S. Bethany has funding available for park research

South Bethany has enough money available in its current budget to pay for up to $5,000 in expenses related to investigating whether the existing Richard Hall Memorial Park can be developed into something more than a wooded parcel adjacent to the town hall.

That was the finding of the town’s Budget & Finance Committee (B&F) at their Jan. 14 meeting. The committee had been tasked with determining whether the funds were available after the town council put the brakes on a possible referendum on the park proposal until some more research had been done on legal issues and suitability of the site.

Members of the South Bethany Property Owners Association’s park committee turned out last Thursday to get an idea of exactly what the committee would be considering in making its findings for the council and had a limited dialogue on the issue with B&F members.

Councilman and Committee Chairman Timothy Saxton emphasized to them, however, that the committee was considering only whether the town had $5,000 available for the expected legal and engineering work to determine the suitability of the site for a proposed pavilion, playground and exercise stations.

Park committee members had arrived on Jan. 14 with a lower estimate for the cost of that work, saying they had found someone to volunteer some of the services, at no cost, possibly reducing the cost to the town for some of the research from $3,600 to just a few hundred dollars.

However, Saxton said he felt it would be up to the council to determine whether it wanted to accept that volunteer service and, thus, the committee would still only be considering whether the $5,000 was available.

But, he acknowledged early in the discussion, it was already obvious to the committee members that the funding was available. So, it was hardly a surprise when committee members later voted unanimously to that that effect and agreed to pass along both that finding and the offer of volunteer services to the council for further action.

That could lead to an eventual referendum on the issue – possibly this spring, during council elections – in which citizens could be asked whether they support the concept for the park or a more detailed plan.

The full cost of the park has been estimated at anywhere between $100,000 and $120,000, if constructed as proposed.

Park committee member Pat VanCleve noted on Jan. 14, though, that the project could easily be constructed in phases, to eliminate the need to fund it all at once. The project has seen strong and vocal opposition from some citizens, along with its supporters.

Also on Jan. 14:

• Committee members approved continuation of existing budget plans for the town’s various departments, based on a solid revenue picture for the current fiscal year.

• The committee extensively discussed options for long-range financial planning and the town’s reserve funds, citing a need to account for expected depreciation of town assets and eventual replacement needs for those items. With those costs expected only to increase, some committee member said they favored a more aggressive strategy for reserve levels that would better account for future costs.

Fully funding the town’s desired reserve levels would require a 9 percent increase in the town’s property taxes, committee member George Junkin noted, and committee members expressed concern about what that could mean for the town, where comparatively low property taxes are a big draw for property buyers.

“Be careful when you compare South Bethany with Montgomery County (Md.) and Manassas (Va.),” Saxton warned. “We are not them.”

“If we become like them,” said committee member John Rubinsohn, “it will be a disaster for this community.”

• The committee approved an additional $1,400 in funding for beautification projects in the town, on top of an existing $1,200 left in the current year’s budget. The spending is the first portion of what is proposed to be a more extensive beautification effort this spring and later this year, in an attempt to restore and preserve the town’s existing flower beds until beautification can be funded as fully as beautification committee members might like.