South Bethany town council, police force both short on members
The Town of South Bethany currently has one vacancy on its town council and two in its police department.
“Wayne Schrader has stepped down from the town council due to family issues he needs to deal with on a personal level. We have accepted his resignation,” said Mayor Tim Saxton at the Sept. 14 council meeting.
Schrader had been absent from or participated by remote access in most meetings since his election in May.
Saxton asked town council members to submit the names of potential replacements to finish the council year. Saxton will take over Schrader’s duties as the council’s Planning Commission liaison until someone is appointed to replace him — hopefully, by November, he said.
Meanwhile, the South Bethany Police Department is skating by the end of summer with just four officers, and the town council wondered why police department revenue was also down — particularly from traffic and magistrate fines.
The SBPD is now down to one officer per shift. There were seven officers earlier this year, and now just four as of this month.
This spring, one vacancy was left unfilled, so the budget reflects that. However, a second officer left in May and a third in September. Police Chief Troy Crowson hopes to extend the seasonal officer’s work until the town selects and hires two qualified replacements. (Since town council has authorized these positions in years past, the police chief is tasked with finding qualified candidates. He takes the lead in the hiring process, but interviews also traditionally involve the town manager and a town council member. Town council will also have the final vote on whether to accept the chief’s recommendation for personnel and salary.)
Until then, the shortage means that, if an officer must drive to court, process paperwork or respond to a complaint, there is no second officer for traffic patrol.
“We also have time off for these officers. So there are days you’re only getting 12 hours of coverage as well,” Crowson said.
As to the revenue shortfalls — the Town also sold more parking passes this summer, so compliance has been increased, possibly reducing the issuance of parking tickets. And whereas the police department used to send frequent letters for overdue fines, Crowson said he couldn’t speak to 2018 collections, since Town Hall now handles all the money.
Crowson estimated that the Town earns up to $25 in revenue from a $100 traffic ticket. But the high fine revenue of past years was possible because of volume. During previous summers, Crowson said, he personally could write a couple hundred traffic tickets per month, and that would be multiplied by several officers with frequent highway presence.
With fewer officers available for patrol, traffic stops — and traffic fines — have plummeted, with fines currently a fraction of the amount that was budgeted this year under police department revenue.
Despite the impact on revenues, “For us, it’s not fine driven — it’s safety driven,” Crowson told the council.
He said he will present specific patrol data at a future town council meeting.
Saxton said he feels people are driving faster through the town, having noticed the lack of police presence.
The bulk of tickets are written in summer, so having collected roughly $8,000 thus far, it seems unlikely that the Town will hit its $46,000 budgeted amount. However, the two unused police salaries combined make up about $100,000 unspent on the expense side of the department’s budget. Decreases in staff can affect multiple budget lines, including salary, overtime and magistrate fines.
“It is perplexing to me to have the numbers down that much, even with the officers missing. … It’s going to hurt Troy’s overall budget, but I don’t believe it’s going to hit the Town’s overall budget,” Saxton said.
In other South Bethany Town Council news:
• The Beach Access Improvement Ad Hoc Committee has begun identifying issues for potential action, such as adding access-enhancing Mobi-Mats and extending their use, and meeting with the State to identify town and state responsibilities for beach access.
Some of those attending the meeting were surprised when Councilman Jimmy Oliver said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Corps has a maximum of handicapped-accessible dune crossings allowed per mile (possibly due to expense). But South Bethany will apply for ADA access points, Oliver said.
• The Long Range Planning Ad Hoc Committee is creating a 10-year capital budget (based on the Town’s long-range goals and likely costs) to be approved annually during the budget process. So far, they have proposed that the priorities include canal water-quality improvement; street maintenance; dredging to improve boating access to Jefferson Creek and the Little Assawoman Bay; and improved beach access, which has its independent committee.
Asked about surveying roads, Saxton said the Town has more actively maintained the roadways this year, pushing sand and trimming branches from the edges. He also said he hopes the public will be considerate and consider the impact of their landscaping on the rights-of-way.
• The town code needs more teeth for the enforcement constable to actually enforce safe building and maintenance standards, officials said. Although the Charter & Code Committee did not wish to adopt the entire International Property Maintenance Code (IPMC) as part of the Town code, they have asked the constable to identify specific issues that could be incorporated into the code.
• Representatives of local coastal towns attended a Resilient Communities Partnership meeting to assess impervious surface coverage; its impact on stormwater management, flooding and water quality; and options for reducing impervious surface coverage in future redevelopment.
• The Woods Hole Group will do core sampling in the canals in mid-September, as a first step to one day dredging unwanted material from the canals.
• The police building renovations are expected to finish in late September.
• Cat Hill’s seasonal road barricade was removed Sept 15.
• The final “walk-through” for the beach replenishment project was conducted on Sept. 5. Dune grass will be planted in the first week of January.
• A Halloween potluck is being planned at Town Hall.
The South Bethany Town Council’s next workshop meeting will be Thursday, Sept. 27, at 3 p.m.
By Laura Walter
Editor’s note: This article was edited on Sept. 21 to clarify that the police chief already has the power to seek candidates for job vacancies, but town council will give the final approval on hiring.