Dewey commissioners-elect focus on infrastructure, finances

Mayor Bill Stevens, Commissioner Gary Persinger discuss issues in friendly forum
September 11, 2022

Although the 2022 municipal election was canceled, the Dewey Beach Civic League candidate forum proceeded as planned Aug. 27, with commissioners-elect Bill Stevens and Gary Persinger offering like-minded views in a short and cordial discussion on town issues.

Persinger said the town has made a lot of progress and is in a sound place financially. 

“We talked about having a capital improvement budget for a number of years, and we just talked about it and talked about it, and now we actually have one,” said Persinger, a commissioner since 2016.

Town leaders were able to secure a major contribution toward the cost of a new town hall and also have in place additional capital improvement funds to replace vehicles and other necessary equipment, he said. Dedicated funds are in reserve to handle challenges that may arise, he said.

The infrastructure and climate change committees will need to continue to interact closely, Persinger said.

“Climate change is not a solvable problem for Dewey Beach, but it's certainly one that can be addressed,” he said, adding that commissioners are focused on resolutions. “I look forward to the next couple years.”

Stevens said the $3 million grant secured from the state will pay for most of the new town hall and police department facility. 

“From a town hall perspective, Delaware can’t look at Dewey Beach as an island,” said Stevens, who was elected in 2020 and voted mayor in 2021. “We serve the state, we serve multiple states, and they recognize that as part of the reason they've come forth and given us the $3 million.”

The town is financially secure, Stevens said, but last year was also an anomaly because of high transfer tax revenues and home values, which may see a downfall.

The Centers for the Inland Bays predicts the bay will rise 14 inches by 2050, not that far off, he said.

“We’re going to need to lower the water or raise the land, and we're not going to be able to lower the water,” he said.

Former Mayor Dale Cooke drew applause from the audience when commending commissioners, all of whom were seated at the dais. 

“You guys have done a great job,” Cooke said. “We talked and talked and yakked about a lot of things – highway safety, the new town hall, etc. We talked it to death, and with a new team ... you've done it.”

Stevens said all previous teams have paved the way for current leaders, who he said are fortunate to be in the seats they are. 

“We appreciate what you guys have set forth in the town,” he said, nodding toward Cooke and former Mayor Diane Hanson, who was also in the room, and acknowledging the contributions of many volunteers over the years.

Town updates

Town Manager Bill Zolper provided a lengthy list of updates to attendees.  

The long-overdue new town hall and police station will likely be completed in three years, he said. A survey was completed a week ago and architect GMB is putting together initial plans. The town is waiting to hear about a possible $1.8 million grant from Sen. Chris Coons’ office, he said. 

Town officials continue to work with wireless consultant CTC to ensure wireless carriers installing facilities follow town code and wireless standards. Verizon has asked for waivers regarding their poles already in place, Zolper said.

“We don’t want to give [waivers], we want them to follow code,” Zolper said. “We want them to explain to us why they can’t put them on Route 1, why they can’t locate on another pole, why they can't go on a business, before we just allow them to put the poles up where they want to.”

Zolper said the town and police department websites has been upgraded with a new look, and contain information about hurricane preparation and how to sign up for state emergency emails. The monthly newsletter is also available on the town site.

A $14,000 investment in accommodations tax software that identifies property owners not in compliance with licensing and tax requirements for their rental properties has been well worth the money, Zolper said. About 50% of property owners who were identified as noncompliant began following the rules after letters were sent out, Zolper said, and discussions are underway with commissioners and the town attorney on how to proceed with the other 50% not in compliance.

Since the police chief's open position posted Aug. 19, 17 applications have been received, Zolper said. The posting period closes Monday, Sept. 19, at which time panels will begin processing applications. 

The town will begin discussions with the Delaware Department of Transportation in 2023 and start work in 2024 on an $8 million project to address sidewalks and telephone poles in the middle of sidewalks from the town all the way to the Forgotten Mile, he said. The project will be complete by 2028, and money will likely be available to continue the center island barrier project as well.

Regarding beach replenishment, the Army Corps of Engineers is still seeking a contractor to perform the work, and then it will coordinate a schedule with Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, he said.

In years past, Zolper said, beach cleanups weren’t allowed on the dunes, but now that they exceed Corps of Engineers specs for height and width, three volunteers will be trained on trash collection procedures to capture refuse from one end of the beach to the other, with dates to be set in October and April.

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