Fenwick candidates get the last word


Six candidates are vying for four openings on the Fenwick Island Town Council in the election to be held on Saturday, Aug. 3. The candidates are Mitchell ‘Mike’ Houser, Eugene Langan, Julie Lee, Richard Mais, William Weistling and Roy Williams. Polls will be open from 1 to 4 p.m. at the town hall, located at 800 Coastal Highway, Fenwick Island. For more information, call town hall at (302) 539-3011.

The Coastal Point asked each of the six candidates a series of four questions. Their answers appear below, in alphabetical order. (Per longtime Coastal Point editorial policy, letters to the editor regarding this election do not appear in this issue, to allow the candidates to have the final say before the election.)

 

Mitchell ‘Mike’ Houser

 

Q. What skills or characteristics will you bring as a new/returning member of the Town Council?

A. My career in business with both E.I. duPont de Nemours & Company Inc. and W.L. Gore & Associates Inc. has focused on new product and new business development. Coupled with my educational background, I have significant experience in bringing solutions to both technical and social success. I listen to neighbors, colleagues and constituents. I am approachable at all times. Most importantly, I bring a strong level of common sense and clear thinking to council. As a fulltime resident, I will attend all council and assigned committee meetings

Q. What do you think Fenwick Island should focus on as it sets out to define how the town wants its commercial areas to look?

A. Several key focal points are in the future for Fenwick Island:

• Addressing sea-level rise

• Managing and vectoring commercial zone development, including architecture and aesthetics impacting adjacent residential zones 

• Dredging waterways 

• Continuing emphasis on public safety/pedestrian and vehicular traffic

 

Q. Do you think Fenwick Island should/needs to raise property taxes? Why or why not? If yes, how do you think the Town should proceed toward a tax increase? If no, what other ways could the Town raise revenue?

A. I am a retiree, and therefore quite sensitive to tax issues. Obviously, tax increases are a delicate subject. Fenwick Island recently underwent property reassessment for first time in decades. The solution lies in a commonsense balance between increases in operational fees, including hotel, licensing, building permit, rental and parking fees, and property taxes.  Fenwick Island property taxes have been low historically and should remain in the low range in the future.

 Q. What other issues would you like the Town to address in the next two years?

A. I would like to reinforce past practice of reserving beach street-end parking for residents only at all times.

 

Eugene ‘Gene’ Langan

 

Q. What skills or characteristics will you bring as a new/returning member of the Town Council?

A. I have been a member of the Town Council for 10 years and have been a member of the Budget Committee and Emergency Management Committee for 10 years. I have been a member of the Charter & Ordinance Committee for seven years, the Technology Committee for six and the Beach Committee for three. I was vice mayor for three years and have been mayor for four.

I formed the following committees: Finance Committee, Technology Committee, Dredging Committee, Pedestrian Safety Committee and Ad Hoc Commercial District Planning Committee.

The following are projects I have been involved with in my time on the Town Council:

• Co-managed with Bill Weistling the construction of the Public Safety Building (building came in on schedule and under budget)

• Oversaw the complete rebuild of Town website, working with the State of Delaware (website can be used on PCs and handheld devices, 34,000 unique visitors per year)

• Instituted Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, parking kiosk and Park Mobile

• Contracted with cloud service to ensure security of Town’s data

• Participated in negotiation of EMS contract, fixed rate for five years

• Involved in restarting ACT (Association of Coastal Towns)

• Worked with federal, state and county officials in opposing seismic testing and offshore drilling for oil.

• Worked with federal and state officials in beach replenishment

• Improvement of cell coverage in town

• Spearheaded the cleanup after Hurricane Sandy

• Vice-chair of ACT (Association of Coastal Towns)

Q. What do you think Fenwick Island should focus on as it sets out to define how the town wants its commercial areas to look?

A. We have started this process in the Spring 2019 by hiring an architect to come up with a plan for future development and renovation of the commercial district. Community input is vital to the success of this project, and his report will be available in the fall.

Q. Do you think Fenwick Island should/needs to raise property taxes? Why or why not? If yes, how do you think the Town should proceed toward a tax increase? If no, what other ways could the Town raise revenue?

A. No, I do not think Fenwick needs to raise property taxes because we have other revenue sources available to us. The increase in revenues will be primarily due to the new hotel currently under construction.

Q. What other issues would you like the Town to address in the next two years?

A. Current projects under way in Fenwick are the dredging of Little Assawoman Bay and sidewalks. My future project is to work collaboratively with all Delaware coastal towns and the state and federal governments to mitigate coastal and bay flooding.

 

Julie Lee

 

Q. What skills or characteristics will you bring as a new/returning member of the Town Council?

A. I am a fearlessly determined woman who does not back down when faced with a challenge. This serves me well as your councilwoman. I am passionate and enthusiastic about my public service and completely committed to Fenwick Island.

An effective communicator and confident public speaker, I enjoy talking to people, and am comfortable speaking before large audiences and in small discussions. I am not afraid to speak up and challenge my fellow council members. Equally as important, I am a good listener. I follow through when homeowners have questions or ask for help. I persevere, I never quit.

An economics degree from the University of Virginia gives me the knowledge and background to clearly grasp town finances and effectively establish fiscal policy as I serve on the budget and finance committees.

Fenwick Island has given so much to my family over the decades. I have a sense of duty to preserve and protect it for decades to come.

Q. What do you think Fenwick Island should focus on as it sets out to define how the Town wants its commercial areas to look?

A. We all want a successful and attractive commercial district in Fenwick Island.

The Village of Fenwick is a wonderful example. Safe pedestrian walkways and nice places to sit and visit are laid out among unique shops and nice eateries, with parking on the side. All done within the current zoning regulations.

The consultant hired by the Town has some marvelous ideas, and we will take advantage of his expertise. However, we should focus on what is realistic. The Town can only present design guidelines. A serious discussion with commercial property owners must be had to find out what they are willing to do. Then we can begin to work with them.

As I knock on doors and speak with residents, they have expressed concern that deference is being given to commercial interests. They do not want to see businesses getting special treatment. We should not be in a rush to change our ordinances. Any changes must be thoughtful and fair, and should not benefit the commercial district at the expense of the residential property owners.

And of course, we want Dairy Queen to remain open forever.

Q. Do you think Fenwick Island should/needs to raise property taxes? Why or why not? If yes, how do you think the Town should proceed toward a tax increase? If no, what other ways could the Town raise revenue?

A. I care about the Town’s bottom line. We cannot continue our current level of spending without taking in additional revenue. And we want to, and should, begin projects such as sidewalks and dredging. We have not raised taxes in 15 years. We must look for additional revenue sources, and taxes will be part of that discussion. Any candidate who tells you otherwise is not being honest.

The property revaluation was necessary. However, it will cause some people to pay more in taxes this year. I am concerned about the impact of a tax increase, especially how it would affect some of our longtime property owners on a fixed income. This is why any discussion of a tax increase must include a discussion about tax relief or tax deferment for qualifying seniors. And if the council decides that a tax increase is necessary, it should be phased in gradually, incrementally, over an extended period of time.

We must also look at every available revenue source. Increasing parking fees, for example, and extending the hours for parking would bring in revenue from people outside our community, lessening our burden. However, some members of council have been unwilling to do so. We must be willing to look at all possible revenue sources.

Furthermore, we must watch how we spend our money and contain our spending. I am committed to fiscal responsibility. We will need to spend wisely and make tough choices. Council must carefully scrutinize all discretionary spending and may need to reduce the amount spent on new capital equipment.

Q. What other issues would you like the Town to address in the next two years?

A. Completing the sidewalk project on the west side of Route 1 should be a top priority. This is a safety issue, and it is long overdue. Our residents and visitors must be able to safely reach the crosswalks without having to walk in the street or navigate rough, uneven terrain. Our businesses will benefit when pedestrians can more easily access our shops and restaurants, requiring less parking.

I will continue my campaign for more inclusion in town governance, especially on our town committees.

One resident chairs our most powerful committee, having done so for 12 years, and serves on eight other committees. At the same time, many new, talented, willing residents are being excluded from participating on even one committee.

When a small group of longtime, like-minded residents was appointed to serve on the Ad Hoc commercial district planning committee, Vicki Carmean and I asked that an additional person be added to provide some fresh thought and different perspective. No one was added.

We must work toward inclusion. There are many intelligent, thoughtful, residents in our community. We must use their brain power and creative thinking for our benefit. The town is losing by not taking advantage of this resource.

I recently came across a brochure published by the town several years ago, in conjunction with DNREC and NOAA, stating that “The mission of the citizens of Fenwick Island is to maintain and preserve the unique quality of life that identifies our town and sets it apart.” We must constantly remind ourselves of this mission with every decision we make.

I am asking for your vote on Aug. 3.

 

Richard Mais

 

Q. What skills or characteristics will you bring as a new/returning member of the Town Council?

A. With a total of four terms on the Town Council at different times since the late 1980s I have had the opportunity to work with all the aspects of our Town government, including Beach Safety, several years as treasurer, currently as the vice-mayor, the Planning Commission, the Finance Committee and various other roles. I’ve lived year-round in the area since 1986, and in the Town of Fenwick Island since 1992. My wife, Rebecca, and I have raised two sons here and I’ve been involved in many different community organizations, including the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company, the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce, the River Soccer Club and, most recently, the Center for the Inland Bays. I’m very task-oriented and attempt to resolve issues to everyone’s satisfaction. I enjoy living here and want to make sure it continues to be a great place to live!

Q. What do you think Fenwick Island should focus on as it sets out to define how the Town wants its commercial areas to look?

A. I currently chair the Town’s Ad Hoc Commercial District Planning Commission, for which we have hired an expert consultant to tackle many of the issues that have arisen lately with the re-development of the Sands Motel property and in anticipation of the re-development of some of the aging commercial properties in our Town.

We are in an information-gathering phase with the committee and look forward to making recommendations to the Town Council this fall. We are looking at many important issues, including parking, building heights, sound and visual buffers, as well as aesthetics. We are also trying to anticipate the future challenges and impacts of global warming and sea-level rise and how they will affect our commercial (and residential) district.

Maintaining a balance between our residential areas and our commercial district is difficult since they are right on top of each other, without a lot of open space to “spread everything out.” Our consultant has worked in many other coastal communities and I’m sure will steer us in the right direction for Fenwick Island.

Q. Do you think Fenwick Island should/needs to raise property taxes? Why or why not? If yes, how do you think the Town should proceed toward a tax increase? If no, what other ways could the Town raise revenue?

A. I do not think that the Town should raise property taxes at this time; however, we may need to in the future. We always prepare a balanced annual budget, as we just did for the coming year. We’ve been fortunate as a Town to utilize many sources of revenue besides property taxes including the real estate transfer tax, grants and various business taxes. We are also very fortunate to be debt-free. We are currently in the beginning stages of a couple of large projects, sidewalks and the dredging of our canals, that will have some significant costs associated with them. The funding (as well as the total costs) for these projects is yet to be determined.

Q. What other issues would you like the Town to address in the next two years?

A. I think sidewalks, canal dredging, bayside flooding and maintaining our fiscal soundness are plenty! Our ongoing services and the safety and comfort of our residents and guests are all ongoing priorities, and I’m sure there are some new challenges and issues out there that will arise in the next couple of years. We are fortunate to have a concerned, responsive town council and town staff that will be ready to face and deal with these challenges.

 

William ‘Bill’ Weistling Jr.

 

Q. What skills or characteristics will you bring as a new/returning member of the Town Council?

A. I have volunteered, continuously, for 25 years on various committees and Town projects. I have served on council for 10 years, missing only one meeting out of 100. Currently, I am on eight committees. As a member of the Pedestrian Safety Committee, I have walked Route 1 with DelDOT engineers, an independent engineer and a local contractor to try to develop a reasonable estimate for the cost of the project. As a result, DelDOT’s estimate of the Town’s scope of work could be reduced by over 50 percent.

I am working with Councilman [Bernie] Merritt, interviewing engineers, consultants, contractors and an adjacent property owner for possible dredging of the Little Assawoman Bay in order to benefit over 60 percent of our property owners who live on the canals. During the last year, I also travelled Bunting Avenue and Route 1 with Verizon engineers to research possible locations for improved cell coverage and future 5G.

Q. What do you think Fenwick Island should focus on as it sets out to define how the Town wants its commercial areas to look?

A. The Charter & Ordinance Committee, which I head, has recommended the hiring of a land design architect to review our commercial district, to provide recommendations on design standards and possible ordinance changes, as well as to study the impact on the residential zone. Council approved the request and the resulting ad hoc committee, chaired by Councilman [Richard] Mais, meets monthly. These meetings offer an excellent opportunity to gather information from the community, for the architect, regarding the future of our aging commercial zone.

Q. Do you think Fenwick Island should/needs to raise property taxes? Why or why not? If yes, how do you think the Town should proceed toward a tax increase? If no, what other ways could the Town raise revenue?

A. Every year, the Town’s Budget Committee meets to examine ways to increase revenue. If necessary, I would support a modest tax increase spread over time. The Town recently assessed all of its properties, resulting in an appraised value of over $797 million. Our last tax increase was in 2002-2003. Since that time, just 25 percent of our property owners have been paying 75 percent of the taxes. We now have a fair and equitable method of valuation, if and when taxes need to be raised.

Q. What other issues would you like the Town to address in the next two years?

A. For the future, I would like to continue to make sidewalks, drainage issues, dredging, improved cell coverage and an improved commercial district the top priorities. Also, I look forward to continuing working with all of our dedicated Town employees.

 

Roy Williams

 

Q. What skills or characteristics will you bring as a new/returning member of the Town Council?

A. I have been a councilman for the last six years. I have seen firsthand the town government manage many critical issues, from major new commercial redevelopment to modifications in the method of taxation. I have always had as my focus the goal of representing the multiple and varied perspectives that drive our unique town. I approach all issues with a zeal for getting to the facts, doing research and asking the tough questions that help the council make the right decisions for all concerned.

Q. What do you think Fenwick Island should focus on as it sets out to define how the Town wants its commercial areas to look?

A. First, we must recognize the significant and continued expansion of commercial interests to the west, south and north of Fenwick, and secondly, we should agree on the impact of expanded commercial footprint on the town of Fenwick. Our commercial businesses should be unique, aesthetically viable and in harmony with the majority of the surrounding residential community.

Q. Do you think Fenwick Island should/needs to raise property taxes? Why or why not? If yes, how do you think the Town should proceed toward a tax increase? If no, what other ways could the Town raise revenue?

A. It is important to understand why the question of increased taxes has risen. For far too long, as I have repeatedly pointed out, the Town has relied on two variable forms of income (realty transfer taxes and building permit taxes) to fund its everyday operations. Because these are variable (we don’t always know how much revenue will hit the bottom line) shortfalls have loomed.

My first objective would be to revisit our annual budget and establish a sound baseline of critical perennial expenses that could be supported without the use of these variable sources of income. We need to remove those discretionary one-time expenses from this budget and then see what our new property tax computations would support. From there we can determine what the variance is and if any tax increase is needed. The income actually received each year from the variable income sources cited could be used in the following years to support one-time expenses.

Q. What other issues would you like the Town to address in the next two years?

A. There are multiple issues that have already been raised and need resolution; mitigating the effect of high tide on the bayside, dredging canals and adding sidewalks on Coastal Highway. We need to make sound and rational decisions working with county and state government. Additionally, we must provide a safe environment for our residents and guests to cross the highway (we have had one injury already this year).

 

By Kerin Magill

Point Reporter