Multi-tasking is the key for municipal officials

Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series on elected municipal officials.

DOVER — Challenges, rewards, issues and successes.

They’re all part of an elected official’s tenure.

There’s no telling what Houston Mayor Angelo Abbate will be facing next. He’s happy to live in his small town that exudes small-town charm and community feel.

Not overlooked are the condemned building cleanups and building code violations to address. According to Mr. Abbate, the biggest challenge to leading a town brings the rhetorical question: “Which hat do I wear today? Mayor, dog catcher, etc.?’”

Constructing a budget of $87,000 for Fiscal Year 2018-19 includes planning for unknown emergencies and weather-related events, Houston’s top official said.

Ultimately, though, the rewards come in helping his neighbors, Mr. Abbate said, pointing to the low-tax base in place and the small-town atmosphere residents enjoy.

According to Smyrna Councilwoman Valerie M. Forbes, the greatest challenges come with making the right call on sometimes complicated situations.

“Each decision we make will impact the citizens of Smyrna,” she said. “There will always be varying opinions to any decision council makes. I do my best to hear and understand all sides before I cast my vote.”

The biggest current issue in Smyrna is repairing and replacing the town’s infrastructure, she said, which requires communicating between elected leaders and town employees.

“Because council members do not have daily involvement with the various operations of town departments, I believe it is important for both parties to work together to keep the other informed of issues. This will allow council to better serve the citizens and better prepare for upcoming meetings.”

The Main Street Project to replace infrastructure will continue, Ms. White said, along with initiatives of “holding our tax rate at a reasonable rate, and continuing to gain control of the drugs in town and continuing to fight the epidemic.”

Echoing Ms. Forbes, and voicing a sentiment consistently expressed by those elected officials polled, Camden Councilman Larry Dougherty said “Doing what is right for the town and residents while keeping as many of those residents happy as possible” is challenging.

Across the board, municipal issues range from wrangling nuisance properties and delinquent taxes to crafting budgets and improving and maintaining infrastructure.

For the first time in 20 years, 181-resident Woodside held a town election and then filled other needed municipal positions.

The town charter was updated, a website posted online and quarterly newsletter published, among other accomplishments, Secretary Brenda Richards said.

“The greatest reward is seeing improvements completed for our town,” she said.

In Camden, Mr. Dougherty said, “Our biggest issue is continuing to maintain our record of balancing the budget without tax increases.

“The cost of living, salaries paid, goods and services purchased, continue to escalate now 2 to 3 percent per year. Currently only about two-thirds of town revenue comes from real estate taxes.

“The balance comes from business, rental licenses and building permits.”

Remaining responsive to the electorate is a priority for Dover Councilman Bill Hare, who said he hopes that “your constituent concerns are being met in a timely manner and if you can’t help get them fixed making sure you get in touch with the right person that can.”

“When an issue gets resolved quickly and (someone) calls to thank you, that makes you feel pretty good.”

The Dover community overall needs public safety, he said, and diligence from officials to maintain it.

“We have one of the best police forces and fire companies in the state and as a councilman it is our responsibility to assure they stay staffed and funded as needed for the safety and protection of our citizens,” Mr. Hare said.

His colleague on Dover Council, Fred Neil said constituents’ concerns range from speeding cars to aging infrastruture and maintaining low taxes. A balance is ensuring that a solution to one problem doesn’t create another.

He has accepted that not everyone will be pleased with every decision.

Diplomacy when managing different viewpoints with the over-riding best interest of the town is the biggest challenge in Bowers, said ex-Vice Mayor Patty Mabis.

“I would just say that serving in this type of capacity is not for everyone,” she said. “It can be a thankless position, especially with no monetary benefits.

“When residents would thank me for getting a street sign put up or obtain beach replenishment — a simple thank you and telling me my efforts were appreciated by the residents was the best reward for me.”

Hearing from residents

Receiving citizen feedback is fine with Cheswold Vice Mayor Lawrence Kirby who wants as much of it as possible.

“When you’re trying to address a need or make improvements, you need inputs from various sources,” he said. “You never want to ‘work in a vacuum’ or only attend to the needs of a few.”

An example of positive results came when Cheswold council “worked long and hard to secure a fire hydrant in an older section of town. This area fell victim to multiple fires and lacked adequate water supplies.

“Through the town council and state Rep. Trey Paradee, we were able to secure funding for the hydrant and water system which will increase safety in this area.”

Magnolia Mayor James Frazier laments the “general disinterest with government until something directly affects (residents)” along with “dealing with the bureaucracy at the county, state and federal levels to accomplish things.”

In Magnolia, he said there’s work to be done with the traffic volume in town and integrity of the water system.

Accomplishments include demolishing some derelict buildings, developing a town website and keeping finances in the positive, Mr. Frazier said.

There’s no quick fixes to the issues that confront municipal leaders, Little Creek Councilwoman Stacey Hoffer said.

“One must recognize “how slowly change takes place. You can work fairly hard on a project and it will still take years to see measurable results.”

Little Creek continues to be vexed by enforcing ordinances without a paid code enforcer, she said, “and the county will not allow claims to come before the court without one.”

As for council’s accomplishments, Ms. Hoffer points to the dog park and boat ramp — while they “were in process before I joined the council, it’s been really gratifying to see them come to fruition.”

Challenges ahead

The greatest challenges, among others, that Milford Councilman Michael J. Boyle sees are, “Developing an in-depth knowledge of the history that generated past council decisions to understand how they relate to current proposed actions and their potential impact on future city operations.”

Milford must expand its employment and manage a steady population growth upping the number of residents to nearly 11,000.

“This in turn has necessitated expanding the city’s infrastructure support and emergency and police services,” Mr. Boyle said.

The last fiscal year budget was enacted without a tax increase, Mr. Boyle said, noting that hiring five new police officers was a significant accomplishment.

Providing great services while keeping low taxes is tricky, said Dover Councilman Scott Cole.

“It is also difficult to try and make sure decisions that are made benefit the majority of our citizens,” he said.

“Sometimes, a vote is taken, I feel I made an informed decision and then I get concerns from that decision. I just want people to know I do think long and hard about votes that are taken.”

His fellow Councilman Matt Lindell said, “Governing/legislating requires patience which includes the ability to listen to others and check one’s ego at the door; especially, when it comes to listening to those who have more expertise in their areas/fields of work.”

“More importantly, the ability to compromise to make progress can be a challenge, too.”

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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