Ocean View citizens continue to speak out on taxes, access
While the agenda may have been brief, the Town of Ocean View had a substantial turnout for its reorganizational meeting on Tuesday, April 24, as town citizens took the opportunity to continue to voice their opinions to the town council regarding the property tax increase in the approved budget for the 2019 fiscal year.
Richard Mohr said he’s owned property in the town for more than 40 years, but spends seven months in Florida.
“I’m not happy with how the council has done things, because it seems like when they vote for things they wait until we all go down to Florida… Let the people be around. Serve the people so we can be here…”
Mohr’s wife, Karen, agreed.
“I’m speaking on behalf of all the snowbirds. The issue about information being put into the Coastal Point does nothing to help us when we are all thousands of miles away,” she said. “In terms of the website, perhaps we have to be a little more in tune to that, but I think what needs to be put on there is that we have to have more information about how much taxes are going to be, et cetera.”
“As a practical matter, if you look around in the town in Florida where you’re staying, you’ll find that they don’t go out of their way to tell the people up in New England what’s going on in Florida,” responded Mayor Walter Curran. “It’s the exact same rationale here. This is a local area. Everything that is advertised is advertised locally. That’s not going to change, ma’am … simply because you choose to be in another state at election time.”
“I don’t agree with that,” said Morh.
“I think that’s pretty obvious,” replied Curran.
Mohr also said the town election is not snowbird-friendly, as “voting is always done when we are not here.”
“I believe it should be changed so that maybe voting takes place in June, when snowbirds and other people who are only here throughout the summer are in town.”
Mohr said she and her husband have previously requested absentee ballots, but due to paperwork issues, they were unable to vote.
“We feel like we’re being under-represented in that respect,” she said.
“There are a lot of snowbirds in the area, not just in Ocean View,” said Curran. “The election is not going to change, I’ll tell you that… As far as applying for the absentee ballot, I did it four years ago because I was traveling, and the system worked for me.”
Resident Ray Wockley challenged the council to be “proactive and not reactive” when it comes to stormwater drainage.
“You’re going to have to involve the County, possibly the State of Delaware, homeowners’ associations and all of us,” said Wockley, who presented the council with a map of ditches within the Ocean View ZIP code. “There has to be a concerted effort to look at all of these ditches.”
Wockley noted that the town is not contiguous, as there are areas within the borders of the town that are not part of the town.
“The people that live right next to the administration building are not in the town. Lord Baltimore — not in town,” he added of the residential community. “All these people have to be involved because they’ve got ditches on their property and they all flow into our property… I’m challenging, if you can — get the people involved, because this is not going to get better.”
“I think that’s a very good point and a very good challenge to this council and anybody in the county and also to the State,” replied Curran. “It’s a great idea to say, reach out. You’re right — when you look at the Town, it looks like Swiss cheese.
“The problem is there were prior councils here, going back quite a few years, that simply refused to let those developments become part of this town. It was totally illogical that they did that, but they did it… Now, [those developments] like it the way it is. By law, this Town can’t even ask them to join. Anyone that wants to come in and join must approach the Town first.”
Curran added that the council is working with legislators to possibly start a regional police force.
“We’ve got greatest police force in this state. They’re very effective. The point of it is, though, more and more they’re responding to calls outside of the district. Is that fair to the citizens of Ocean View? No, it isn’t… Your point is very well taken. It’s a huge battle, though, and it involves at least the County.”
Wockley also recommended the Town do a better “sales job” for its police force.
“When you look at the website, it shows all these awards. Do you think that Millville By the Sea actually looks at that?” he asked, recommending the Town send more information related to its police department to local newspapers, so their accolades may be highlighted publicly.
Town asked about its books
Resident Luis Lopez asked Town Solicitor Dennis Schrader if the Town had an “outside group checking finances, where the money goes to” and who writes the checks.
“Annually, there is an independent audit done of all the books and records of the Town,” said Schrader.
“I didn’t ask you that. Who writes the checks in the Town to people?”
“The finance director and the town manager, to the best of my knowledge,” responded Schrader.
Town Manager Dianne Vogel noted that any check written by the Town requires a total of four signatures.
“Is there an outside group that comes in and checks what you’re doing with finances, where the money’s going, except auditors?” asked Lopez.
“There doesn’t have to be an outside group,” said Curran. “The auditor is the independent entity that goes through this. We have had a perfect audit for years. There is nothing wrong with the books. There is nothing wrong with the systems. That is the answer, sir. You may not like the answer, but it is the answer.”
Lopez asked how the taxpaying citizens of the Town are to know where the money goes.
“I’m sorry — if you don’t know where the money goes, then you have to step up and read the audit. You can get a copy of it. It’s on the website,” said Curran.
Schrader added that each month Finance Director Sandra Peck presents a financial report of Town activities for the preceding month, and that report is available to anyone.
“Audits are available from the Town. Any homeowner can review those audits. Yes, auditors can fix this… but the citizens have to have the ability to review, and it’s their obligation to review,” resident Mike Potter later added.
“We saw democracy at work,” Councilman Frank Twardzik said following the meeting. “We saw the citizenry speak — some were not very happy, some were happy, some were content, some were not. That’s the way the cookie crumbles, as far as government goes…
“If I had to vote again — and I’m sure if the rest of the council had to vote again — we’d all vote the same way, because it was the right thing to do to wean ourselves off the transfer tax. Ten years down the road, future councils will say, ‘We’re glad those guys did that, because we have a positive number to look at.’”
Citizens ask for better communication
Resident Cindy Hall said she had sent an email to the Town in December related to snow-removal and had yet to receive a reply.
Hall said her complaint was safety-related, as she believed the plow driver was traveling at an unsafe speed and piling snow at the ends of people’s driveways, preventing them from leaving their homes.
“With the amount of snowfall we had, I think you all did a good job,” Potter later told the council.
Vogel said she did not know about that email, but explained that when an email is sent to the Town’s general account, she and the town clerk both receive a copy, and then determine who it is meant for and send it along.
Resident Brenda McIntyre asked the council about a request made in writing from Rebecca and Patrick Adams, requesting the Town consider adding “miniature golf” as a permitted use in commercially-zoned areas. In their letter, the Adamses had said they would like to create an outdoor recreation area for families at 3 Atlantic Avenue, near the Assawoman Canal at the eastern edge of town.
Schrader said the Town was contacted by the prospective contract purchaser, who asked if the council would consider changing the context of the town charter.
“The council has not addressed the request of that,” he said.
“I believe it will probably be brought back to us to be considered,” added Curran.
McIntyre voiced her concern over the lot’s proximity to the canal and its overall size.
“It’s an interesting piece of land,” said Schrader. “We have looked at that. There are unique traffic patterns as a result of the bridge. The property is not necessarily rectangular, by any stretch of the imagination. There’s just a lot going on there. The council has made no decision... but it will be addressed.”
McIntyre also asked how the Town plans to improve public outreach to its residents and property owners.
“That’s been addressed a number of times. As far as the official system of the Town, it is good, it works,” he said, adding that the council is welcome to hear from residents as to how they believe communication may be improved. “But also, keep in mind, this is not a daily newspaper or a twice-a-day news show. There will be limitations…”
She asked that meetings be posted in the local newspapers, in addition to reports on what happened at meetings. Curran said the Town does post notices in the papers, per the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act.
Schrader also recommended residents take advantage of the Town’s website, which has a calendar and posts the agendas of upcoming and past meetings.
“I work for these guys, and that’s where I go to find out what the agenda looks like,” he said.
Woodland Park resident Bill Goodwin asked the council if it would consider having the Town have only one trash collection service.
“In Woodland Park, we have no fewer than five trash companies — therefore we have five trash trucks coming down our roads which are excessively providing wear and tear on our roads,” he said.
Councilman Bill Olsen said he had tried a number of years ago to have only one waste management company service the town, but the idea was not supported.
“I tried that about four or five years ago. The people don’t want it. They want their own trash pick-up. Each house wants their own separate truck. I’ve tried.”
Olsen recommended Goodwin work with his neighbors to try to get the same company to collect in Woodland Park, to possibly lessen the burden.
Reynolds sworn in, Bodine recognized for service
At the reorganizational meeting, Curran presented former councilwoman Carol Bodine with a plaque recognizing her years of service to the Town.
“My forever home is Ocean View. I will come to meetings and I will help wherever I can. I would like to thank Mayor Walt and all the other councilmen for their hard work, devotion. Thank you for what you’ve done for me,” said Bodine, after stepping down from the dais. “I want to thank Dianne Vogel, Dennis Schrader, Sandra Peck, [Police Chief] Kenny [McLaughlin] and Donna Schwartz, for all the help you’ve given me.”
Incoming councilman Berton Reynolds was then sworn in by Town Solicitor Dennis Schrader, swearing “to carry out the responsibilities of the office of councilmember to the best of my ability… [and] to respect the right of future generations to share the rich, historic and natural heritage of Delaware.”
“Welcome, Bert,” said Curran.
Resident Richard Birkmeyer congratulated Reynolds on winning the election and thanked Bodine for her “dedicate service to the Town for the last three years.”
“I just appreciated there were a lot of people here. That’s what I’ve said before — I want more people to come,” said Reynolds following the meeting. “It’s going to be a fun three years.”
The council went on to unanimously reappoint Tom Maly as mayor pro-tem. They also voted to establish the meeting schedule for the coming year, with council meetings being held on the second Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m., with the fourth Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m. being the time for a tentative monthly workshop.
By Maria Counts