Ignoring their chamber of commerce label, "the quiet resort", homeowners here are angry, vociferous and loud as they air bitter complaints over their first-sewer bills due this month.
Blaming town, country, state and even federal officials for rates that are among the highest in the nation, seasonal and year-round residents are going public in a campaign to see what went wrong.
Two petitions (one from South Bethany) are being delivered to Gov. Pierre DuPont, asking him to intercede. Letters have gone out to Sens. Joseph Biden and William Roth.
Former town manager and a year-around resident William N. Grimes says: "A handful of small coastal towns are asked to pay for a treatment plant that could service most of south Sussex County." He said his sewer bills, as rendered, are three times larger than his real estate taxes.
Similiar unease extends from Fenwick (due for sewer installations soon) to Dewey Beach. Residents contend they are being forced to pay for a future they don't even want. With a regional sewer in place, burgeoning growth is bound to come along this popular summer strip on the Atlantic shore.
However, Sussex County Councilman Charles Cole, who represents the area, warned that this view "might be the final irony as such rates discourage growth."
Before voting approval of the much disputed costs, Councilman Cole has asked County Administrator Joseph Conaway to see if state revenue-sharing funds may be used to subsidize a facility underutilized by 50 percent.
It was at the raucous public hearing last month in the Bethany Beach firehall that a booing, hooting crowd was told by County Engineer Fred M. McKee that one reason the costs were so high is because the South Coastal (treatment) plant is designed for future need. In peak months, it now operates at only 25 percent of capacity, and during winter months averages only 6.33 percent of capacity.
The sewer service, held up nearly two years, will cost a typical single-family homeowner on a 50-foot-front lot about $400 a year for services and assessments. There are 1,187 such units in Bethany and 1,641 in South Bethany.
Howard J. Lobb, an analyst with the county's rate consultants, Black & Veatch of Kansas City, Mo., admitted the rates are the highest his nationally known firm has prepared. During the 1970-71 referenda held on the sewer installation, the figure tossed out was "not to exceed $100 per year." Further more, charges were to be based on water meter readings, say opponents as they recall past discussions.
Despite protests, the rates were passed by the council for a year.
Among ideas being proposed to cut the sewer bills are:
Refinancing bonds for the project.
Doing away with variable foot assessments so one equitable charge would be paid by each owner (suggested by South Bethany Mayor Ron Steen). This presumably would affected Sea Colony's many condominium owners.
Using water meter readings as basis for charges.
Charging undeveloped lots a "benefit fee."
With the traditional start of the summer recreation season a few weeks away, this higher-than-expected sewer cost is just one more factor affecting all aspects of his beach community that is facing a highly inflationary summer.