaining in the town. It has been mentioned as part of the town’s effort at retaining open space for possible recreational use.

The property rests at Routes 1 and 26, adjacent to the former Christian Church property purchased by the town two years ago. The Neff property has been sought after by the town for a number of years.

The sale does place a number of restrictions on the property, requiring the installation of a plaque honoring Bethany Beach’s military veterans, and prohibiting private or commercial use. Another restriction also prohibits transfer to any entity except the state or federal government for a period of 60 years.

McHugh praised Jaywork’s efforts in clearing the legal hurdles involved in allowing the town to purchase the property.