The creation of a Rehoboth Beach task force asked to develop a fee structure for a possible stormwater utility has been delayed after commissioners voted against the slate of members proposed by Mayor Stan Mills.
Stormwater infrastructure issues have been a headache for Rehoboth for years now. The city hired AECOM, an international infrastructure consulting firm, in March 2020 to assess funding levels and develop options for addressing shortfalls, and assist in developing a stormwater utility. In December, at the recommendation of city staff, city commissioners agreed to create the Stormwater Utility Task Force to make recommendations regarding a fee structure associated with the establishment of a stormwater utility fund to provide dedicated funding for stormwater-related programs and projects.
According to an information sheet prepared by Public Works Director Kevin Williams and Projects Coordinator Evan Miller for a Jan. 21 commissioner meeting, there are more than 2,000 stormwater utilities across the country and three in Delaware – Wilmington, Newark and Lewes Board of Public Works. Similar to water or sewer utilities, they explain, stormwater utilities assess a fee on their users. For stormwater, they write, the fee is most often assessed using a property’s impervious cover as a basis. AECOM has estimated it would take six meetings for the task force to reach its goal and that those meetings would be done by mid-July.
In the current fiscal year, according to the information sheet, the city is spending approximately $630,000 to clean, assess, and repair stormwater infrastructure as well as test stormwater quality. This is not sustainable without implementing a dedicated funding source, wrote Williams and Miller.
With a completion timeline of roughly six months, the task force was slated to begin meeting in February. However, during the Jan. 21 meeting, a majority of the commissioners voiced concerns that Mills was leaving off a number of qualified applicants. As proposed, the slate of task force members were, in alphabetical order, Elise Burns, Letitia Gomez, Jan Konesey, Janice Miller, Eric Seward, Bob Suppies and Bruce Williams.
The names of the additional applicants weren’t given to the public, but Commissioner Jay Lagree was the first to voice his displeasure with leaving off a couple of applications from people who live on one of the city’s lakes. These are good, quality people, he said.
Commissioner Patrick Gossett said he wasn’t against the slate specifically; he just thought there were other qualified applicants who could be involved. More viewpoints will get the city better results, he said.
Commissioner Tim Bennett said he was against the proposed slate because in the past, prior to being elected as commissioner, he hadn’t been selected for city committees. The city should be encouraging participation, he said.
Mills, typically mild-mannered, responded angrily to the commissioners by reminding them they had collectively agreed months ago that five to seven people should be on the task force. Without specifically accusing any particular commissioner, Mills said it appears their concerns were more about getting friends and neighbors on the task force.
In the end, a motion made to approve Mills’ slate of task force members failed by a 3-2 vote, with two abstentions. Gossett, Lagree and Commissioner Toni Sharp voted against. Mills and Commissioner Edward Chrzanowski voted in favor. Bennett and Commissioner Susan Gay abstained.
The topic is expected to be brought back up for discussion during the next commissioner workshop, which is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 8.