Dewey Beach commissioners approved ordinances defining events and establishing fees for beach bonfire permits and event applications at a Sept. 15 meeting.
Mayor Bill Stevens said he and Town Manager Bill Zolper recently discussed how time-consuming processing event applications is for administrative staff and considered implementing an event fee.
“That came with the realization that we don’t have a definition for an event,” Stevens said.
Zolper said the town approved 140 events this year, not including large-scale events such as Running of the Bull. Officials reviewed definitions used by the towns of Lewes, Bethany and Rehoboth as samples.
The town has had a good year with businesses that cater on the beach, Zolper said, with few problems or complaints. Town staff have to schedule and track all events to make sure there are no conflicts, such as permitting a beach wedding the same day the Doodles in Dewey event is on the beach.
“We really have to make sure we don’t double book anything and have somebody’s event ruined,” Zolper said.
A processing fee would be fair, he said, noting that people who apply for both a bonfire and an event would pay only one fee.
Commissioners said the sample definitions didn’t include references to size or vendors, and after some discussion, unanimously approved an ordinance defining events as gatherings of fewer than 24 people and those organized by a vendor. The fee for all event permits, including weddings, was set at $50 by ordinance.
Additionally, Zolper said town staff processed more than 800 bonfire applications this year; 390 for property owners and 420 for non-property owners.
In 2005, he said, it was decided that property owners would pay $20 for a bonfire permit; in 2009, the fee was changed to $30.
The bonfire fee for property owners has not gone up since 2009, he said, and in 2017, the fee for nonresident applications was set at $50. Both residents and nonresidents pay a deposit fee of $100, which is refunded if the bonfire is properly cleaned up, he said.
Bonfires must be booked in person at town hall so staff can determine if the street is available or already booked, he said. A flat fee across the board will allow the town to do this electronically via a purchased program, allowing residents and nonresidents to book bonfires online, he said.
Commissioner Gary Persinger said the discount for property owners could remain if they come to town hall as usual, and if they prefer to book online, they would forfeit the discount. Stevens asked if property owners could still book online and come to town hall to receive a refund; Persinger said either way would be fine.
The proposed ordinance eliminated the $100 deposit fee and instead proposed that permit holders who do not clean up after the bonfire would be issued a citation of $100, per town code regarding littering.
Commissioner David Jasinski said the town has been successful using the refundable deposit because that motivates permit holders to clean up. By eliminating the deposit, messes will be left on the beach, he said.
Administrative Supervisor Laura Steiner said the software the town uses for online payments doesn’t retain credit card information and does not include the ability to refund credit cards directly; a check must be issued and mailed, she said.
The current bonfire booking system allows town employees to retain credit card information and provide refunds, but does not have an online booking option, she said.
Commissioner Paul Bauer questioned what the town does regarding unpaid parking tickets; Zolper said they are referred to a collection agency. The agency keeps a portion of what is collected, Bauer said, so in order to still collect about $100, he suggested upping the fine to $150.
Jasinski said a technological solution is needed; Steiner said online software that could allow for bookings and refunds is largely geared for hotel or campsite reservation systems and is cost prohibitive relative to what the town charges for bonfires. Only two bonfires were not cleaned up properly this year, she said.
To pay for a technological solution, Jasinski said he would motion to implement a $50 bonfire charge for residents, a $100 charge for nonresidents, and to retain the $100 refundable deposit; he withdrew the motion after subsequent discussions revealed commissioners did not support the proposal.
Commissioners voted 4-1, with Jasinski voting no, to approve Persinger’s motion allowing bonfire permits to be purchased online for $50; property owners can purchase them in person for $30 or online for $50 and can request a $20 refund in person at town hall. Those who do not clean up after their bonfires can be fined $150.