Memorial Day is just around the corner, and like many of the local businesses, Rehoboth Beach is struggling to fill its annual summer employment vacancies.
During a special commissioner meeting April 13, Police Chief Keith Banks said 15 summer cadets have been hired of the 28 the department is authorized for. He said there were more applications, but they didn’t meet the minimum standards.
City Manager Sharon Lynn said it wasn’t just the police department that was having trouble finding summer help. The city is markedly understaffed in the streets and parking departments, she said.
This is highly unusual, and it’s concerning because typically the number of summer employees drops as the season moves along, said Lynn. The city is doing routine maintenance, but there will have to be some areas that won’t be addressed right away, she said.
Commissioner Pat Coluzzi asked if the police department could borrow staff from other area police departments to fill the need.
Banks said there are times when off-duty police officers do fill in for special events, but having them work a normal shift isn’t contractually allowed. Also, he added, other towns are having the same issues filling their vacancies.
Commissioner Edward Chrzanowski asked if the city could hire full-time staff to replace the part-time summer help.
Lynn said they would if they could. The city has been advertising a position for full-time help, she said.
Mask enforcement will be tough
Last summer, at the height of COVID unknowns, city officials were meeting every Tuesday, and sometimes commissioners were changing the city’s policies related to COVID just as often. Banks said the department is prepared to do its part, but he implored commissioners to be consistent with their decisions this summer. Signs couldn't be made fast enough to recognize changes, which led to a lot of confusion, he said.
“It cannot be like it was last year,” said Banks.
The police department handed out more than 26,000 masks last year. Banks said the department plans to do the same this year, but he wanted the commissioners’ expectations to be realistic.
Banks said, for the most part, people are respecting the mask rule. However, he said, there are times when people have drawn a line in the sand and they just aren’t going to put one on.
Banks reminded commissioners they have allowed police officers to hand out civil violations if someone refuses to wear a mask. However, the reality is nobody wants one of the officers to get into a fight about mask-wearing, and officers have been instructed not to escalate a situation.
Problems can escalate quickly over this COVID thing, said Banks.
In an effort to limit the number of lifeguards who contract COVID, Banks said there have been some new policies put in place – primarily staggered lunch times, so there aren’t a bunch of guards in headquarters at once.
Mayor Stan Mills said he is going to continue to follow the guidance issued from the state level. As summer nears, he said he’s inclined to be more strict, not less when it comes to mask wearing because the population and density of people will increase.
By all accounts, the city’s rental market – hotels and houses – is booming heading into this summer. With that in mind, Commissioner Patrick Gossett said it will be physically impossible to social distance on the Boardwalk and Rehoboth Avenue. The city needs to take a broad approach to the issue and hold strong on the science, he said.
Banks said it’s not just employees – the state has taken back the large electronic signs it allowed the city to place at roadway entrances telling visitors masks are required. He said the state needed them back for road projects, and the police department is looking into replacing them.
For the near future, there are not going to be any message boards, he said.
Mills said he would like to see those put back as soon as possible. They’re critical to having a successful summer, he said.
In other COVID-related news, Lynn said the city’s playgrounds will be reopening soon.