Memorial Day weekend is Dewey Beach's busiest weekend of the entire summer. Because of that, visitors and residents will notice an increase in the town's police presence.
New this year, it is the town that will pay for the increased security.
For the past four years Starboard owner Steve Montgomery and Dewey Beach Enterprises owner Jim Baeurle have donated thousands of dollars to help the town offset the extra costs of manning the town’s streets during the three-day weekend that kicks off the summer season.
This year, after thanking Montgomery and Baeurle for their past contributions, the town will pay increased public safety costs.
“I do not believe it would be appropriate at this time for a restaurant/bar owner to contribute directly to the police department, which may well be considered by some to be a conflict of interest,” reads a letter sent by Dewey Beach Town Manager Marc Appelbaum to Montgomery May 16.
The letter drew the ire of Montgomery who says the town can count him out of future initiatives.
The town can afford to hire the officers, Appelbaum said May 20, and the police chief has been given any amount he needs to keep the town's streets safe over the weekend.
Appelbaum said it could cost $4,000, $6,000, or $10,000, but it doesn’t matter. The town is 40 days into its new fiscal year and can make up the difference, he said.
Montgomery is not happy with the town's decision. The initiative was started to help solve a problem, and there was a good thing going, he said.
In a letter dated May 18, Montgomery wrote, “I believe that if someone is offering a financial gift to a town, it's the town's duty to find a way to accept it, not reject it.”
Montgomery said he knows of no law against donating money to local police departments. Dewey's police department was started by donations from the restaurants and bars more than 30 years ago, he said.
“I contribute money both personally, and through my businesses, to the state police, the Fraternal Order of Police, and to the local police in Bethany Beach, Lewes, Washington D.C., and Baltimore,” said Montgomery. “It is appreciated and accepted by them all. In Dewey, it seems politics usually plays a role in decisions.”
Appelbaum said in years past, the town had trouble paying its bills, but that's not the case anymore. With a projected budget surplus of close $300,000 for the most recent fiscal year and a $1.1 million budget for the police department for the current year, he said, the town should be paying for police protection.
In addition to the monetary donation, Montgomery fed the officers over the weekend.
Town officials don't want any questions about a police entity that should be monitoring bar activities, Appelbaum said. The police have undoubtedly done a great job, but the town is dealing with public perception, he said.
Dewey Beach Police Chief Sam Mackert said he doesn’t care where the additional funding comes from for extra police officers, as long as it happens. He said there would be 10 extra police officers on duty each night over the weekend, including a mounted patrol unit from the Delaware State Police on Saturday.
“It's going to happen like it always does,” he said. “On my end, it will be business as usual.”
Appelbaum said the town would greatly appreciate a donation to almost anything else, and in the letter he suggested street sweeping, mulching or weeding of the median strip along Route 1, the cleanup of Sunset Park, or the town’s junior lifeguard program.
Montgomery said this suggestion is condescending and he wholeheartedly disagrees with the decision.
“We can agree to disagree, but you should know that you and the town's actions have fractured our relationship,” he said. “I have grown tired of the town's views of its businesses, and my will to communicate, compromise and help has evaporated due to your letter and belief that my contributions are viewed as a conflict. Count me out from upcoming initiatives.”