The City of Lewes hasn’t had a municipal election since 2014, and now city residents will have to wait a little longer. The 2020 election has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mayor and city council voted 3-0, with the incumbents recusing, to reschedule the May 9 election for the first Saturday 45 days after the state of emergency has been lifted, in order to give candidates adequate time to campaign and provide a safe environment for residents to cast their votes.
If the date falls on a holiday weekend, the election will be held the following weekend.
The deadline to file was April 2. Five candidates have filed for two seats, including incumbents Fred Beaufait and Dennis Reardon and challengers Kay Carnahan, Tim Ritzert and Andrew Williams.
If the Lewes Board of Public Works has an election, it will coincide with the city’s new date. As of April 2, only President D. Preston Lee and BPW Director A. Thomas Owen had filed for two seats.
With many unknowns, including how long the COVID-19 crisis will last, Lewes staff has started looking at the budget implications of the pandemic.
One unexpected and expensive component is pay for the police department. Per their collective bargaining agreement, Lewes police officers are paid time-and-a-half during a state of emergency.
“Usually when we have a state of emergency, it’s a day or two days,” said City Manager Ann Marie Townshend.
She estimates it will cost the city an additional $11,000 per two-week pay cycle for the duration of the state of emergency.
To save money, Townshend said, the city will not fill four vacant positions until after the state of emergency has been lifted. She expects a savings of about $33,000 by delaying those hirings.
Additionally, she said, the city will not begin any new capital projects in the next few weeks and months.
Mayor and city council voted March 30 to delay the start of the meter season until the first day after the stay-at-home order is lifted. By not collecting any parking meter revenue until at least May 16, Townshend said, the city will lose some revenue. But the city also will not be paying parking enforcement team members, so some of the lost revenue will be offset.
Over the next few weeks and possibly months, she said, she will be running a tight ship.
“We will scrutinize every purchase between now and when we come back with a [budget] amendment and make sure that we are not making any purchases that are not essential to performing the work that needs to get done,” she said.
The longer-term effects of the virus on the tourist season have not yet been discussed.
Enforcing governor’s order
During the March 30 city council meeting, Lewes Police Chief Tom Spell said enforcement of Gov. John Carney’s order to keep out-of-state residents away from Delaware could be a challenge for his officers. With his department’s manpower, he described the task as daunting.
“We can certainly respond and act on complaints or tips, but whether stopping vehicles with out-of-state plates alone is doable is questionable,” he said. “We’re only a few hours into it, and we haven’t really taken any action yet, but I think it’s problematic.”
Lewes City Solicitor Glenn Mandalas initially said the governor’s order was ambiguous because judges throughout the country have ruled that a person can be a resident of two places. Speaking with the governor’s counsel, he said he learned the governor based his action on a portion of state code that defines a resident as someone who lives in Delaware at least 183 days per year, meaning they should not come to Lewes or Delaware unless this is their primary residence or be subject to a 14-day quarantine. City council considered taking the governor’s order a step further, but opted to follow the mandate as is. The city is encouraging Lewes residents returning from another state to voluntarily self-quarantine for 14 days.
Spell said he spoke with Delaware River and Bay Authority police March 30 to discuss how it was handling incoming traffic from the Cape May-Lewes Ferry. He said traffic is restricted to vehicles only and passengers are asked to remain in their vehicles throughout the journey across the Delaware Bay. Reservations must be made in advance, and no cash will be accepted. Ferry staff is also making announcements to inform passengers of the new 14-day quarantine measure, and DRBA has limited its service to two boats per day in each direction.
In addition, Spell said, the Department of Transportation has placed message signs on Savannah Road at the entrance of town, Kings Highway near Big Oyster Brewery and Freeman Highway at Cape Henlopen Drive. The signs inform visitors of the 14-day quarantine requirement.