Council heats up as Dewey election draws nearHowell, Hanson, Legates spat over gross receipts tax, legal budget
Dewey Beach — A thunderstorm roared outside the Dewey Beach Life Saving Station, Aug. 9, while inside three commissioners – who ran for office side-by-side two years ago – bickered over town finances.
Dewey Beach municipal elections are scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 21. Mayor Diane Hanson and Commissioner Anna Legates have both filed for re-election. Commissioner Joy Howell said she has not yet decided whether to seek a second term.
Citizens to Preserve Dewey, a volunteer activist group, endorsed all three women when they ran for office in 2011.
At a July 19 meeting, Hanson, Legates and Commissioner Gary Mauler voted to table a gross receipts tax plan, opting instead to allow businesses – which were almost universally opposed to the tax – six months to come up with an alternative proposal to create an equitable and dependable source of revenue for Dewey Beach.
The tax was supported by CPD, and Howell and Commissioner Courtney Riordan were in favor of the tax. Mauler and Riordan did not attend the Aug. 9 meeting.
Riordan’s motion in July would have put the gross receipts tax to a nonbinding referendum vote in the upcoming election. Town Attorney Fred Townsend said he advised all commissioners to vote against the tax because it was noticed as a binding referendum.
Townsend said council was scheduled to vote on the gross receipts tax ordinance, which would have been binding if it passed by referendum vote. “You gutted the item from the agenda by saying you weren’t going to vote on the ordinance,” Townsend said.
Howell said she was disappointed by the vote to table the gross receipts tax. She asked that the vote be re-noticed as nonbinding and voted on again at a special meeting of town council.
After the meeting, Hanson said she spoke with Legates and Mauler and decided town council would not hold another meeting to vote on the gross receipts tax.
“Why would they not want to vote on it?” Howell asked after the meeting. “There’s not a rational judge in the country that would hold it against the town to put a policy decision before voters in a nonbinding referendum,” she said.
Howell said advice from town attorneys to vote down the gross receipts tax was not compelling enough to convince her or Riordan to vote against the referendum.
She also said the town’s accommodations tax on homeowners who rent out their property should be escrowed until businesses are made to pay more to help fund town operations. "It's not fair to be taxing one group of people so disproportionately to other groups in town," Howell said.
Council quibbles over agenda item
Town Manager Marc Appelbaum briefly explained an item on the Aug. 9 agenda to review the town’s legal budget and consider capping the legal budget for each project the town undertakes, such as adjusting noise levels and establishing a town ethics code.
Before the agenda was adopted, Howell attempted to remove the item, saying she felt blindsided its inclusion on the agenda. “I’m the legal point person,” she said. “I have no idea what we’re talking about.”
“I’d like to table that,” Howell said.
Hanson said they would limit the item to a five-minute review. “We’re just discussing it,” Hanson said.
Hanson and Legates opposed tabling the item.
“That’s not very courteous,” Howell said.
“It’s not a vote,” Hanson said.
“I really don’t care,” Howell said.
Hanson and Legates are the only candidates who have filed for election. The deadline to file is 5 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 22.