Council expresses concern over possible loss

At the Nov. 1 town council meeting, Ocean View Town Manager Kathy Roth reported from her attendance at an Oct. 31 Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) taskforce meeting, saying she found the meeting “not real encouraging” regarding the department’s financial crunch and its impact on municipalities.

She said Sussex County Administrator Bob Stickels had been told that it would be easier for the state to help solve the financial shortfall by taking away the county’s real estate transfer tax funds versus other proposed solutions, including an increase in service fees.

Roth said she personally felt the next move was for the state to also take away the transfer taxes that go to municipalities, including Ocean View — the major source of funding for many Sussex County municipalities.

Council Member Norman Amendt noted that the impact of such a move would affect everyone — particularly though the volunteer fire and ambulance services, which are funded partly through donations from the county.

Roth noted that other options for funding the shortfall had been discussed, including increased toll fees or additional toll roads. She recommended town officials keep a close eye on the situation, possibly preparing for a trip to Dover to address legislators in person.

Mayor Gary Meredith said he encouraged citizens to get involved in the issue, to address their concerns to their legislators, letting them know that they feel it’s a bad situation and would not vote for anyone who would vote to support the taking of the transfer taxes.

Council Member Eric Magill said he felt an increase in service fees would have a lesser impact on residents than the taking of the taxes by the state, adding that he felt local property taxes would double or triple overnight to meet the resulting local shortfall if the taking was authorized.

Roth said representatives of New Castle and Kent counties at the meeting had commented on Sussex County’s low taxes but had seemingly failed to appreciate that the difference in taxes was made up for by higher service charges in the south.

At its Nov. 1 meeting, the council also held a first reading for an ordinance permitting alcohol sales in the Village at Bear Trap Dunes, to allow the operation of a wine-and-cheese shop.

The town’s Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) approved the use with conditions, limiting the shop to 2,086 square feet in size, requiring it to comply to all regulations concerning alcohol sales, noting it would be owned by Bear Trap and operate in its designated commercial area and noting it would be expected to lessen traffic in the town by allowing patrons to make those purchases without leaving the subdivision.

Council Member Wade Spanutius questioned the wording of the ordinance, noting it included liquor and not just beer and wine, but attorney Rob Robinson (substituting for Town Solicitor Dennis Schraeder) said liquor sales licenses included all three forms of beverage.

Magill asked whether residents of Bear Trap had had any input on the issue. Meredith said no objections had been presented, nor had there been any from residents of neighboring Country Village.

Magill said he was concerned residents of Bear Trap would be plagued with additional traffic from non-residents who also would take advantage of a liquor shop in that area. He noted that the original intent of the shop was to serve Bear Trap residents.

Meredith replied that the shop was close enough to the entrance to the development that it would not increase traffic to the residential areas.

Also at the Nov. 1 council meeting, first readings were held for:

• An ordinance designed to correct a conflict in the current town code regarding conformity on bulk and parking requirements for residential uses in the GB general business district, removing R3 district references to single-family and two-family homes.

• An ordinance altering the timeline for submission of preliminary subdivision plans in order to give administrative officials more time to prepare packages prior to Planning and Zoning (P&Z) consideration.

Council members also passed a series of minor measures on second readings, unanimously approving:

• The annexation of the property of Regina O’Rourke, comprising 1.11 acres bordering the Hunter’s Run subdivision. The annexation was recommended by P&Z, and O’Rourke thanked council members for their approval.

• The suspension of normal contract requirements during a state of emergency as declared by the governor, when the contract amount is between $7,500 and $22,500. The move also allows the town to be properly reimbursed by emergency agencies for such expenses.

• A related ordinance allowing town employees to be reimbursed for food expenses incurred as the result of being required to work during a state of emergency, again allowing the town to be reimbursed for those expenditures.

The council deferred to its upcoming workshop discussion of a request for a water line hookup from Kercher Engineering Inc. (KEI) on behalf of Charles Zonko, for property at 96 Atlantic Avenue.

Magill noted the request was similar to the previously approved request of the train-themed restaurant being built on the eastern side of the town, including an apparent need for a fire hydrant at the location.

If the request were approved, the town, he noted, would require the property owner to get appropriate easements, while the town would likely negotiate with Tidewater Utilities to obtain the town’s lower rate for the water connection. The connection would also cause the road to be torn up again, he said.

Meredith said he didn’t feel the situation was a win-win one for the town, while officials were uncertain whether the fire hydrant would truly be required. They opted to defer action on the issue so they can request written comments on the issue from town water engineer Chuck Hauser, as well as to check with the state fire marshal’s office for sprinkler and hydrant requirements.

Council members informally rejected a request for a donation from the Sussex Community Swim Team (SCST), indicating it did not meet the town’s requirements for donations.

Speaking to those requirements, Roth noted that the team is not a local organization (it is based in Milton, whereas she said most Ocean View youths would belong to a local swim team), is not a tax-exempt organization and does not benefit a significant portion of the town’s citizens.

Roth noted that such non-qualifying requests are traditionally presented to council but not voted upon, in order that citizens present at the meeting are made aware of the request and can choose to donate (or not) on their own.

The SCST uses the swim facility at Howard T. Ennis School in Georgetown and organizers noted in their letter to the town $10,000 in expenses for each swim season, which is met through donations, fundraisers and an auction, among other sources. (For more information, contact Richard J. Abraham at P.O. Box 398, Milton, DE 19968.)

Roth reported some 80 percent of the town’s anticipated revenues collected, while only 37 percent had been spent, at the halfway point in the town’s fiscal year. She said the town was “pretty much on track” financially.

In her administrative report, Roth noted 97 percent of the town’s property taxes had been collected for the year. She praised the work of the town’s public works department in the cleanup from the recent nor’easter, particularly noting their efforts to notify property owners of downed trees and trees that had fallen on structures.

Also at the Nov. 1 meeting, Police Chief Ken McLaughlin reported that the town’s police department had received a $13,775 grant for digital camera systems to be installed in the town’s two new patrol cars.

Finally, council members unanimously appointed Cliff Mitchell to the town’s long-range planning committee, noting that his professional resume includes work as the chief accountant and comptroller for the Brookings Institute.