After weeks of campaigning, the candidates for Rehoboth Beach’s 2020 municipal election got a chance to express their differences publicly during a forum July 8. Economic recovery from COVID-19 and the completion of the city’s new comprehensive development plan dominated the conversation.
Hosted by the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce, all six candidates participated in the forum – incumbent Mayor Paul Kuhns and former Commissioner Stan Mills in the mayoral race, and Purple Parrot owner Hugh Fuller, former Commissioner Patrick Gossett, former Commissioner Jay Lagree and planning commission member Rachel Macha in the commissioner race. Sitting Commissioners Lisa Schlosser and Steve Scheffer are not running for re-election.
Due to COVID-19, the forum was conducted virtually. Dennis Forney, Cape Gazette publisher emeritus, was the moderator. There seemed to be a pretty good turnout for the live feed – at one point at least 102 people were watching.
The forum did feature a brief, unscheduled break due to a power outage in the southern end of town, but the candidates remained composed and the show went on.
“A manifestation of the times,” said Forney, describing the delay.
Kuhns and Mills answered questions first, beginning with how they think the city should maintain its community feel, while also encouraging economic development.
Kuhns said it’s important to remember the city has three demographics – visitors, property owners and business owners. He said 60 percent of the city’s budget comes from tourism, and there might be opportunities in the future to improve from the pandemic, without also becoming the next Ocean City.
Mills said the city needs finances from tourists because the city pays for lifeguards, police and infrastructure needs that wouldn’t be warranted if it weren’t for the tourists. All that benefits the businesses and residential communities as well, he said.
As for the future of the city finances, Mills and Kuhns said the city is still waiting to see how COVID-19 will affect the budget overall.
Mills said he expects the impact to be severe, because a lot of the revenue comes from the tourist trade. He said he believes the city is going to have to cut back on its capital improvement budget.
“We don’t know when the pandemic is going to end,” said Mills.
Kuhns said the city has been put in good shape to weather the storm because of recent increases to taxes and fees, but there will have to be an evaluation of capital improvement projects to see which ones can be delayed until next year.
Multiple times through the forum, Mills said he would like to see the streetscapes of Baltimore and Wilmington avenues improved.
Kuhns said the pandemic has given the city an opportunity to examine ways to improve services – like providing more outside dining and retail for businesses.
Following questions to just Kuhns and Mills, questions were asked to the full slate of candidates, beginning with safety on the Boardwalk.
Fuller said if it’s related to police, the presence is there; if it’s related to face masks, it’s tough to enforce, but the city must try.
Lagree said safety on the Boardwalk is a function of how crowded the beach is and that there need to be better signs dispersing people out more evenly along the beach.
Macha said surveys completed for the upcoming comprehensive development plan show, at the very least, some visitors think there’s a problem. She said it’s an opportunity to better market the safety of the Boardwalk.
All the candidates said, to some degree, the pandemic is the greatest threat to the vitality of downtown.
A lot of businesses are not going to make it through, said Fuller.
Gossett said the city needs to be promoting itself as a safe place for visitors to come and that they’re welcome here.
Candidates were asked how to improve parking.
Referencing a postcard from the 1940s showing Rehoboth Avenue full, Gossett parking has always been a problem. It’s never going to be solved, but it can be managed better, he said.
Macha said there are lots of options outside town that could work to help. The city needs to hire a subject-matter expert on the issue, she said.
Mills said he thinks the city could gain parking spots if a proper inventory was taken and spots marked off.
Candidates were asked to change one thing in downtown.
Macha said she would love to see programs in place ensuring all storefronts are full every season.
Lagree and Mills said they would like to see the streetscape improvements of Baltimore and Wilmington avenues.
It’s a wonderful chance to bring those two areas up, said Lagree.
Kuhns said he would like to improve parking, which would have a positive domino effect on traffic, which improves businesses, which improves property values.
Gossett said he would like to create a task force to put in place a well-planned response to COVID-19.
Fuller said he would like to see the promotion of Rehoboth and its charm.
For those who missed the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber’s candidate forum, it can be watched on the chamber’s Facebook page.
There is a second candidate forum scheduled for 11 a.m., Saturday, July 18, sponsored by CAMP Rehoboth and the Rehoboth Beach Homeowners’ Association. It will be held as a Facebook live event. To watch this forum, go to facebook.com/camprehoboth.communitycenter.