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Chesapeake Beach Mayor Bruce Wahl discussed creating a vision plan for the town and the controversial utility rate structure during his State of the Town address Jan. 17. The first task Wahl said he would like to do with the new council is to create a vision plan for the town to guide the municipal government for the next four years.

Wahl said he will gather ideas to “find out what everybody would like to see in the town” from the council members, the town staff and the citizens at large from a questionnaire, and turn that into a vision plan. Wahl said he would like consultant Christine Becker, who helped the Maryland Municipal League create its strategic plan, to create a “similar body of work” for the town.

“I think it’s in everybody’s best interest to try to understand what everybody wants to see get done and to have a unified action plan that gets us there,” Wahl said.

Ideas for the vision plan will be up for discussion during the next Mayor’s Night Out at the town hall from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Monday, Feb. 4.

Another item in the report, which “looms large in front of” the council, is establishing a new utility rate structure, Wahl said.

During the fiscal year 2013 budget discussions, the council could not come to agreement on what the utility rate structure for the town should be. Because of this, the same utility rate structure as fiscal 2012 was adopted for the fiscal 2013 budget.

“We have done three different attempts, really, at changing the rates, none of which have been … successful,” Wahl said. “The next round, what I intend to do, is engage the services of Jean Holloway. … She works for the Delaware Rural Water Association and has been doing rate setting for decades.”

Holloway was part of the utility rates committee established by Wahl to come up with a rate structure for the town. The council did not agree with what the committee came up with and did not adopt it.

Wahl said he asked Holloway to use the work done by the commission and recommendations by council members to begin to come up with a new rate structure.

“Once we’ve got a plan that is equitable and sustainable,” Wahl said, “we will have a work session and have her present, and we will go over that with the council.”

Council member Valerie Beaudin said while she did not have a “problem” with hiring a consultant, she does “believe it’s a bad business practice to have any sort of work product delivered to us, however preliminary, before we set the guidelines as to what our thoughts are on this.”

Beaudin requested to have a work session before Holloway began any work so the council can tell her their ideas about what the rate structure should be like, because having a product delivered before doing so “might not get us the product that we can reach a consensus on.”

Wahl said based on Holloway’s “decades of experience,” the only requirements he gave her was to form a sustainable and equitable structure.

Council member Jeff Krahling said he believes the council has enough information to “hammer out” a fair transaction.

“I don’t,” Wahl said. “Too much politics enters into it and too much grandstanding. … I want to have an independent third party to do the work that we can vote up or down.”

Also included in the state of the town report were ideas to create an economic development program; develop a public relations campaign; keep taxes and fees low while continuing to maintain health, public safety and environmental services; build a sidewalk from Beach Elementary School to Chesapeake Village; extend the Chesapeake Beach Railway Trail; make further upgrades to the water park; complete the Fishing Creek Bridge replacement; develop alternate funding for Fishing Creek dredging; and adopt zoning map and campaign finance disclosure ordinances.

In other business, the council introduced an ordinance to reallocate a portion of the proceeds of a bond to be used for the rehabilitation of the water tower in Richfield Station. A public hearing for the ordinance is scheduled at 7:45 p.m. Feb. 21 before the monthly town meeting.

kfitzpatrick@somdnews.com