There are six candidates for two commissioner seats in Rehoboth Beach’s 2019 election. Four of the candidates have filed as residents – Mark Betchkal, Edward Chrzanowski, Charles Garlow and Suzanne Goode. The two nonresident candidates are Susan Gay and Gary Glass. Incumbent Commissioners Stan Mills and Toni Sharp are not running for re-election.
This slate of candidates marks the highest number in a non-mayoral election year this century.
The election will take place from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 10, in the Rehoboth Beach Convention Center, 229 Rehoboth Ave.
Any qualified elector may request an absentee ballot to vote by filing a request for an absentee ballot form no later than noon, Friday, Aug. 9. For more information, contact Donna Moore at 302-227-6181, Ext. 108, or go online to www.cityofrehoboth.com.
• Mark Betchkal •
Education: BA in economics and history, University of Wisconsin-Madison; MS in economics, University of London, London School of Economics and Political Science.
Residence: Rehoboth Beach
How long have you owned property or resided in Rehoboth? 12 years
Relevant experience: Personal engagement with the city government as a homeowner, business owner, home builder, community activist.
• Edward Chrzanowski •
Education: (none provided)
Residence: 46 Pennsylvania Ave.
How long have you owned property or resided in Rehoboth? I have resided here for the past two years. I am a trustee and beneficiary of a trust that owns my residence, and I also own, indirectly through an LLC, a property on Laurel Street.
Relevant experience: Community leader; Rehoboth Beach Main Street president; successful corporate and operational senior vice president and executive compensation consultant for an international aerospace defense company and financial institutions; member of corporate charitable boards
• Charlie Garlow •
Education: BA from Harvard University, 1974; West Virginia University Law School, 1979
Occupation: Retired environmental attorney
Residence: 82 Sussex St. Full-time resident and property owner.
Family: Spouse – Joan Flaherty
How long have you owned property or resided in Rehoboth?: Owner of property since 2011 and lived here parttime since 2014. Full-time resident starting in May 2018.
Relevant experience: Civic leader in environment and good government nonprofit organizations. Retired U.S. environmental attorney; U.S. Marine, Vietnam Era. Provided testimony at public hearings at the state, county and city levels. Founder of Delaware Electric Vehicle Association; co-chair, Citizens’ Climate Lobby, Lower Delaware; serve on the Green Team organized by Rehoboth Commissioner Richard Byrne.
• Susan M. Gay •
Education: BS, Presbyterian College, SC; MA from Emory University, Atlanta, Ga.
Occupation: formerly executive editor and publisher, 30+ years managing multimillion dollar operations.
Residence: 316 Country Club Dr.
Family: Married with two children, daughter (25), son (22)
How long have you owned property or resided in Rehoboth? 5 years, following frequent visits for 15 years prior.
Relevant experience: Rehoboth Beach Planning Commission, 2 years, currently vice chair; Rehoboth Beach Homeowners’ Association board member, 5 years, currently vice president; member of Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Trees, 2+ years; board member of Country Club Estates Property Owners Association, 4 years; and Save Our Lakes Alliance, 3+ years; former board member Rehoboth Beach Historical Society, 1 year.
• Gary Glass •
Education: BS, accounting and finance, Louisiana State University
Occupation: Retired from a career in accounting, IT and management
Residence: Davidsonville, Md.
Family: Partner, Brian Patterson
How long have you owned property or resided in Rehoboth? Since 2000
Relevant experience: I had a 30-year career in accounting, IT services and management. I am currently a member of Rehoboth’s Beach and Boardwalk Committee. I was treasurer of the Country Club Estates Property Owners Association in Rehoboth for many years.
• Suzanne Goode •
Education: BA economics, Harvard University
Occupation: researcher and editor, Fifth Chance Media LLC
Residence: full-time in Rehoboth Beach
Family: Husband, three grown children and youngest child at Cape Henlopen High School
How long have you owned property or resided in Rehoboth? Property owner since 2006, after vacationing here beginning in 1980s; full time resident since August 2017
Relevant experience: research and economic analysis, including work for a consulting firm on water and wastewater infrastructure in Cairo, Egypt; PTA volunteer work
The General Assembly passed a bill allowing the city to charge up to a 3 percent accommodations tax. How should that tax be implemented? Explain.
Mark Betchkal: It should be implemented by a vote of the board of commissioners. The important question is, “How should we use this new revenue source?” It should be used for the design, maintenance, and construction of the infrastructure necessary for a strong resort economy. We need to identify the best ways to invest these new funds. For instance, perhaps these funds are best set aside for beach replenishment, Boardwalk maintenance and stormwater management. Let’s not let this new funding source just be an open spigot into the general fund.
Edward Chrzanowski: The accommodations tax is an opportunity to increase revenues without impacting our taxpayers. The two largest sources of city revenue are parking and rental fees. However, since most hotels have parking garages, hotel guests rarely pay parking fees and unlike house renters, they pay no tax. Proposed new hotels will only exacerbate the disparity between these two groups of guests. City employees work hard to maintain beautiful, safe and clean beaches, parks and other facilities that should be supported by all. The accommodations tax should be incrementally implemented so that we do not discourage hotel guests and suffer unintended consequences.
Charlie Garlow: Let’s reach out to our business community and discuss the accommodation tax. The city needs to raise enough revenues to cover the fiscal obligations and economic challenges we face. It may be more feasible to phase in a tax increase at 1 percent per year to reach the 3 percent and allow hotels and motels to make the adjustment. The state collects a lodging tax of 8 percent on hotels and motels. None of this revenue goes to the city. Town services need revenue to be able to serve the summer population. Let’s work cooperatively on this.
Susan M. Gay: I favor implementing the full 3 percent tax, to take effect Jan. 1, 2020. I think the commissioners should enact this tax just as soon as the governor signs the bill, so the hotels have adequate time to plan and apply to new reservations. Hotel guests are accustomed to paying a room tax, often greater than ours. A similar tax on all hotels in Sussex County has also been passed this year. Our success as a resort community depends heavily on our ability to fund infrastructure maintenance and city services. It’s time for hotel guests to pay their fair share.
Gary Glass: I strongly support this city accommodations tax. Most other towns in the area have a similar tax. It is simple to implement, because it piggybacks on the existing accommodations tax that our hotels already collect from guests and pay to the state. Assuming the governor does not veto the bill, our mayor and commissioners should implement the full 3 percent tax effective Jan. 1, 2020, or no later than the start of the fiscal year next April. I don’t think hotel guests will notice any difference.
Suzanne Goode: That tax should have been implemented by May 1, 2019, but was not gotten through the Dover State House in a timely manner due to pushback from the chamber of commerce on behalf of the hoteliers. It’s imperative to get the tax levied at the full 3 percent as soon as possible, preferably by Oct. 1, 2019. Why the full 3 percent rather than starting at 1 percent or 2 percent level as some commissioners have suggested? This is modest compared to the 14.95 percent charged by hoteliers in Washington, D.C., all of which goes to the city.
The planning commission is about to get into the 2020 comprehensive development plan. What’s your vision of Rehoboth 10 years from now?
Betchkal: What matters is our shared vision. The CDP provides a framework for decision making about growth, change and preservation. It is a community vision of the future. Great towns don’t emerge from bad decisions. The CDP is at the core of the effort to make wise decisions now for the future. I hope the CDP addresses the building and zoning code to prepare for a warmer planet; re-evaluates building heights; and assess the code’s effectiveness where residential and commercial properties abut one another.
Chrzanowski: In 10 years, I envision our city as the vibrant model that other communities strive to become; as a community of “one” without divisiveness, and united by positive attitudes, cooperation and common goals, energized by more community events and engagement by residents and businesses to establish and preserve friendly neighborhoods and a thriving downtown community. I envision a restored and enhanced state-of-the-art infrastructure supported by a plan and budget for the following 10 years. I envision a city that is a leader in environmental technology and “greening” to protect our ocean, beaches, lakes and clean air.
Garlow: Rehoboth should be a more walkable, bikeable, pedestrian-safe city, and have clean transit and electric cars. We need a Climate Action Plan to reduce our exposure to future risks and a roadmap to a sustainable future. Embracing energy efficiency and solar energy will lower our costs. Planting more trees will provide greater shade that will be needed as the climate gets hotter and help to abate nuisance flooding as rainfall increases. A Climate Action Plan with measurable goals should be in the Comprehensive Development Plan. Let’s promote environmental stewardship across the city and maintain an excellent economy and ecosystem.
Gay: My vision is to retain our unique sense of place, which is the key to our economic well-being. The essence of our small town is its charming homes on tree-lined streets; a beautiful beach, parks, lakes and green space; a vibrant small-business district of distinctive, locally owned restaurants and shops, coupled with a tranquil atmosphere beyond the Boardwalk and avenues; and a diverse community. Our neighborhoods are distinct from one another and from other towns. As we redevelop the city for future generations, I want to retain the qualities and character that attracted us all here.
Glass: I want to see Rehoboth remain a charming beach town much like it is today, but that is going to take strong planning and conviction to implement the plans we have adopted. The pressures for greater density and overdevelopment are going to overwhelm our beautiful town if we do not enforce the rules and the plans that we have made. The current mayor and commissioners have been too focused on new development and are not paying enough attention to preservation, infrastructure and basic services.
Goode: I envision a vibrant small town, with pedestrian crosswalks and designated bike paths throughout. I want to ensure that new development includes architecture that enhances the small-scale aspect of Rehoboth Beach, and that green space surrounding new construction is preserved. The city should work more closely with Delaware Department of Transportation by adding safety measures on the new bike path, improving pedestrian safety and improving the traffic circle. For 2020 and beyond, we should return to the previous 10 a.m. to midnight parking meter enforcement. Incremental small steps will bring added safety and tranquility to our lovely oceanside community.
Does the city need a parking garage? Explain.
Betchkal: I am bewildered by the advocacy for a parking garage in the absence of a city-wide traffic and parking study. Here is some data: From 2017 to 2018, parking meter revenue was down $138,000. At the 2018 meter parking fee of $2 per hour on Rehoboth Avenue, $138,000 is equivalent to 47 days of not a single car parked in the 122 parking spaces on the ocean block of Rehoboth Avenue. That does not scream “construct a parking garage.” It suggests the need for data to help us manage our parking inventory better.
Chrzanowski: I do not have an answer yet to this complex question. Admittedly, we have a parking problem – perceived or actual – that adversely affects our community. Parking takes center stage in the development of the downtown area and is a concern in our residential neighborhoods. As a member of the city’s Parking Garage Task Force, I intend to explore options, seek the input of experts and our citizens, understand the impact on traffic and nearby property owners, the cost to the city versus net revenues, and short- and long-term risk and to protect the city’s property interest.
Garlow: There are good arguments for and against a parking garage. I am open to citizen input on the need for a garage. There are plenty of side street parking spaces, even in summer months, but tourists don’t want to walk the few blocks to shopping or the beach, in spite of encouragement from our parking permit officials. A garage will not address traffic congestion on Route 1 and the bottleneck at the bridge. It may even encourage more cars. We need to reduce car dependency and explore opportunities to use remote parking locations with shuttle services to prime drop-off spots.
Gay: The city needs parking solutions. There is no one big solution. A parking garage needs to be carefully studied, for risks and benefits. A citywide traffic study should be part of the garage decision process. Revenue from parking is the city’s largest source of income, and the current proposal for a public-private partnership could adversely affect that. The proposed location beside city hall could create more congestion for people and cars. Other locations should also be considered, as should a shuttle service. A solution is needed for employee parking. Wayfinding signage can maximize visitors’ awareness of all current parking options.
Glass: I have reviewed the available studies, and I have attended meetings of the parking garage working group, and I don’t see any evidence that a parking garage would benefit Rehoboth Beach. Except during a handful of weekends, there are many available spaces in the existing lot and on streets a few blocks from the Boardwalk. By shifting parking revenue from street spaces, a privately run garage will reduce the city’s revenues. Also, it will be a huge added liability for the city, because a privately financed garage will put a lien on the city’s property that must be paid off.
Goode: Given that the flat lot outside city hall is only 50 percent full on a weekday evening in July, and only 80 percent full on a weekend evening, any proposed parking garage may not be a good investment. Unless a private company or investor wants to take on the full risk of the costs of construction by borrowing the funds with the goal of recouping them in about 10 years, it probably is not an economically viable project for the public sector, due to the inherent seasonality.
To pay for needed water and wastewater infrastructure upgrades, the city is thinking about changing the way it calculates its rates. How would you adjust the rates?
Betchkal: We need to expand the definition of “use of the system.” Use of the system is defined by flow. I argue whether the water is flowing or not flowing, every dwelling/business hooked into the system is using the system. I favor a higher annual ready for service fee. This ready for service fee would differ by dwelling and business type. After that fee has been surpassed by actual flow, then the user is charged by flow. This guarantees that every property hooked up to the system contributes to the fixed costs of the system.
Chrzanowski: I believe rates should be established fairly and should be based on consumption. Before making any rate adjustment, however, there must be a full public hearing.
Garlow: I favor a system that charges frugal water/wastewater users, like my family, less and charges those who waste lots of water, more. Peak pricing in summer months should be worked into the formula, if it isn’t included already. This will encourage conservation of water with water-saving fixtures and reduce the burden on our wastewater infrastructure. We can all help reduce the stress on our water infrastructure. For example, one idea may be to utilize underground cisterns, where feasible, to capture rainwater and reuse this water for gardens and car washing.
Gay: I would adjust our current rates proportionately to meet the revenue goal, maintaining the peak summer rate. The purpose of our current peak/nonpeak rate structure is fair billing across all user groups. To charge one rate all year, as our utility group has recommended, means shifting cost from more-costly users to less-costly users. Peak/nonpeak rates also promote conservation. In addition, the prevailing peak/nonpeak rate structure was part of the package that was presented to voters when the ocean outfall went to referendum.
Glass: I strongly opposed the mayor’s proposals last winter to give away our wastewater system to Sussex County and adopt the county’s rate structure, which discourages water conservation. My key goal has been to retain a metered approach to rates like we have today, where people who use more have to pay more. I had early disagreements with the Utility Rates Working Group, and some of the details in their proposals need more work, but I generally support their proposed rate structure which preserves metered rates.
Goode: I would increase the rates, but preserve the peak and nonpeak rate structure, which benefits year-round residents. The peak rate also means investors who own large residences for rental purposes in the season pay proportionately more. Investors and landlords can deduct the full cost of their water bill from their taxes. Add to that the sheer magnitude of the system which had to be constructed to service the tourists in July, and it’s reasonable to have the seasonal users pay slightly more. The equity issues have not changed since the 1999 study recommended the peak/nonpeak rate structure.
What should the city do about its aging stormwater infrastructure?
Betchkal: There are two obvious first steps – maintaining the ocean outfalls so the city never faces flooding from a plugged-up outfall again, and education. We need a thorough evaluation of the building code to mitigate rainwater runoff before it happens. Then we need to incentivize property owners to retrofit their properties with these workable solutions. Additionally, we must prepare financially for the inevitable – the time will come when we will not be allowed to discharge untreated stormwater into the lakes and oceans.
Chrzanowski: Our stormwater infrastructure is one of the many victims of the city’s history of deferred maintenance. We need to quickly address critical deficiencies – such as lower Wilmington Avenue flooding. Our stormwater infrastructure is important to protect our environment. I propose that the city establish a reserve or segregated account to ensure that maintenance will not be deferred as it has been in the past.
Garlow: Delaware’s coastal areas are subject to flooding due to storm surge, exacerbated by climate change. We should fix the worst parts first and reduce the burden on our stormwater system. For example, using nature-based bio-swales will absorb the water without running off into streets and stormwater drains. We need to continue to assess the public infrastructure taking into consideration sea-level rise, prioritize projects and apply for grants from the county and state to make the necessary improvements to fix and maintain the infrastructure. We can’t afford to have our beaches closed due to bacteria. Encourage everyone to reduce runoff.
Gay: Water quality of the ocean and lakes in Rehoboth should be our highest priority. Work is already underway to make major repairs to stormwater pipes beneath the Boardwalk. Going forward, we need a citywide stormwater analysis to determine priorities, especially looking at areas where pipes are too small or no catch basins exist, which leads to floods during any heavy rain. We also need to assure that all construction projects have a stormwater management plan to contain runoff. Most importantly, we need to plant more trees, which have a proven ability to absorb literally tons of stormwater.
Glass: Fixing the stormwater system is one of my top priorities. Not only is this a ticking time bomb set to cause sinkholes and major flooding in a big storm, but the crumbling system is polluting our lakes and ocean even during light rain. Upgrading this infrastructure to meet the needs of all the new hotels and restaurants and larger houses in town will be a very costly project – $20 million to 40 million, according to the consultants – but we need to start working on this right away.
Goode: I have confidence that Kevin Williams, Public Works director, will make sound recommendations so situations like flooding on Bayard Avenue do not recur. We need to make the needed investments and upgrades, as if we were to receive a direct hit by a hurricane; we can’t afford to risk insufficient storm drainage infrastructure. In the case of Hurricane Sandy, only because the storm made a turn toward New Jersey was Rehoboth spared the brunt of that storm.
In the past year, the city has instituted live streaming of its meetings, but two working groups – parking garage and utility rates – were created with little to no input from commissioners or the public. How would you rate the city’s transparency? How could it be improved?
Betchkal: Given my own experience, I give the city a failing grade. Routinely, FOIA requests are delayed or ignored until the threat of action by the Attorney General’s office. I will not support cover-ups of city errors. I will push for a new requirement that the schedules of the mayor, city manager, chief building inspector, chief ofpolice, and commissioners be publicly posted every day and remain posted for 24 months. We should know with whom our elected and non-elected leaders are meeting and the topic of discussion.
Chrzanowski: Over the past couple of years, the city has made real improvements on its transparency by making information readily available on the city website as well as implementing live streaming coverage of the most critically important city meetings. But there is always room for improvement. I believe that the process for establishing all committees should be uniform and they should all be an open door to the public.
Garlow: We should seek input from commissioners and the public on the members of all working groups and committees, but a decision must be made on membership. That is the mayor’s job. Transparency builds confidence in government and increases citizen participation. Live streaming of meetings is a good start and helps to make government accountable. City meetings currently have ample opportunity to provide for citizen comments, so transparency is good. We can improve citizen access to our city’s accomplishments by instituting City Stats, like Baltimore did, with a dashboard tracking progress on various goals, such as reductions in traffic congestion.
Gay: This year, transparency has been lacking. There have been a record number of FOIA requests, some of which have uncovered disturbing information regarding secret meetings and promises made. Going around our well-established public processes hurts those who wish to do business here as much it breaches the public trust. We still have work to do to be a fully transparent municipal government. We can start by assuring that all public bodies are formed through a public process, and that decisions of membership of committees and task forces be made by the full board of commissioners.
Glass: The tone at the top is vital to transparency. This past year exposed instances where the mayor and some commissioners had extensive private discussions with developers and Sussex County about important matters of public interest. This is not good government. I was one of the people who filed a FOIA complaint when the utility group met privately, and the attorney general agreed those meetings were improper. As a commissioner, I would insist on much greater openness, because we all benefit when the public is informed and contributes to the discussion.
Goode: Thanks to the Civic Web portal, the city’s transparency is a vast improvement over the past. Notwithstanding, there seems to be a pro-business agenda on the board, so the election of commissioners who represent the residents’ interests is critical this August. Generally, committees have been comprised of a hodgepodge of constituents, with mixed success. My goal is to increase the priority given to full-time residents on any committee tasked with evaluating issues facing RB, and to get pro-resident commissioners elected into office in 2019 and each year thereafter.