Frankford to venture onto world wide web

Frankford residents will soon have a new way to find out information and interact with the town, with the Frankford Town Council’s approval this week of a contract with a Web site developer who will create an official town Web site.

“It’s a great idea, putting us in the 21st century,” Town Administrator Terry Truitt said of the notion of finally having a town Web site.

The proposal for the service came from the same provider used by the Town of Dagsboro for its Web site, and with the 3-0 vote of council members on Monday, the site is expected to be up and running by Nov. 1.

Councilwoman Crystal Holland, who had reviewed the proposal with Truitt, said the Web site would make it easier for users to find information, with the ability to post town budgets, meeting minutes, ordinances and event information online.

Holland – who recently replaced Greg Johnson on the council after he resigned for health reasons – said they had also discussed possible future availability of water billing online, perhaps with the ability to pay online. Additionally, the town’s comprehensive plan, permit applications and more would be available on the site.

“I hope free up some of Terry’s time in providing all of that,” Holland said of Truitt.

Holland said the town would monitor usage of the Web site during the first year to determine if it was worth continuing into a second year. Residents were invited to give their input on the site in the coming weeks, during the development process.

The council on Monday also approved, 3-0, the purchase of a loader frame with detachable bucket to replace an existing one, for which the town received $1,200 in salvage. That will make the net cost for the purchase $4,095.

Town officials said the bucket would prove useful in snow removal, curbing, future beautification work and planned debris removal on Delaware Avenue, among other uses.

Town receives funding for paving project

At the Oct. 4 town council meeting, council members also accepted a $25,000 grant from transportation funding through state Rep. John Atkins and Sen. George Bunting. The funds will go toward the McNeill Drive paving project, for which the base contract was awarded last month.

Truitt noted that all three bids for the project had come in high, with only $68,000 budgeted for the work. That would have left the project short on curbing and other features beyond the basic road surface.

She said the winning contractor had offered to hold his price for 90 days, until the town could see whether addition funding might be forthcoming. The town had then appealed to Bunting and Atkins, who came through with it.

Law enforcement gets a focus

Atkins was on hand on Monday night to accept the council’s thanks for the grant, but his attendance at the council meeting was for another purpose: to thank the town council and Police Chief William Dudley for their aid in enforcing the state’s nuisance and abatement law, which recently closed down two drug houses located just outside town limits.

“This was only the third time that I’m aware of that it has been used in Sussex County,” noted Atkins, who was a cosponsor of the legislation. “I’m aware both of these properties are outside of town limits, but a lot of activity was being brought into town.

“I think the residents of Frankford deserve a safe community, without these drug havens outside of town,” he added. “And I want to thank the town council and the chief for the support they personally gave to the task force.”

Dudley offered his own thanks, to the Delaware State Police and the Governor’s Drug Task Force, for working with him on the issue. He noted several successful raids in the prior week and a half, and said he expected more to come.

“The Attorney General has really been taking this seriously,” Dudley said. “It’s been beneficial, even though those two properties are outside of town. This is a problem that has affected us every day for years.”

Dudley also reported that the town has been awarded a $188,000 federal Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant that would allow it to hire a second full-time police officer to augment Dudley’s current one-man force. The town council will have to decide whether it wants to do so and whether it will accept the grant toward that purpose.

The COPS hiring grants provide 100 percent funding for approved entry-level salaries and fringe benefits for three years for newly-hired, full-time sworn officer positions, or for rehired officers who have been laid off or are scheduled to be laid off on a future date as a result of local budget cuts. Up to $298 million was appropriated for the program during the 2010 fiscal year, nationwide.

Councilman Charles Shelton also noted on Monday that he had concerns about children playing on Honolulu Road, in the road itself. He said traffic appeared to have slowed down some on the road, but motorists were often being forced to wait for kids on bikes and skateboards to move out of the way.

Shelton said he would like the council to consider adding a large blacktopped area at the town park, to accommodate bicycle riders and skateboarders in a safer place.

Railroad crossing relief coming soon

Atkins also noted on Monday plans for DelDOT workers to do work in the coming month to provide temporary relief for motorists from the poor condition of the railroad crossing on Daisey Avenue.

“I’ve gotten more phone calls on that than anything else in the last seven or eight years,” he noted. “There is a misconception that DelDOT does the repairs,” he emphasized. “The railroad company does, and they only do seven or eight a year.”

Atkins said the railroad company currently has 20 to 25 crossings on their list for repair ahead of Daisey Avenue – which pushes a permanent repair back to somewhere around the year 2012. In the meantime, Atkins said, DelDOT had agreed to do some temporary relief work, which he said he expected to begin toward the end of the month or the first part of November.

He also emphasized that he is available to constituents who have issues they want him to address or other input.

“I have breakfast every morning at Bailey’s Seafood,” Atkins said, “and a lot of residents are coming over there.”

The council on Monday also approved, 3-0, a $33,000 contract for additional engineering costs after the initial completion of the town’s new water plant.

The further approved the expenditure of $4,700 for a replacement pump motor for Well No. 2, which officials said had developed a burnt wire in the first weeks of the new plant’s operation. They said the failure had likely been due to the amount of time the pump was idle over the years before it was recently made operational. The pump motor was replaced Oct. 2.

The council voted 3-0 to approve $495 for asphalt repairs on Mill Street and Frankford Avenue, where town employees had torn up roads to do water-system repairs. Truitt said the town was required to restore state roads to a particular standard in such cases.

Council considering grant policy, cable franchise agreement

Having received a request for a donation to a breast-cancer charity, Frankford Town Council members on Oct. 5 considered what kinds of grants the town might wish to give in more general terms.

Town Solicitor Dennis Schrader noted that other local towns have policies on grants, with many making grants only to 501(c)3 non-profit organizations that are located near that town and whose services benefit the town itself, such as fire companies.

“You may want to give some thought as to whether you want to adopt such a policy,” he said, noting that he had personally already made a donation to a breast cancer charity.

The council had also received a letter from the Mediacom cable company, ahead of the expiration of their franchise agreement with the town, which will happen in 2013. The company is required to address the franchise agreement 30 to 36 months before its expiration, so it had requested the town convene on the issue of franchise consideration and negotiation.

Schrader noted that a group of coastal communities has already hired a law firm specializing in that type of agreement and negotiation to negotiation with Mediacom on their behalves.

“They were either unhappy with or wished to have another provider,” Schrader explained. “And they felt by unifying in one process, their negotiating strength would be greater.” He suggested that it might be appropriate for Frankford officials to speak to Bethany Beach Town Manager Cliff Graviet or Ocean View Town Manager Conway Gregory about their effort.

“There is cost involved, though,” he noted of the hiring of the law firm.

Shelton said he supported a stronger negotiating hand. “I know people are having a lot of problems with Mediacom,” he said, “with the cable going out, lines blowing down.”

The council consensus was to look into possibly joining the existing group of municipalities in their negotiation process.

Stricter comment process enforced at meetings

Finally, the council offered a brief period for comments and questions during a newly enforced “Citizen’s Privilege” segment of its meeting.

Those who interrupted the council discussion and reports during the rest of the meeting were met with a firm rebuke from Schrader: “The opportunity to speak will be given to you during Citizen’s Privilege,” he said. “No one will respond to you until then.”

When that time did arrive, resident Greg Welch again took the opportunity to complain to the council about inconsistent and late water billing, saying his reading of town ordinances said it was up to the council president to direct how often and when water bills were mailed.

With a 59- to 67-day meter period, Welch said of his own bills, it averaged 60 days before billing information was put into the system. He said he was also billed consecutively for several months and then not billed for several months.

A state auditor had informed the town, he said, that billing more than 30 days after a meter reading was not good business practice, producing a loss of interest for the town and more room for inaccuracy.

Resident Jerry Smith, too, had complaints about the water billing, again objecting to what he said was a more limited time to pay the bill after receipt, due to what he said was up to seven days of delay in them being mailed after being dated.

Smith pointed to the 30-day payment period on the bills and said he felt that should take into consideration any delays in actually mailing the bills.

But Schrader pointed out that the billing ordinance already says payment is due 30 days after the date the bill is mailed – not 30 days after the date on the invoice.

That, he said, would be 30 days from the postmark date on the envelope, regardless of what the invoice date is.