REHOBOTH CANDIDATES SPEAK TO CITIZENS

Rehoboth candidates speak to voters

By Ryan Mavity | Jul 29, 2011

Cape Gazette

Rehoboth Beach — Saturday night may be all right for fighting, but last Friday night was alright to meet Rehoboth Beach’s election candidates.

Voters packed into CAMP Rehoboth’s community center to listen to the candidates – incumbent Sam Cooper and challenger Tom McGlone for the mayor’s seat, incumbent Lorraine Zellers, Mark Hunker and Rick Kirchhoff for commissioner for the city’s municipal election take questions from residents.

The July 23 event was co-hosted by CAMP Rehoboth and the Rehoboth Beach Homeowner’s Association. Each candidate was allowed an opening and closing statement, sandwiched between questions from the audience. What follows are several questions followed by the candidates' answers, which have been edited for clarity.

The board of the association asked, “You’re running for a three-year term. Please tell us what you think are the three biggest issues facing Rehoboth in the next three years?”

Cooper: “I feel that one of the biggest issues we face is not internal but external, and that’s the economy we are in. Hopefully the Congress will do something about passing the debt ceiling, because otherwise it could put the country in a tailspin, and the city along with it.

"I think the wastewater outfall is obviously very important because the amount of debt we take on will set the tone for years to come. And the third thing is, again, preserving the small-town character that typifies Rehoboth. The closeness of the neighborhoods, the cottage feel, if you will, is probably the biggest one.”

McGlone: “I believe the three most important things are: communication, getting our community feeling like a community again and rebuilding some of the credibility that has been lost with the current government.

"I think that planning is extremely important. When I asked Greg Ferrese what happens, what contingencies were in the budget if gasoline potentially goes to $5 a gallon, and he says ‘We don’t have any contingencies in that plan.’ And lastly, the wastewater outfall and making sure, since it’s a $30 million to $35 million project, that we have that in hand as far as how we are going to pay for that.”

Hunker: “I want to build on that communication piece. One of the reasons driving me to come here – and I do attend meetings and listen – is trying to build consensus and trying to get some closure on many different things we are facing: noise, trees, all these we’ve talked about regularly.

"I wanted to talk about the comprehensive development plan and the outfall project. We have a great CDP, but we have to actually think about what we are going to do with it, how we’re going to fund it and how we’re going to start it and actually have it affect the city. And the other piece is keeping Rehoboth Rehoboth. I know we hear all the time, ‘Keep the small town feel.’ We have to actually find out how to keep Rehoboth the way we want to keep it.”

Kirchhoff: “I think clearly the biggest infrastructure issue facing the city is the completion of the ocean outfall. We don’t have a lot of time left on the timeline, and there is still a lot left to do. I’m not sure it’s going to meet the deadline, but I hope it does. Second thing, I think the problems of last fall have exposed a raw nerve in the city, and there is a lot of work that needs to be done to put things back to right. Finally, I think we need a comprehensive plan, an infrastructure improvement plan, because I don’t think the city really has a set of needs to be focused on.”

Zellers: “I believe the most important thing is preserving our small-town charm. I also think communication is key, and we can do a better job of letting people know why we’re doing the things we’re doing. I do believe that the ocean outfall is a project that has to go forward to completion. We are in the permitting process now and we will be funding that.”

Rehoboth resident D.C. Kuhns asked how Rehoboth can sustain its increasing budget.

Cooper: “I think the taxes and property taxes are relatively low in Rehoboth Beach. Compare them to any out-of-state jurisdiction; if we wanted to, there is a lot of room to raise taxes. I’m not in favor of that. I think we do a pretty good job with parking; obviously it is a huge income-generator for the city as it relates to tourism. And it’s the only direct tax, if you will, that we have on our visitors, other than a 3 percent rental tax.

"I think we’re pretty well positioned. We could discuss a couple of other taxes on accommodations that could be implemented if we need to expand the budget. But I’m not for expanding the budget unless we absolutely have to. I think we have very good services now.”

McGlone: “In this case, I’m a big proponent of public-private partnerships. I do not believe that government has to basically pay for everything. I think there are opportunities to take advantage of the entrepreneurial spirit that we have here in town in terms of perhaps partnerships to be able to use some things versus the city having to pay for it.

"In addition to that, I’d be looking at something like the building the city owns on Rehoboth Avenue that Snyder Candy is in. Somebody rents that from the city for $60,000 a year; they have a five-year lease. My understanding is, and I don’t know this for a fact, that that person turns around and sublets that space out and probably makes $70,000 or $80,000 profit in terms of renting out that space from the city. I would say, why is the city in the rental business? Maybe that money could be used and that property could be sold to fund the municipal complex, versus raising taxes.”

Hunker: “On the revenue side, I am not about building government for government’s sake, but I think the Rehoboth government can be built. There are a few areas where I think we could modernize. I look at the accommodations tax and also as a business owner, I have many, many questions from people about why businesses are not paying more in taxes or fees. If done in a fair way, I think maybe we could raise funds and expand the infrastructure of Rehoboth for the future. Sidewalks and other things we keep talking about could be done with a fair assessment.

Kirchhoff: “I think we need to strive to make sure the tax base is as broadly distributed as possible amongst the groups that are using the city services: residents, visitors, business community and others.

"We should try to broaden that tax base as much as possible and equalize it as much as possible so that’s it’s a rough parity between who’s paying and who’s benefiting. We all benefit from city government in one form. The idea is that we should all be paying our fair share. There are areas where the city can look to raise revenues without being too burdensome on one particular constituency.”

Zellers: “I think the city has done a pretty good job of keeping our taxes low and being sensitive in raising property taxes. At each budget time that I’ve been involved in, we’ve had an overview of everything. This last time, we looked at different revenue streams , some of which were taxes on accommodations, gross receipts tax and an increase in some of the rental tax.

"But the economy is kind of bad, and those are areas I think we can explore at another time. We listened to the businesses who asked us to make everybody pays a little so nobody pays a lot. The property tax kind of took over on that. We tried to be fair and not too onerous and to cover our services that the residents wanted and needed. I’m not one for raising taxes for the sake of raising taxes. I think there are other areas where we can get some additional revenue.”

Dana Greenwald of 111 St. Lawrence St. asked about the increase in crime or the perception of an increase in crime in South Rehoboth. What do the candidates hope to do?

McGlone: “I am not a law-enforcement expert. There are many subject matters I am not an expert on. But the one thing I am very good at is bringing expertise in, whether they be consultants or just people that have expertise. As I’ve been walking around chatting with people, probably 30 percent or 35 percent of folks bring crime up as a real concern, in terms of having kids and grandkids walk to the Boardwalk. One of the first things I want to do is look to bring in some outside expertise to basically do an evaluation, relative to what we’re doing from a law-enforcement perspective, to see if we’re on track.”

Hunker: “I did meet with Chief Banks. We talked about all the different parts of Rehoboth and the neighborhoods. I believe they are properly staffed and it’s getting out and talking to the community. I heard it a lot in South Rehoboth – if someone would come talk to them, talk about what the problem areas are. If someone could come talk to them about it, that would be a great thing. A little bit more outreach to the community.

Kirchhoff: “I was very struck by Delaware Today listing the 35 most livable small communities in Delaware on a scale of 1 to 35. Rehoboth was ranked No.7 overall but – 1 being good, 35 being bad – Rehoboth was ranked 35th on crime. That says to me there is an issue there that needs to be addressed. I don’t have an answer that I can give you, all I can say is that I share your concerns.

"There is a problem that we need to get to the bottom of and figure out how to address it. We need to invite the chief in and have a valid dialogue with him and the council. See what resources might be needed, what his recommendations are and try to get to the root of that problem. Because it’s a real concern. It’s an image that’s getting out there, people who call me when they are booking a reservation saying ‘I’ve read about this.’ And that’s a bad thing.”

Zellers: “I do think we are adequately staffed. I think the chief is very good about coming in and doing outreach. We’ve implemented the Neighborhood Watch so we get information out there to people. I feel that we should have more police on the street. Maybe more walking in the neighborhoods, biking in the neighborhoods, coming around making their presence felt. It is a problem that we have to address.”

Cooper: “I think we have an excellent police department. I think the chief is outstanding. I think they are addressing the problems. Unfortunately or fortunately, if we are going to remain an open city, an open society, we are going to have people who come and do bad things. I think our police department has a very good record in solving crimes. I wish we could do more on the side of preventing them. There are elements out there that want to do bad things.

"It seems like in Rehoboth, everything gets amplified. The same sort of crime we have somewhere else never gets reported, but in Rehoboth, it makes the front page. In one part, that’s because we have a safe city, so that’s out of character for Rehoboth.”

Rehoboth property owner Janice Miller asked, “Should the noise ordinance be modified? If so, how would you modify it? And third, what should be the penalty for businesses that repeatedly violate the noise ordinance?”

McGlone: “The noise ordinance, in my opinion, should be modified. I agree with a few of the commissioners that were interested in gathering data at key spots in the city to come up with some kind of benchmark. I think that as the city government is trying to evaluate how to change the noise ordinance, collecting data so that we know exactly what’s going on now is a real good place to start, but unfortunately that didn’t pass. In terms of what the severity of the fine should be, I don’t know.

“I listened to the code enforcer last Friday night at the commissioners meeting. Nothing has been handed out in terms of any kinds of fines. His point through all of this was, if the restaurants close all their windows and doors, then just about every restaurant in town would be in compliance with the noise ordinance.”

Hunker: “What exactly is the issue or the problem we are trying to get at? Is it audible? Is it by decibel? Is it being able to be heard by a reasonable number of people? I think those are discussions that really haven’t happened. If we did modify it, it would have to be a fair and rational way of doing it. Not something that is done in a cloak of darkness, which is what people in the community feel has happened. If them first, why not me next? That is something we have to fix. If we could just communicate and talk about what exactly is wrong, we might get to some consensus and closure.”

Kirchhoff: “The first step has to be engaging in a dialogue, particularly with the restaurant community, in terms of searching for a solution, so they will help the city and voluntarily abide by the law so the police officers are not in a virtually untenable situation as far as trying to enforce the noise ordinance. If there is some sort of consensus and there is a buy-in from the restaurant community that they will help monitor and control the noise situation, then we can look at the ordinance itself. As far as the penalties, I don’t think they should be in any way criminal. But it should be tough enough that people pay attention.”

Zellers: “I think the noise controversy came out because there were businesses that were taking advantage of it. We did not have a code enforcer in the evening, and this was the city’s attempt to try to bring it under control. I think it’s a very complex issue; I think there are a lot of pieces to it. Because it’s not just noise. It’s patios, it’s restaurants, it’s how they all fit together. There’s zoning issues. I think having a code enforcer in town has helped. He’s gathering information on noise; he’s allowing us to evaluate. The businesses have been cooperating with us.”

Cooper: “I think the noise ordinance does need to be modified. I don’t think that decibels are a good way to measure noise in an urban environment such as ours. And let me be clear: we’re talking about a handful here. That’s one of the things I think has been misunderstood. This was a handful of businesses causing the problem. It wasn’t a huge problem, but from my perspective, the problem was it was becoming a malignant problem. It was spreading, and we needed to control it.

“All fall I heard that it was a complaint problem. You don’t have a noise problem, you have a problem with the people complaining. I never thought that. Also, the chief of police brought to us the fact that some businesses were in fact really thumbing their noses at the police. If they had just shown a little bit of respect for their neighbors, we wouldn’t be were we are today.”

The next candidates forum will be held at 9:30 a.m., Monday, Aug. 1, in the conference suite at the Rehoboth Beach Convention Center.