Sussex County Delaware

Baunchalk, Henifin Not
Seeking Re-Election
Fenwick Island News

Nine Candidates File
for August Election

SC Online Content Editor

Photo: Council President Peg Baunchalk has decided not to seek re-election.

Nine candidates have filed for four seats on the Fenwick Island Town Council, but most notable was who wasn't on the list when the candidates were announced at a special meeting on Wednesday, June 18, 2003.

Fenwick Island Town Council President Peg BaunchalkLong-time Council President Peg Baunchalk and fellow incumbent Edward "Buzz" Henifin were not among the candidates who filed for the Aug. 2 election. Theo Brans of Bayside Drive is the only incumbent seeking re-election. Incumbent Richard Griffin announced last month that he would not seek re-election.

Besides Brans, the candidates who have filed for the open council seats are:

  • Virginia Borodulia of Coastal Highway;
  • Chris Clark of South Schulz Street;
  • Carol Hughes of Glenn Avenue;
  • Martha B. Keller of Bora Bora Street;
  • Frank Minner Sr. of Kennett Square, Pa.;
  • Audrey Serio of South Schulz Street;
  • C. Mark Tingle of Rehoboth Beach;
  • and Nicholas Valiante of Atlantic Street.

Clark, Hughes and Borodulia have been vocal in town affairs in the past 18 months, since half the town's police force resigned and a series of problems within the town came to light.

Those issues included the town's failure to have its finances audited for four years, failure to reconcile its checking accounts for the same period, failure to pay state and federal withholding taxes, a federal investigation into possible misuse of federal funding for the police department, a lawsuit by the town's former police chief, and a half-dozen violations of the state's Freedom of Information Act.

The town's board of election has six days to review the candidates' qualifications for office; the ballot will be made official by the town council president at the next regular council meeting on Friday, June 27.

Council Transfers $65K to Cover Shortfall

In other business, the council voted 4-1 to transfer $65,273 from the town's realty transfer tax fund to its general fund to alleviate a cash shortfall. Council members Theo Brans and Peter Frederick were absent.

"We need the money," said Council Vice-President Harry Haon. Haon said the transfer was needed in order to make the week's payroll.

When pressed by residents Carol Hughes and Elsie Weistling, Haon said the shortfall came about in part because of unanticipated legal expenses during the past fiscal year. The town budgeted $10,000 for legal expenses in 2003 and has spent $83,000, Griffin said.

Haon said while the town's general fund is in the red by about $65,000, the transfer tax fund showed a surplus of $332,544. He referred to the moving of funds as a "corrective" transfer.

Council member Vicki Carmean was the sole dissenter on the transfer, raising questions about whether such a permanent move was in the town's best interest.

She asked "what's the urgency" in completing the transfer. "Is this urgency an indication of a serious cash shortage?" she asked. Carmean said the council should "look at revenue shortfalls and excessive expenditures ... look to see what could be postponed until next year." Carmean said Fenwick Island "has a long history of cash flow problems at the end of the fiscal year. We need to get a tighter handle on spending, period," Carmean said.

"This is a routine kind of thing for this town, Weistling said. After examining audits of the town's books and current year expenditures, she said, "There are some numbers that just don't jibe."

Carmean and several residents mentioned that the amount of money needed seems to match the amount of property taxes still outstanding, and said the town should take a more temporary measure to overcome the shortfall until all the taxes are paid.

Carmean said the council should "work to reduce deficits in future budgets even as we continue to build up reserves." The town's auditor, Thomas Sombar, recommended it should maintain a reserve equal to six months of expenditures, which would be about $550,000. After the $65,000 transfer, the town's reserves consist of about $267,000 in the realty transfer tax fund.

Haon said Fenwick Island is "probably the most conservative" of the beach towns, as far as its use of the realty transfer tax. Other towns, Haon said, have used the money to expand police departments, staff and facilities, which he said could come back to haunt them if the transfer tax is ever eliminated or if revenues drop. "Those towns that have overused the realty transfer tax are going to be in deep, deep trouble," Haon said.

Haon's comments, however, contradict what state law actually says about use of the transfer tax.

Deputy State Auditor Ron Draper said in February, when the council proposed using the transfer tax revenue to pay penalties and interest on back withholding taxes, that "the law pretty specifically states what the usage of the total one and one-half percent can be for," said Draper. "It talks about public safety, economic development, capital projects and infrastructure."

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