Town to send out survey on financial matters

After much deliberation, the Ocean View Town Council voted to send out a survey to residents in order to gain public input on solutions to the town’s present financial situation. The survey, which would be sent to the 2,600 property owners in the town at an estimated cost of more than $4,000, according to councilman Roy Thomas, would be money well spent. He maintained that all taxpayers have a right to have their voices heard by the council.

“Is it perfect? No. But people are saying town council is not listening,” he said.

Mayor Gordon Wood asked what the rush was in sending out the survey on its own now and why council could not save money by sending out the survey with tax or water bills. Thomas maintained that the “let’s do it next year” attitude will cost the town more in the long run.

“I saw it three years ago, two years ago and last year,” said Thomas. “If we delay by one year, that costs the town $450,000. It’s tax increases or budgets cuts – it’s simple. We have to make ugly choices. If we did the maximum cut on the first four items, we would still be short by about $1 million and would need a 45 percent tax increase to make up the difference. I want to be able to look people in the eye and say, ‘We tried to get your input.’”

Citizens present at Tuesday’s council meeting, however, expressed concern that the survey is its current state is not user-friendly and asked why telephone or in-person surveys would not work. They also said that the numbers presented in the survey seemed skewed and would be confusing to people who don’t regularly attend the meetings.

But Thomas maintained that sending out the survey to tax properties was the best way to get everyone accounted for and to give everyone a fair chance of having an opinion concerning the town and its financial future. He stressed that the survey results will not be binding on the town council.

Wood said that although he would vote for the survey, he would like for it to have a “comment” section at the end and wanted three more days to look at the questions more closely.

“The questions raise questions,” Wood said. “I guess I’ll vote for it, but I’m a skeptic.”

The council voted 4-1, with Wichmann voting against, to go forward with sending out the survey after Wood and Thomas work out a final draft.

In other news from the Jan. 13 council meeting:

• The council voted unanimously to appoint Henry Pilot to fill Warren Van Scoyoc’s vacancy on the Board of Assessment for a one-year term. He joins Carolyn Lewis and Vincent Bertone. They also voted to keep BoA compensation at $50 per member for each day of service.

• Council voted 4-0 (with Councilman Richard Nippes rescuing himself as a member of the Historical Society) to allow renovations to the Shore House, located at 39 Central Avenue, by the Ocean View Historical Society (OVHS). The monies to renovate are not town funds but will be raised by the society. Wood asked that the OVHS have the money in the bank to complete each portion of work before any work is completed, to which the council members agreed.

Renovations will include door systems that are ADA-compliant, painting, converting the downstairs bathroom to be ADA-compliant, replacing windows and installing a new HVAC system and other minor interior cosmetic changes.

• Town Manager Conway Gregory stated that the town has about $34,000 in their Emergency Services Enhancement Fund and can decide which organizations to contact about applying for the money. Gregory suggested that volunteer fire departments be granted money based on the numbers of calls they make to the town to Ocean View residents – “544 calls were made to Ocean View from the Millville Volunteer Fire Department, 27 by Bethany Beach, 23 by Roxana and five by Selbyville,” he said.

Wichmann asked for clarification about that and asked if any of that money could be used to hire an emergency management coordinator for the town. Town Solicitor Dennis Schrader said those funds were earmarked for funding volunteer fire company efforts.

Wood suggested that Wichmann talk to the area fire companies to clarify his questions regarding donations and boundaries and get back to Gregory with any findings before the council decides anything about which companies can apply for the grant money.

• Wood brought up the possible drainage project in West View and the council decided they would talk more in detail about it at their Jan. 27 workshop.

“Something has to be done,” said Wood. “We have to kick-start it now. I don’t know how much money and from where...” He said the first step would be getting in touch with DNREC to see if the ditch blamed by some for the community’s drainage problem was illegally filled and what action would need to be taken if it was. “If not, what other actions have to be taken?” he asked rhetorically. He said it would be in the best interest of residents in that area to attend the Jan. 27 workshop.

• Police Chief Ken McLaughlin reported that police responded to 162 calls for service in December and that the department as a whole had completed 60 hours of training. They will also be hosting a narcotics training Jan. 23 and 24, and several officers will be going to Maryland at the end of the month for specialized training.

McLaughlin also mentioned three grants the department has received: two Emergency Illegal Drug Enforcement (EIDE) grants and one State Aid to Local Law Enforcement (SALLE) grant, to cover training costs. He said they have plans to keep trying to utilize grant money rather than use the police department’s operating budget for training purposes.

McLaughlin also reported that, because of the dissolution of the Citizen’s Auxiliary Patrol unit by the town council, $30,000 in Homeland Security grant program funds has been withdrawn by the Delaware Emergency Management Agency.

• Wood also asked and council approved that they have a planned special meeting of council on the first Tuesday of the month in April rather than the second, with a single agenda item being approval of the budget. Due to the town’s election schedule, a meeting held on the first Tuesday in April could possibly put a new council member in the position of approving the present council’s budget. The seat currently held by Thomas is up for re-election this spring.