The Ocean View Town Council this week approved a budget for the Town’s 2019 fiscal year that includes a 50 percent property tax increase.
During the monthly council meeting, council members noted that, as previously discussed, assessed property values would be switched over from the current Town-assessed values to that of Sussex County, “which are 50 percent of 1974 appraised values,” said Finance Director Sandra Peck.
“Our revenue-neutral tax rate of .1652 per $100 is equal to $1.78 per $100 using the Sussex County assessments,” she explained.
Peck noted that a letter explaining the changeover had been drafted and would be sent to property owners in the coming weeks or included in the 2019-fiscal-year property tax bills.
She noted that the Town’s budget is revenue-neutral as a whole.
“Individual impact is not consistent across the town because it depends when Sussex County’s assessment was done, which is dependent on when the last sale was or when the last building permit was pulled,” she said, noting that there are more than 3,000 properties within the town. “It is not revenue-neutral to every homeowner, because that’s not possible.”
Prior to voting, Councilman Frank Twardzik apologized again for how the council had previously presented the tax increase issue to its citizens.
“We did a poor job of public relations, and this council pledges to do better in the future.”
Twardzik said he has twice taken an oath to uphold the Constitution — once as a Pennsylvania state trooper and again as a councilman for the Town of Ocean View.
“I knew both positions would require me to make tough decisions in the performance of my duties. Some of these decisions would be unpopular. However, my duty is to do what is right, not what is popular.”
The council has been weaning the Town off of transfer taxes for the last several years, said Twardzik, and the 2019-fiscal-year budget eliminates that reliance.
“All future transfer tax monies will be applied to fund our capital projects and our various long-range trust funds…
“This council, under the leadership of Mayor [Walter] Curran these past four years, has now eliminated that potential problem of feast-or-famine regarding the transfer tax. I believe future councils will look back on this vote and thank us for creating a stable platform for the Town’s operating budget.”
Twardzik noted that, while voting against the tax increase — knowing it would pass regardless — would be the political thing to do, he did not believe it would be the right thing to do for the Town’s financial future.
“Just like when I was in the Bureau of Professional Responsibility, my position required me to make the tough decisions. I did then and I will now,” he said. “I, like you, will pay the new proposed rate as I, too, live in Ocean View. I have since 1991, when my wife and I built our retirement/vacation dream home. I, like many of you, am retired, on a fixed income, and my last COLA was back in 2002. I will have to budget for this increase.”
The council voted unanimously, 5-0, to approve the Fiscal Year 2019 Operating Budget.
Citizens comment following tax increase
With the cost of planned drainage improvement projects — delayed, as some property owners are not providing easements to the Town — being one area of major expense for the Town, Bill Goodwin of Woodland Park asked if easements the Town has already acquired would expire and whether the Town could simply do drainage improvements on properties that have provided easements.
Town Solicitor Dennis Schrader said the easements do not expire and that the issue is the Town doesn’t have all the easements required to do the necessary repairs.
“If you have six properties in a row — you may have property No. 1, No. 2, not have No. 3, have 4 and 5, and not have No. 6. If you’re going to have a drainage project, if you don’t have all six of those, water will back up where the one person hasn’t given us an easement; you go two more properties, and then you have another blockage.
“In the absence of having all of the easements, we can’t actually build the project, because it won’t flow all the way through the course designed by the engineers.”
Goodwin also noted that a company had been to his development to clean out the ditches, and a recent rain still left standing water.
“There are two parts of what a swale does — it allows water to flow off the property to some low point, like a tax ditch or a stormwater management pond, and the other thing it does is accumulates water and allows for downward percolation,” said Schrader. “The ones that were cleaned out, we had photographs that were brought in at the last regular town council meeting and it was almost like someone had jammed cork up those pipes, because they were that full of tree roots and other vegetative matter.
“But it’s part of the Town’s responsibility to keep all that going, once we get all the easements.”
Resident Ray Wockley asked the council if they had any problem with publishing that each member is paid $700 for their service to the Town. All said they would be fine with that number being published on the Town’s website.
“There are people that think you’re getting rich,” said Wockley. “One of the ways of getting rid of problems is lay it all out there.”
Wockley also recommended that the Town use its “highly-trained police force” to stop criminals, rather than to give out speeding tickets, and instead install speed cameras to enforced speed limits.
“Our highly-trained police force is also doing all of those things,” said Curran, who added he would never vote to install speed cameras. “It’s purely a scam to get money,” he said.
“The way we catch the people doing the robberies and the burglaries and the thefts is via traffic stops,” said Ocean View Police Chief Ken McLaughlin. “That is our No. 1 tool for enforcement that we utilize.
“The No. 1 complaint the Ocean View Police Department receives and has received for the 18-plus years I’ve been employed here is speeding. Citizens call every single day, complaining about speeding… Just two days ago, we clocked an individual coming past the police department doing 78 miles per hour in a 30-mph zone. Speed enforcement is a big part of what we do.”
McLaughlin said the Town loses money when it comes to speed enforcement, noting that the Traffic Enforcement Code of Ethics, which he proposed, would prevent the Town from making a great deal of money off of traffic tickets.
“If we exceed that threshold, that money would be given to the State of Delaware,” he added.
Wockley also asked about the department assisting other agencies, noting a recent multi-agency investigation in Seaford resulting in arrests.
“The money that was expended was expended for overtime for the three officers that participated in that particular investigation,” said McLaughlin, noting that it was paid out of grant monies the department received.
Schrader also noted that there is a mutual police aid agreement, which allows law-enforcement agencies to respond with manpower where it is necessary.
Wockley said the police department needs to be reimbursed for calls they are sent to outside of the Town limits. He said a regional police department could be the answer — a topic that has been discussed in Ocean View in the past.
“We have led the parade for a number of years to create a regional police force and spread the wealth. In the meantime, we are what we are,” Curran said. “This is a legislative problem that has to be done at the legislative level, and we are trying to do that. It is a long, slow process.”
“I would certainly support anything you’d like to do to further that cause,” said Wockley.
Chris Carlin of Avon Park asked what specifically has been done regarding creating a regional police department.
Curran said he has spoken to state Rep. Ron Gray and state Sen. Gerald Hocker but will be going back to them again.
“I’m on a learning curve myself on how to walk through the landmines of the State system to get a result.”
Also a member of the Delaware League of Local Governments, Curran serves on the group’s Executive Committee and Legislative Affairs Committee.
“It’s not a paid position, but it’s worth it because it gives us a better perspective as a town. I’m still learning how to make this happen, but mostly it’s also a fight with the county council.
“The state legislators can create all sorts of laws, but if the county council doesn’t come along and agree with us on this, it probably won’t happen. So, we have to work on them too, to get them to understand it’s in their best interest… I’m going to be a big pain in their butt up there. They’re going to learn to not like me, almost as much as you folks.”
Fairway Village residents continue to ask for Town support
Fairway Village resident Berton Reynolds — who is running against incumbent Councilwoman Carol Bodine for the District 4 seat — said his development has not received support from the Town or the State in its dealings with the community’s developer, with which the residents are currently in a legal battle regarding the rental of properties in the development that are still owned by Fairway Cap.
“When we came to the town council back in September, we were basically told there was nothing more you could do,” he said. “We are not afforded the same benefits the same citizens…” he said, noting that the community had to raise more than $100,000 to take legal action against Fairway Cap. “When we presented this same information to our state officials, we were told the same thing.”
Reynolds said the Town needs to do a better job in terms of communicating with its residents, which is why he proposes having an HOA liaison and holding more community forums.
Reynolds also encouraged those in attendance to vote in Saturday’s council election.
Fairway Village resident Hal Soloman also spoke to the council about the development’s unfinished roads, which have yet to be dedicated to the Town.
“The bond is there to ensure the project gets completed, in terms of the roads, sidewalks, curbs, etc.,” said Curran. “Until they’re turned over to the Town, we have no right to take action.”
“There are a lot of things, it seems to me, a political subdivision can do to get developers to do what they need to do. For example, you can hold up building permits,” said Solomon.
“No sir, we cannot,” said Curran. “We also have rules and laws we have to follow.”
Soloman asked Curran to call the developer and ask specifically why the roads in the development are not completed. Curran agreed to call and ask the question.
In other Town news:
• During the meeting, the council was asked why former town administrative official Charles McMullen had recently quit his job with the Town.
“He wanted to. He voluntarily resigned,” said Curran, referencing a recent social media post accusing McMullen and Kercher Engineering of financial misdeeds.
“There were Facebook postings that were libelous and slanderous, and they were outright lies. Those statements that were made about Charley McMullen and Kercher Engineering are totally false,” Curran said. “There is no truth to them whatsoever — end of story.”
Alan Kercher of Kercher Engineering this week told the Coastal Point, “We absolutely have not done anything illegal and certainly are not involved with any embezzlement of funds.” He added of the allegations, “We have met with our company attorney, and we are investigating our legal options.”
• The Town of Ocean View will hold its annual election on Saturday, April 14, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at town hall. Those who are registered to vote with the Town may do so between those hours but must bring a form of identification with them. The District 4 council seat currently held by Carol Bodine is up for election. Bodine is running for re-election to the seat, being challenged by Berton Reynolds.
• The Town has been contacted by Rebecca and Patrick Adams, requesting the Town consider adding “miniature golf” as a permitted use in commercially-zoned areas. In their letter, the Adamses said they would like to create an outdoor recreation area for families at 3 Atlantic Avenue.
• The council voted unanimously to alter an ordinance related to the Capital Replacement Trust Fund, specifically noting the funds “shall be expended only for the repair and replacement of capital assets or improvements determined by a majority of the members elected” when the repair cost exceeds $2,500. The previous cost was delineated at $1,500.
• OVPD Chief Ken McLaughlin said that his department does utilize volunteers, and in the month of March had $6,728 in savings due to volunteer hours expended.
“They’re doing everything from answering the phones to providing janitorial services.”
• The council introduced a proposed ordinance to amend the town code that would allow for an exception to permitting requirements when a proposed use is already permitted and requires no alterations, additional parking or construction, or extension of public utilities or streets.
“If all you’re going to do is change a renter from one company to another, you will not have to dance the dance and jump through all the hoops that you had to in the past,” said Curran. “It will be an administrative procedure that can be done in a day.”
Two readings of the ordinance will be held prior to the council voting on the proposed amendment.