Rehoboth Beach, Delaware; City Hall Project a Fiasco

By Peter Rosenstein - February 20, 2017 12:00 am

The City Hall project in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware has turned into an over budget fiasco and should serve as a wake-up call to all residents of Rehoboth entitled to vote. It may be time to clean house with regard to the Board of Commissioners and it is definitely way past time to rid the city of the Mayor who has long ago stopped working in the best interests of the people of Rehoboth, its residents, businesses and visitors, who keep the place financially sound and an exciting place to live, work and recreate. The palace which the Mayor and the Commission are building on Rehoboth Avenue will benefit no one. It will not produce any revenue for the City. It clearly doesn’t fit into the landscape of Rehoboth Avenue and makes one wonder how the Commission could have tried to fight Dogfish Head Restaurant suggesting their addition wouldn’t be in keeping with the look of the street and yet are building this monstrosity already a million dollars over budget with no firm completion date in sight.

The incompetence of the Commission was evident, and I assume the City Manager speaks for them, when she wrote in her December City Manager’s Spotlight “Construction on new City Hall is humming along.” Well one can tell that isn’t really true if you do as she suggested and “follow the construction live by visiting”.

This project for which “In 2015 the City applied for and received an $18 million loan from the United States Department of Agriculture, through its Community Facilities Program” has now according to the Commission gone over budget by one million dollars. This even though some major improvements were already previously cut out of the capital project cost and hidden in other budget areas. Those actions were reported over a year ago in January 2016 by Phil Davis when the Commission was working to supposedly “avoid borrowing more money to fund a rebuild of city hall, instead working in some more creative accounting to keep the project on track.” At their Jan. 27, 2016 special meeting “the board voted to both strip the project of some of its bells and whistles, as well as detach certain aspects of the building’s construction from the U.S. Department of Agriculture loan meant to pay for it. First, $547,000 of the bid designated as the cost for “furniture, fixtures and equipment” will be paid for by the city’s general operating budget, Mayor Samuel Cooper said.” Also at the meeting City Manager Sharon Lynn said “a new floor for the convention center was stripped from the budget as well as equipment for the city’s information technology center.”

Instead of building this palace for city workers in prime downtown if office space was needed they could have built inexpensively outside of town where the City now stores its lifeguard stands off-season. Then the major part of the loan could have gone to where it appropriately should have; a parking structure and a completely updated convention center which would both generate revenue for years to come.

Now as reported by Ryan Mavity in the Cape Gazette “After three meetings on the 2017-18 budget, for the Rehoboth Beach commissioners, the elephant in the room remains completing the City Hall building.” Mayor Sam Cooper said, “The building getting done overshadows everything. The budget calls for using $1 million from the city’s reserve fund to complete the project, which all told including money already spent for planning, will cost nearly $20 million. Officials have also announced the planned July opening will be delayed until the fall.”

At this meeting Cooper added “while clearly he has disappointment about not finishing the project on time, there is not a whole lot he can do at this point.” Of course not since this has been screwed up from the start. You have a group of Commissioners and City Manager who don’t have the ability to oversee such a capital project and Commissioners continue to say they don’t want to hire the Director of Public Works recommended by the City Manager who will have the expertise needed to oversee such projects instead continuing to work with consultants.

Commissioner Stan Mills said “some oversights could have been prevented, such as $80,000 that had to be spent for foundation drains to control storm runoff. Mills said the drains should have been installed much earlier in construction.” Yet he also says “he is not sold on the Public Works Director job, and wants to see more funds for capital improvements such as road and Boardwalk maintenance, and improving city lakes.”

At their February 17th meeting Commissioners decided “Residents of Rehoboth can rest assured they will not see an increase in taxes, at least for the time being.” No one said how long ‘the time being’ would be. “The meeting lasted three and a half hours with no decisions made. While the money to pay a Public Works Director who could help to avoid this mess in future projects was apparently left in the budget at the moment while Mills continued to question the need for such a position.” To pay for the overruns “Commissioners Stan Mills and Kathy McGuiness each said there have been thoughts of increasing taxes to help pay for capital improvement programs, such as the new city hall.” “At one point we talked about raising the residential rental tax from the existing 3 percent to 6 percent,” said Mills. He added “And that’s temporarily taken off of the table at this point because we wanted to give landlords advanced notice.” McGuiness said “I did like the idea of not having to raise our rental taxes at this point. Also the commercial rental tax which was also discussed, but I do believe we’re going to start having budget quarterly meetings and that those things will be on the table. Everything will be.”

So fair warning to Rehoboth Beach denizens, beware. Either participate in your government or you will find you are paying for things like the City Hall Palace you don’t need and which won’t provide any long-term benefit to you or the City

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