The candidates for election in Rehoboth Beach this year all agree that the city's plan for its wastewater is the most important issue.
The differences lie in how they plan to resolve the questions.
This year's election features mayoral candidates Sam Cooper and Tom McGlone and five candidates vying for two commissioner seats: Francis “Bunky” Markert, Kathy McGuiness, John Meng, Larry Myslewski and incumbent Lorraine Zellers, who was unable to attend because of a scheduling conflict.
The candidates took questions from Rehoboth voters July 25 at a forum sponsored by the Rehoboth Beach Homeowner’s Association and CAMP Rehoboth.
The very first question, asked by Linda Kauffman of 206 Laurel St., was what the candidates plan to do regarding public perception of ocean outfall.
McGlone said as mayor he would be against the ocean outfall projec, but if the rest of the commissioners overruled him, he favored hiring a public relations firm to handle negative perceptions.
Cooper said South Coastal Wastewater Treatment Plant in South Bethany has been operating for 40 years. If outfall is so bad, Cooper said, why is the state providing more flow to that facility?
Markert said there would be no negative perception because the public will be better informed about the project as it goes along.
McGuiness, Meng and Myslewski all ageed the city should hire a public relations person to help with the perception of outfall. Meng and McGuiness both support the outfall.
“Perception is a big part of the problem here. People perceive that there is sewage going out into the ocean. That’s a big problem for the city,” Myslewski said.
Resident Roger Truitt asked about the capital and operating costs of outfall and its impact on user rates.
McGuiness, who voted to go forward with ocean outfall during her first stint as commissioner, said outfall was deemed less expensive both to build and to operate and would be less expensive for users than land application.
McGuiness and Meng both said an ocean outfall allows city officials to control and manage capital costs and sewer rates. Meng said with land application, the city would have to lease land and would be beholden to the landowner in perpetuity.
“With ocean outfall, we control our destiny,” he said.
Markert said land application plans that have been proposed allow nitrogen and phosphorus to eventually reach the Inland Bays, which the city has expressly been forbidden from doing.
McGlone said he would like to see a request for proposals for land application with private vendors Artesian Water Co. and Tidewater Utilities. He said this alternative has never fully been explored.
Cooper said an RFP was issued in 2008; the city received only one proposal, from Artesian, that would have pumped wastewater to the county’s Wolfe Neck plant. He said average user rates associated with this proposal were $1,400, compared to the $630 estimated yearly rate for users if the city chose ocean outfall.
Candidates were also asked whether they would support an increase in property taxes in the next three years, given that some citizens already had their taxes increased with the recent property reassessment.
Myslewski explicitly said no, while Meng said no, except in extenuating circumstances.
Markert and McGuiness said taxes are already low, and there are other options available for increased revenue besides property taxes.
Cooper would not pledge not to raise property taxes, saying there was no telling what the future may hold.
McGlone said he did not see how the city would not have to raise taxes to help pay for the proposed $15 million City Hall project, which he opposes. He said he supports a new police station with space for a parking garage instead of completely revamping City Hall, which Cooper supports. McGlone said his alternative could be paid for without raising any taxes.
While the commissioner candidates did not do much sparring with one another, the mayoral candidates threw the occasional jab.
McGlone often repeated the need for a new approach to the wastewater issue and City Hall project. He also said city officials do not do a good job communicating with the public on issues such as voter registration. McGlone said he wants to be inclusive and find out what people want.
Cooper said he takes a low-key approach, preferring not to have letters in the newspapers every day, and he criticized McGlone’s promise of a new vision for the city as simply opposing ocean outfall and the City Hall project, both of which Cooper supports. He said his 32 years of experience as mayor and as a commissioner make him the right man for the job.
In a statement read at the forum, Zellers said she was committed to preserving Rehoboth’s character and ensuring the city continues to live within its means. She cited her experience and knowledge of city issues as reasons to vote for her.
Rehoboth’s municipal election will be held Saturday, Aug. 9 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Rehoboth Beach Convention Center.