Lewes exploring changes to charter

Officials seek authority to control larger amount of money
March 14, 2023

Does more money create more problems or do more problems create a need for more money? Lewes Mayor and City Council seem to be asking themselves which situation applies to them.

At a Feb. 28 council workshop, officials discussed possible changes to the charter that would allow the city to borrow larger amounts of money without voter approval and increase the threshold for necessary bidding.

Currently, any project or service estimated to cost more than $25,000 requires Lewes officials to put out a request for proposal. Officials say the work involved in securing a bid has become too cumbersome for vendors to complete if the bid isn’t high enough. 

Lewes is considering an increase in the threshold to $50,000 – the figure used by the state. City Manager Ann Marie Townshend said the lower threshold often results in smaller projects being pushed off, while Police Chief Tom Spell said some projects are reduced in scale to streamline. 

Townshend said the last time the threshold was increased was 2009.

Deputy Mayor Khalil Saliba didn’t say the number needed to be $50,000, but he did say the city needs to keep up with economic circumstances.

“If it’s not keeping with inflation, we need to keep increasing it,” Saliba said.

Referendum-free borrowing

Currently, mayor and city council can borrow money up to 25% of the value of real property within city limits. The charter change proposal seeks to raise the limit to $75 million. City Solicitor Glenn Mandalas said the figure was chosen because that’s what passed through legislation for Rehoboth Beach.

Proposed changes to the charter would also eliminate voter involvement unless the figure exceeds $5 million. 

During public comments, former Councilwoman Bonnie Osler said she didn't think the city would pursue a bond issue for projects below $5 million. However, if the city was to try for one, she thinks residents should have a say, especially if it is millions of dollars.

Osler advised mayor and city council to not take away the rights of the people, who will ultimately be the ones paying off the debt. 

Mayor and city council did not take action on the proposed charter changes, saying they will resume discussions during future meetings.


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