Dagsboro council divided over building fees

Dagsboro Town Council hangs together. However, it seems the political divide between incumbent council members and the three candidates swept into office as a quasi-party in December 2005 is still a long way from closing.

Incoming Mayor Wayne Baker and Vice Mayor Patti Adams and Council Member Cathy Flowers have voted, almost without exception, as a bloc since assuming office. There have been some 4-1, and even unanimous, votes. But the newcomers have very, very rarely broken ranks. And they have often voted in contrast with the other council members.

Council revisited some of those divisive issues at the April 24 council meeting, as the majority ratified changes to a new gross receipts/rental license fee — just one of several new revenue generators council had adopted one month prior (March 20).

A $1,500-per-unit impact fee to cover future public service needs (by a 4-1 vote, Czapp opposed).
A 3-percent building permit fee, based on $85 per square foot (by a 3-2 vote, Czapp and Engh opposed).
A 3-percent gross receipts/rental license fee (by a 3-2 vote, Czapp and Engh opposed).
However, while only Engh and Czapp voiced opposition to the fee increases on March 20, several developers added their disgruntlement on April 24.
Baker took a comment or two, but then moved to cut the discussion short. “I’m sorry, but we had a meeting on this,” he said. “I truly don’t wish to open it right now.”

There’d been some minor changes to the wording, Baker said, and council was simply acting to ratify those changes.

“We were here two months ago, we decided we were going to have this meeting, we advertised it in the paper,” Baker explained. “We did, I think, all the things we were supposed to do.”

However, Ocean Atlantic’s Mark Chura (lead man for the big 336-residence Highland on Pepper Creek project) said it was more difficult in Dagsboro than in other towns to get a look at drafts of pending changes ahead of time. “It’s hard to get access to what you’re talking about,” he said.

Even one council member (Engh) had protested on March 20 that council should have tabled discussion on one of the fees, because council members didn’t have an actual draft before them.
(Baker countered that they’d gone over the particulars in discussion, and that should suffice, and Engh eventually dropped the argument, settling for an opposing vote.)

RDM’s Mike Lynn (lead man on the 97-townhouse Chapel Crossing Project) raised his hand to speak after Chura finished, but Baker moved to close the discussion.

The agenda for the April 24 meeting was full, he said — they hadn’t intended to devote much time to the topic. “It has come up — if you want it on the agenda for next month, we’re certainly willing to do that,” Baker offered.

However, he relented after Czapp asked that they open the floor. “I think it’s a legitimate question, if I’m asked to spend X amount one day, and suddenly I’m being asked to spend two and three times that amount,” Czapp said.

Miken’s Mike Cummings (lead man on the Cummings and Clark commercial project, 36,000 square feet of office and retail) said the fee increases had hit him hard.

“This has been a big impact on me,” Cummings said. “I borrowed just about everything I had, and this just about put me under — five days before my final approval, you hit me with hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees.

“And my hands are tied,” Cummings said. “If I back out now, I’ll have about 100 people suing me.

“Not all developers are mega-millionaires,” he reminded council.

“We don’t think developers are mega-millionaires, but I hope you don’t think Dagsboro is even a millionaire,” Adams responded. “We can’t go broke and belly-up as a town, either.”

“No, but you guys are going to have to plan over a few years to become a millionaire,” Cummings countered. “You’re trying to do it in a single year.”

Baker shook his head, and answered with a rueful laugh. “The sad part is, you talk about future planning — that should have been done right here, at this table,” he said. “We inherited this.”

Baker had sketched some projections for population growth on March 20, and outlined the extra police officers and town staff Dagsboro would need to hire to support it.

He’d also discussed new town buildings, perhaps a town park and a common-practice emergency reserve fund. Baker predicted major budgetary shortfalls down the road, unless the new fee structure started building toward those goals in short order.

Engh again questioned his projections on April 24, but at least for the time being, the fee structure stands.

However, Baker said the town was willing to revisit the $85 per square foot basis for the 3-percent building permit fee. Several builders had suggested that their actual costs were much lower than $85 per square foot — for instance, Lynn said his costs for building townhouses were closer to $65 per square foot.

According to planner Kyle Gulbronson (URS), on retainer with the town, $85 per square foot (the International Building Code benchmark) was based on a regional median. There were no specific numbers for Delaware, he pointed out.

Baker said the town had contracted engineering firm Davis, Bowen & Friedel (DBF) for a third-party assessment of the building permit fee structure, and he invited the builders to submit additional comments to them.

In other business:

Council adopted an ordinance regulating permitted hours for construction activity. Czapp and Engh pushed for 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday, but were defeated 3-2. They conceded the point, and joined their colleagues in a unanimous vote for 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays. The ordinance doesn’t affect homeowners or and family members working on their own homes
Town Clerk Stacey Long later said, as of April 28, more or less half of the residents at the 300 or so existing homes (or businesses) along the water mains had connected. After May 9, residents (or business owners) will have to pay a $3,000 impact fee to connect. Until May 9, it’s free. However, it’s more involved than simply calling a plumber (there’s an inspection to coordinate with Artesian Water, for one thing) and people need to go through Town Hall. Call 732-3777 for more information.