Bethany may make commercial trash bills landlords’ responsibility
Bethany Beach officials are looking at ways to ensure the Town doesn’t get stuck with the bill when business owners close their doors without paying for trash services the Town has already delivered.
At the council workshop on July 16, Town Manager Cliff Graviet presented a possible solution to that problem to council members: requiring commercial property owners to be responsible for trash bills from their properties, rather than the tenant business owners.
“In the past, we have had an issue with collection of trash fees from business owners because we bill the individual businesses,” he explained. “On more than one occasion, when a business is in its first or second, or even third, year and it’s in the process of folding, they begin not to pay the trash bills. Then they leave the area and we’re left with $1,000 to $2,000 in uncollected bills.”
Graviet said Finance Director Janet Connery had proposed that the Town instead look to property owners to be responsible for all of the bills, so that the Town can demand the property owner pay the trash bill, even if the business owner has left the area.
“In general, the property owner has been satisfied,” he said of those circumstances, noting that the rent has often been paid while the trash bill remains in arrears after the tenant has gone.
“All of our residential property owners are automatically billed for trash service,” pointed out Councilwoman Carol Olmstead. “Why shouldn’t it be the same for commercial property?” She also pointed out that billing the property owner would mean the billing was done automatically, as it is done now with residential property, with no separate bills to get lost.
“It doesn’t really cost the property owner more money,” added Councilman Jerry Dorfman. “They’re only going to pass it on to the tenant. But we are protected because we have someplace to go to collect the money.”
Councilman Lew Killmer said he was concerned about where and how the requirement would appear in the town code. Currently, the code states that the property owner or occupant is responsible for the bill.
“Where it is referenced in the code that it says the property owner is responsible for paying for trash? It should cover every single person,” Killmer said, suggesting the new responsibility for business property owners appear in the business license section of the code, rather than in the solid waste section, where it might be overlooked by business owners or commercial property owners. But Graviet pointed out that it was intended to be a wider-reaching element of the solid waste code.
“This is for everyone,” Graviet emphasized. “If you rent your property in Bethany Beach year-round, you’re going to be responsible year-round for trash service.”
“The only one who is exempt now is the business property owner, because the residential property owner gets billed on their annual tax bill,” Councilwoman Margaret Young noted.
Mayor Tony McClenny said a key point of the code would be that reference to it applying to all property owners, not just business property owners. He said the Town should notify all business property owners of the change, though, if it moves forward.
Killmer also noted that the existing solid waste section of the code is outdated, with no reference to recycling or yard waste, both of which are now handled differently than they were a few years ago. Now, the Town offers curbside recycling and bills all property owners for it as part of their trash bill. State law also now mandates that yard waste cannot be comingled with regular trash.
Council members noted that the Town would continue to offer different sizes of commercial trash receptacles to the businesses, but the change would simply mean that the property owner would be responsible for paying for the service. They could then pass on that cost to their commercial tenants.
Updates to the town code regarding solid waste are expected to be handled by the Charter and Ordinance Review Committee, and additional language regarding the change in commercial trash billing is likely to be drafted as those updates move forward.
Also on July 16, council members discussed a proposed change to town code that would put in writing the Town’s ability to have more than one police officer as security at events held at the bandstand, though not all events would merit more than one officer, and to have event organizers pay for that security.
Graviet said existing town code only allows for a single officer serve as event security, to ensure safety and good public order. Previously, he had brought the proposed change from “officer” to “officer(s)” to the council. And on July 16, he said he had a couple other changes to recommend, involving events when larger crowds could be expected.
In the security indemnity and insurance portion of the bandstand ordinance and in the special events permit ordinance, Graviet said he would like to see the language changed to equate the contestants or participants in the athletic events increasingly held on and around the bandstand with members of an organization hosting other types of events.
With the changes, it would be clearer, he said, that larger events — whether populated by members of an organization or race participants — could be assessed a higher security cost in cases when multiple officers were needed.
Councilman Joe Healy suggested that a deposit might be one way for the Town to ensure event organizers try to keep order at their events and cover security costs incurred by the Town. But Killmer said he was concerned that the town might seem “unfriendly” if additional fees were put in place for events held at the bandstand when most don’t require significant amounts of security.
“That’s not the purpose of this at all,” Graviet said. “We’re just trying to accurately reflect what we actually do when we have 400 to 500 people who come into town for a race and need two to four police officers to help with traffic. We pass the expenses along, and people know that, but we’re trying to accurately reflect that in the legislation.
“The permit fee wasn’t the issue,” he said of the proposed changes. “The sponsors were aware of the cost and that it would be passed on, but it’s not that clear in the code.”
Killmer said he was also concerned about how the Town decides whether or not it will require organizers of a given event to reimburse the Town for the cost of security.
“I think we apply it fairly,” Graviet said. “It’s not used to keep people away.”
He noted that reimbursement for the Bethany Beach 4th of July Parade and Seaside Craft Show are not at issue because they are Town-sponsored or Town-supported events and require little security. The Sunrise Service pays a permit fee, he said, but the Town doesn’t charge them for police, “because we’ve found they don’t need it.” Meanwhile, he said, organizers of 5Ks and similar events pay the security fee, since there is, at minimum, an impact on traffic.
“So, basically, we’re talking about marathons and triathlons, when we need police for security and crowd control?” Killmer asked. Graviet said that was largely the case.