Facing a March 8 deadline to award a contract to the low bidder, Rehoboth Beach commissioners have voted to commit $280,000 from next year’s budget toward the completion of the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal access dock in Rehoboth Beach.
City officials have voiced non-monetary commitment to the project for years. The fiscal change of heart came Feb. 21, after long discussions at a budget meeting and special commissioner meeting. Following those two meetings, during the regular monthly meeting, Mayor Paul Kuhns, Commissioners Richard Byrne, Edward Chrzanowski, Lisa Schlosser and Steve Scheffer voted in favor of earmarking the money in next year’s budget.
Commissioner Susan Gay was the lone no vote, while Commissioner Pat Coluzzi recused herself from the discussion at all three meetings and during the vote because she sits on the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal Improvement Association, a nonprofit proponent of the project that has raised over $1 million toward its construction.
Rehoboth commissioners were scheduled to vote to award the contract at their Jan. 17 meeting, but the vote was removed from the agenda after the bids opened Jan. 8 came in too high. The project received three bids – Thompson & Sons Contracting Inc. for $1.25 million, JJID Inc. for $1.37 million, and Mumford & Miller Concrete Inc. for $1.89 million.
Heading into the bid opening, Landscape Architectural Service Principal Matt Spong, a consultant working for the improvement association, estimated the cost to build the dock at a little over $1 million. During the second meeting on the subject Feb. 21, Spong said bids on infrastructure projects across the state are coming in 20 percent higher or more than expected.
Scheffer brought the subject of the canal access dock up at the budget meeting. He explained a 60-day period for the city to consider the bids ended March 8. He said if the city didn’t act, it would be in danger of losing a significant portion of the funding the improvement association has raised.
“We’re at a critical point,” he said. “Time is running out.”
From the beginning of the canal dock proposal over a decade ago, the improvement association has said the city will not have to fund the building of the project. Dogfish Head’s Mark Carter, improvement association representative, said he was confident they would raise the $280,000 before the city actually spent any money. He said they were able to raise an additional $130,000 since the bid opening, but some potential donors were waiting for the city to get involved.
The discussion was long, but the favorable votes to approve the money were there from the beginning. Ultimately, commissioners awarded the project to Thompson & Sons for $1.35 million, an amount that also includes a $100,000 contingency fund.
Prior to her no vote, Gay said she wasn’t against the project, she was against being presented the information and request for money at the 11th hour. She said it was irresponsible for this project to go ahead of all other important projects on the city’s capital improvement list.
City Manager Sharon Lynn said projected revenues for next year’s budget were conservative, and she would come back to commissioners at their next workshop with adjustments taking the new expense into account.
The $280,000 commitment from the city is also contingent on the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the city and the canal improvement association. In an email Feb. 27, City Solicitor Glenn Mandalas said he expected it to take several weeks to prepare a draft of the agreement that adequately addresses the issues.
Fiscal Year 2020/21 discussion continues
In other budget-related news, the commissioners also committed approximately $336,000 of next year’s budget toward the second phase of installing new pay stations throughout the city. It’s a move mirroring exactly what was done this time last year for installation of phase one last spring.
Lynn said the move allows the city to begin ordering the new pay stations so they can be installed by the time meter season begins.
In general, Lynn continues to present commissioners with a balanced budget – $27.2 million in revenue, with $22.1 million in operating expenses and $5.1 million in capital outlays. The city’s budget Fiscal Year 2020-21 begins April 1.
Public Works Director Kevin Williams reported the estimate for the Delaware Avenue restroom project is now $250,000, a decrease of $390,000 from the last workshop. This work would include adding two family restrooms, two family changing rooms and four small changing rooms onto the Delaware Avenue side of the structure.
Williams said the reason for the decrease is because of a misunderstanding between the city and the contractor. He said the contractor didn’t realize the city had already made some of the improvements to the existing restroom facility last year.
Lynn said there’s also a $150,000 reduction in the Lake Gerar playground project. Coming in now at $100,000, she said this allows existing equipment to be replaced and made handicap accessible, without expanding the footprint of the playground or removing any of the trees.
It wasn’t all cost-saving measures. City staff did present commissioners with some additional expenses too – $205,000 to replace Rehoboth Avenue’s streetlights with LED light bulbs; $30,000 to replace roughly one-third of the chairs in the convention center; $50,000 toward designing a stormwater line along Fourth Street, from Park Avenue to Sussex Street.
The budget continues to include 2 percent raises for all employees. Police officers will see a 3.5 percent raise, plus any step increases.
Commissioners are expected to resume next year’s budget discussion at a workshop Monday, March 9. The final budget workshop is scheduled for Friday, March 20, with a vote to approve it at the regular commissioner meeting later that same day.