Ocean View Town Council continues its budget discussions

The Ocean View Town council held a budget workshop earlier this week to review the fourth draft of its 2018-fiscal-year budget.

In reviewing the five-year Capital Improvements Plan, Town Manager Dianne Vogel said repairs are funded from the Capital Replacement Trust Fund, with $142,000 for the fiscal year. Those repairs to the Town’s municipal building include exterior painting, hallway carpet on the second floor and the replacement of the roof.

Vogel also said the purchase of additional speed monitors have been pushed to the 2019 fiscal year.

“I think until the police department and everyone else can demonstrate that they’re getting some information back other than people hitting their brakes.”

“How are we using that information?” asked Vogel. “I’d like to hear in your monthly reports how they’re benefitting the police department, as well as our maintenance department. We need to see some benefit from the money we keep putting out there.”

Public Works Director Charles McMullen said there have been communities that have called, asking to purchase speed monitor signs on the Town’s behalf.

“I think that the $3,500 — while people may think that’s significant — I think they help people slow down. They see that sign flashing. They all know that blinking light doesn’t take pictures, but they sure get scared. I think they’re a worthwhile thing. I think to exclude them from the budget would be a mistake,” McMullen said, adding that he’d like to see one put up near the Town’s playground and park.

Due to a suspect pursuit on March 18 — which ended with one of the police department’s vehicles being totaled — a third new vehicle for the police department has been added to the budget.

Vogel said the Town will only receive $22,000 from insurance for the loss of the vehicle. OVPD Capt. Heath Hall noted that Chief Ken McLaughlin was trying to get additional monies for equipment. The line-item cost for the new three vehicles is $162,000.

The drainage project for Woodland Avenue Extended will be kept in the budget, as council members and town officials said they believe drainage problems there are a safety hazard.

Mayor Walter Curran said he believes the Town should go after easements aggressively, and if that does not work, consider alternative routes.

Resident Steve Cobb recommended council members approach property owners about acquiring the easements, as opposed to Town staff. Curran said it would be something to try, prior to seeking eminent domain.

McMullen noted that could be tricky, as one property for which they need easements has 12 owners and about five are actually outside of town limits.

Vogel also said that $13,000 for a security system for the Public Works building was removed from the Capital Budget.

McMullen voiced his disappointment regarding the removal of those funds.

“It was the ability to have scan cards, just like we have throughout the 201 offices. We now have key locks. So, every time they walk in from their trucks with something, because they have to lock the doors in and out of there, they have to put everything down they have in their hands and get their keys out and open the doors. The other problem is anytime you’re changing employees, you have to worry about changing locks, too.

“I’m just simply registering my disappointment with it being removed,” he said.

Vogel said if the council were to approve the fourth draft of the budget as it was presented March 28, the Town would be operating at a negative $2,013,668 in the 2022 fiscal year.

“To me, as a manager, that is totally unacceptable,” she said.

Town Finance Director Sandra Peck stated the projected negative operating budget five years out is a result of council requesting 10 percent increases in salary to be reflected in the 2018 budget draft, with an 8 percent salary increase reflected in the 2019 draft.

She also said that, given the world we live in today, it’s not unreasonable for the five-year projection to be in the negative.

“It’s clear this year that’s not reasonable,” she said. “I think you need to be giving direction for the final to have it look better, or we need to be having these discussions in workshop settings well before — because, obviously, it’s a big uphill climb.”

Curran said the Town needs to look at how, moving forward, the Town can properly fund its budget so that it is properly balanced.

At its last budget meeting, the council had requested to see a 10 percent increase in all salaries reflected in the fourth draft budget, noting that not all salaries would be raised, but that they wanted it included so monies would be available to implement the recommendations of the recent salary study.

At the March 28 workshop, the council continued to voice their concern that certain staff members are not being paid a comparable salary to that of other towns.

Councilman Frank Twardzik said there are people on both the civilian side and police side of Town’s 24 employees who he believes are underpaid.

“We’re making a promise in Fiscal Year 19, and I intend to keep that promise.”

Earlier this year, the Town reviewed a compensation survey completed by Hendricks & Associates, which also conducted a full salary study for the Town in 2012, which found the Town’s salaries to be below market comparison.

In Hendricks’ most recent presentation to council, they recommended allotting 6 percent of all employee salaries to make appropriate adjustments to the salaries of those employees who fall below the mark.

Six employees who work for the police department were in attendance, including Hall.

One officer said he has worked for the Town for five years and makes more than $2,000 less than a starting officer in the Bethany Beach Police Department.

Another officer told the council he used to be employed by Bethany Beach and had moved to the OVPD, while an Ocean View officer moved to Bethany Beach’s police department. The two officers began their careers at the same time, but the Bethany Beach officer now makes more than $10,000 more than his Ocean View counterpart. The officer added that the two departments offer the same healthcare coverage, through the State of Delaware.

Hall said he appreciates the amount of work that the council has put into discussing the pay discrepancy.

“I’ve been an officer for 22, 23 years — 16 of it with Ocean View… I just want to emphasize, by the presence by everyone here… that just goes to show the importance of it all. The decisions you make are going to directly impact their lives and families.

“I wish the council would look at this as more of a salary adjustment. I understand the concept, but I think things need to be adjusted before we get into the merit part of it, just to keep us up to speed with surrounding departments.”

Hall said the Town of Ocean View has the “best of the best” in terms of its employees.

“Unfortunately, we have above-average employees being paid below-average wages. I just want to stress to you all to keep your nose to the grindstone. Nobody is asking for the stars and the moon. We just want to be fair. Nobody wants to go anywhere. We want to stay right here. This is a great town to work for.”

“We shouldn’t have an officer that’s been here five years making less than an officer just starting in a comparable town,” added Councilman Tom Maly.

Vogel said that if Bethany Beach is going to be the benchmark for salaries, she would like to acquire their general and administrative salaries as well.

“In all due fairness, Bethany Beach is only in this study because [Police Chief] Ken [McLaughlin] was able to get the numbers for police officers only,” she said. “There’s a huge gap. They’re getting an advantage that 14 civilian employees didn’t get.”

Mayor Walter Curran also told the council to remember that the Town of Bethany Beach also has a budget about three times the size of Ocean View’s.

Peck noted that one OVPD officer is on track to be promoted in May, with another two officers who will have promotions in the 2019 fiscal year.

“At this point, based on your proposal, we don’t even know what the officers that are scheduled to be promoted in Fiscal ’19, what they would be making,” said Vogel. “Since I’ve been here, they just get an automatic 6 percent increase when an officer is promoted, regardless of any other salary increases that are given. So, two officers will get an additional 6 percent over and above everything else that you have got here.

“I’d like to hear a cap put on this,” she said. “Are you going to give department heads, carte blanche, the ability to increase everybody’s salaries to what they think they should be?”

Peck, who has a background in both finance and human resources, said it’s important that in future years the Town figure out how to pay for the increases, whatever they may be.

In the Hendricks survey, it was recommended that the Town use an open range system (a salary structure with a minimum and maximum value to the pay range for a job), rather than a step system (with standard progression rates established within a pay range, where employees may progress from step to step on the basis of performance or other negotiated reasons).

Peck said Hendricks’ formula would work, if the Town gets the employees’ salaries up to the point where they should be currently.

Curran agreed, adding that, from his perspective, the issue is that Hendricks’ original study was not implemented in 2012.

Curran suggested the Town lower the overall 10 percent increase to be used as a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) or Consumer Price Index-based adjustment, but also that staff should determine how much the money is needed to do a one-time adjustment to the salaries of the employees whose pay they believe need adjusting.

“We essentially want to get those people at the midpoint who should be at the midpoint,” he said, noting that the council would seek the opinion of the department heads on those potential raises.

The council plans to hold a workshop on Tuesday, April 11, at 6 p.m., before its 7 p.m. council meeting that same night.