South Bethany council approves town survey

South Bethany Town Council members on March 11 approved a town survey that will be mailed out to citizens in the coming weeks, in an effort to learn what the townsfolk desire for the future of their town.

“What we’re trying to do is to get feedback from our community,” explained Mayor Jay Headman, who thanked both the Planning Commission and Councilman George Junkin for their work on the survey.

Junkin, who led the discussion, noted that the survey had already gone through two workshops and received numerous comments.

“I want to talk to the comments that have been made. One of them said that we needed a letter to introduce [the survey], and Jay wrote such a letter,” explained Junkin.

“As part of the mayor and town council’s efforts to improve communications with our property owners, we wanted to create a town survey that would obtain feedback from you on how we are currently doing and also ask your opinion regarding future town needs,” read Headman’s letter.

Junkin mentioned multiple comments from Councilwoman Sue Callaway, including a recommendation to change the survey’s rating system from 1 to 5, to 5 to 1, with five meaning residents are “very satisfied” and two representing “unsatisfied.” Junkin added that 1 would represent “no opinion.”

The issue of possible future undergrounding of utilities is one that was in the draft survey, but council members last Friday decided to keep the question out of the final survey, due to uncertainty about possible cost estimates for such a project. The draft question estimated $7,000 per property, based on an estimate for the installation of underground utilities within town.

“We never arrived at a cost,” noted Councilman Jim Gross, served as the chairman of the Planning Commission during the development of the survey. “You can say ‘cost undetermined,’ but to suggest $7,000 – we don’t have that substantiated at all.”

Others council members objected to not including a hard figure for such work in the survey.

“I think what has to be clear in here is that it’s at the homeowner’s expense. It’s not at the town’s expense,” responded Councilman Tim Saxton. “I think you need a dollar value there.”

“I think it needs to be a number,” agreed Headman. “This is a substantial potential cost. To me this is probably the most expensive proposition on this whole list, and we need to identify what the cost is.”

Councilman Bob Cestone said he had calculated the $7,000-per-household cost estimate after meeting with a representative from Delmarva Power, who gave a cost by footage.

“What I had done was, I sat down and figured out how many feet of the streets that do not have underground now and I came up with a total footage, multiplied that out and came up with a total figure for Delmarva Power,” he explained, adding that the Delmarva Power representative said that other utilities – cable television/Internet and telephone – would cost approximately the same.

“So I tripled it and I took the number of units on all of those streets and I divided it into that total figure, and that’s how I came up with $7,000,” Cestone concluded.

With concerns about the accuracy of such a number, Callaway offered to do research and call utilities to come up with a cost estimate. In the meantime, the council determined that the questions regarding undergrounding utilities would be withheld from the survey, since a firm figure was not known.

The council voted unanimously to send out the survey as amended.

April 15 hearing set on Ocean Drive repaving

The town council voted unanimously on March 11 to approve a resolution to schedule a public hearing on April 15 at 6 p.m., which will give official notice to the citizens of the town that the council proposes to make pavement improvements to Ocean Drive that exceed $100,000 in cost.

“Whenever the town wants to spend over $100,000 on a capital improvement project, it needs to hold a special election,” explained Headman. “The town is also very clear on the guidelines on how we have to do that. Our goal is to have the election in May, during the town election.”

The resolution noted that Ocean Drive is the last street in South Bethany that has a tar-and-chip type of paving, and that making improvements will improve vehicle and pedestrian safety, as well as the overall aesthetics.

Beach replenishment delayed in South Bethany

Headman reported that he had spoken with Tony Pratt of DNREC about the dredging phase of the beach repair replenishment in South Bethany, which had been scheduled to start March 15. The dredging has now been rescheduled to begin June 1 and end July 1.

“The way it will be done is they will do a certain section at a time, and that will be taped off. They will have people down there, making sure people are not around it,” he said of the active dredging area. “The good news is that it will be done,” he added.

The dredging project in Bethany Beach was finished in February and has since received attention from DNREC employees, who moved the dredged sand around the storm-damaged beach to make repairs.

Council approves revisions to employee heathcare

Also on March 11, Saxton brought up a proposed revision to the town employee healthcare plan, which received narrow support from the council at their February workshop, on a vote of 4-3. He said that the Budget and Finance Committee had agreed to look at the issue again and take suggestions from those who were opposed to the change.

“I think all the plans have their merits,” Saxton said. “At the end of the long discussion, the recommendation was to go with the plan that was passed at the February workshop. It is really a council decision at this point. We feel really strongly. We put our best foot forward and were rejected most times,” he said of the committee.

“I don’t see any reason why we should spend another two or three hours talking about this stuff. We have other things to do than just keep discussing things over and over again,” responded Junkin.

Councilman John Fields motioned that council approve the healthcare schedule he presented that evening.

“All town employees will have the same cost sharing options, except those employed after March 1, 2010, who will be required to pay the difference in the monthly cost between the basic healthcare option and a more expensive option of their choice,” he said.

The council voted 6-0 to approve the change, with Saxton abstaining.

Also on March 11:

• Town Manager Melvin Cusick asked residents to help keep labor costs of the town’s new yard-waste collection service down by placing yard waste in large compostable brown paper bags, as opposed to plastic bags. As of Jan. 1, yard waste can no longer be comingled with trash in Delaware, so the town has contracted someone to pick up residents’ yard waste once a month. The compostable yard-waste bags can be kept with the yard waste materials, instead of being required to be removed, as is the case with non-compostable plastic bags.

• A public hearing for the proposed 2012-fiscal-year budget will be held on Saturday, March 19, at 1 p.m. Saxton said he would give a brief presentation on the draft at that time.