Bethany committee evaluating beach regulations this summer

Bethany Beach officials are documenting and monitoring beach-related issues this summer, after briefly considering a ban on tents, canopies and large umbrellas on the beach. The Town considered the changes this spring in the wake of similar regulations being instituted in nearby Rehoboth Beach. But, for now, it’s a wait-and-see approach in Bethany.

Councilwoman Rosemary Hardiman told the council at their July 27 meeting that the Charter & Ordinance Review Committee had met in June and developed a process to monitor and consider such beach-related issues, including whether to allow people to setup umbrellas and chairs early in the morning as a way to reserve beach space.

The committee’s process includes documenting the beach this summer — in photographs and reports, and seeing what issues are “particular to our beach,” Hardiman said.

Photos were taken starting in June, with additional photos and documentation to be collected in July and August. Hardiman said a number of photos and emails had also been sent in by beachgoers, “showing situations they consider problematic.”

Hardiman said the committee welcomes input from all beachgoers and will also be monitoring the implementation of the new rules in Rehoboth. They plan to meet again in September to evaluate the documentation and any feedback, and to tailor an approach to the issue in Bethany, in anticipation of a council review of the issue this fall, she said.

The town’s Fourth of July holiday was a busy one, according to Town Manager Cliff Graviet, but he said Town staff had everything in hand.

“I can’t say enough about our staff,” Graviet said, noting the work by Public Works employees, police and more. “By anyone’s standards, it had to be the most crowded I think anyone has seen the town. Still, with all that … everything went the way it should, and it’s a credit to those employees and their staffs.”

Mayor Jack Gordon likewise offered his thanks to Councilman Bruce Frye and the Fourth of July Parade Committee, as well as to Graviet for organizing the fireworks show and the other town staff who assisted with the holiday crowds.

For his part, Frye said the parade itself came in on budget, and he offered his thanks to the group of volunteers who helped make it happen. In all, the 2017 parade featured 53 floats and vehicles, and 212 bicycle decoration kits given out.

Frye said parade monitors had kept the amount of forbidden candy-throwing to a minimum, though he noted with a laugh that some had been thrown at the council members while they were riding on the town trolley in the parade.

Organizers sold 450 shirts to support the parade, bringing in $3,270 for the parade budget, while the Firecracker 5K raised another $2,000. Frye said planning for the 2018 parade is set to begin in a few months.

Graviet on July 27 also provided updates on a number of Town projects.

The design package for the planned Central Park at Routes 1 and 26 is being worked out, he said, with the package being designed so that the Town can build the park in stages. A preliminary package is expected this fall. He said applications are also being made to the Sussex Conservation District so that any disturbance to the soils in the park property can be done in an environmentally-friendly way and with water being directed where they want it to go.

Graviet said the Town’s new aeration system for its water system is working well. He said staff continues to explore other options to help with water quality going forward, though the water is “still well within acceptable bounds.” Graviet said the Town may end up with two aeration systems so that there is some redundancy, and will probably repair the large standing aerator in the off-season.

Construction of the Town’s Blackwater storage facility in Clarksville is still in progress, Graviet said, with the sewer system going in and siding almost completed. He said the water well would be installed once the major construction work is done, and the front of the property will be cleaned up with grading, plantings and permanent signage.

Graviet did report a recent complaint about odor from the Sussex County sewer plant building on Route 26. He emphasized that the complaint was the first he’d heard of in his tenure as town manager. He noted that the County has been very involved in maintenance of the facility.

“They have been over and looked at building, looked at settings on equipment, and they’re going to come back to reduce any problem, if a problem does exist,” he said, noting that County staff constantly monitor the sewer facilities — especially ones in residential areas.

In fact, he said, this spring, the County installed an expensive state-of-the-art scrubbing system at the site to eliminate even more odor there, but despite that, the one complaint had come in in the last week or so prior to the July 27 meeting.

Town signs five-year contract with outside auditing firm

The council on July 27 voted unanimously to enter into a five-year contract with outside auditing firm TGM Group, which turned in its report on the most recent audit of the Town’s finances in early July. The Town yet again received an “unmodified” designation, the highest level of assurance that its financial statements do not contain material misstatements.

Once again, they reported no problems in conducting the audit and stated that the Town continues to be in excellent financial shape. They again commended the Town for having an active audit committee and internal auditor, which they noted are often missing in other towns.

The Audit Committee on July 7 had also discussed its recommendations for external auditing going forward, considering whether to retain TGM on a longer-term basis or change to a different auditing firm to get a fresh look at things.

Having weighed the benefits of retaining TGM — including a reduced rate for the next two years — the committee recommended the Town enter into a five-year agreement with the firm. To address concerns, the contract includes mandatory partner rotation after five years and rotation of the in-charge accountant after three years.

Councilman Jerry Morris said that, as part of their negotiations, the committee had asked what the advantage was to Bethany in entering into the longer contract. He said the first advantage TGM noted was the ability to fix the costs for the next five years and reduce the fees for the first two years of the contract.

Based on past annual increases, Morris said, over the next five years, the longer-term contract saved the Town about $8,000. He and Hardiman also pointed out that the work of Town staff is a major reason why the audit fees have remained low.

Vice-Mayor Lew Killmer noted higher costs from prior auditing firm and praised TGM for its specialization in smaller municipalities and its “excellent track record.”

The council on July 27 voted 7-0 to approve the five-year contract with TGM.

Contracts for the purchase of two new vehicles from IG Burton Fleet Sales were also unanimously approved that day.

A 2017 Chevrolet Tahoe 2WD vehicle with police package was approved to be purchased for about $33,000. That vehicle will replace a 2011 Dodge Charger used by the police department.

Graviet said the Town is changing its engine preferences because of ongoing issues with Hemi engines, with the Charger becoming a problem on the street. Part of the cost will come from the $25,000 grant from Sussex County to the BBPD, leaving about $8,000 for the Town to cover, in addition to the cost to transfer electronics between the vehicles and install additional equipment.

A 2018 Dodge Ram SSV 4WD is being purchased for about $32,000 after discounts. It will replace a 2009 Dodge Durango with 111,000 miles on it. That vehicle has been used as an unmarked administrative vehicle driven by a police department captain. The vehicle had previously been a marked police car but was pulled from the fleet in 2012 or 2013, Graviet noted. He said the vehicle had had problems with its Hemi engine since then, with mechanics unable to determine what exactly the problem is.

The Ram police-package pickup is a “special service vehicle,” he pointed out, as pickup trucks are not yet rated for police pursuit. He said the Durango will become part of the Town’s usual rotation of retired police vehicles through other staff.

Finally, the council also unanimously approved a budget supplement to the 2018 capital budget to pay for the two vehicles — a total of $41,000. Graviet said the funding would come from existing capital reserves designated for capital replacements.