BENDER: Wake Up and Trim the Fat, Cape Charles!

EDITOR’S NOTE: One year ago this month, Deborah Bender wrote the following article for the Wave, which went on to become the most-read commentary of the past 12 months. Seven months after this article was published, Cape Charles Town Council voted to borrow an additional $1 million, and now plans to further increase the number of  full-time town employees. With town elections on Tuesday, we are reprinting the Bender commentary for voters’ consideration.


May 3, 2014 (Reprinted from May 17, 2013)

It has come to my attention that the Town of Cape Charles is having budget problems. There is not enough money and too many expenses. In order to help, I did a little homework. And after speaking with the Town of Onancock’s administrative assistant, I have some advice: Trim the fat, Cape Charles.

According to the 2010 census, Cape Charles has 1,009 full-time residents. The town of Onancock has 1,263 full-time residents.

The Town of Cape Charles has 10 employees in the administrative offices at a salary cost of $509,875. The town of Onancock has 3 employees in the town office for a total of $195,000 in salaries. That is $314,875 less spent on employees in Onancock than in Cape Charles.

How does Onancock manage with such a small staff? For starters, the two people who work in the office do all the billing, accounting, customer service, and take turns taking minutes at the town meetings. They run the entire town office with just three employees! Onancock does not have a town planner, a treasurer, an accountant, a building code enforcer, a community recreation activities director, or an assistant clerk. Onancock does just fine without all the excess baggage. All the employees in Onancock wear many hats.

I called the town offices for Onancock, Parksley, Exmore, and Chincoteague, and all were answered by a real person, not some machine. All the people who answered the phone were courteous, friendly, and forthcoming with answers.

The town of Cape Charles has 13 employees that I know of doing all the public works jobs. The total cost in salaries and benefits is $595,526. The town of Onancock has 7 public works employees at a total cost in salaries and benefits of $350,000. That is a difference of $295,526.


Onancock’s public works employees pick up the trash, cut all the grass for town property, run the sewage treatment plant and the water plant, repair their own equipment, do all the painting of the town buildings, pick up twigs and debris once a month, and perform other duties as assigned.

Totaling the administrative offices and the public works departments, the difference in salaries and benefits between Onancock and Cape Charles is $610,410. If the federal government is cutting back, laying off, and making people take unpaid leave to keep their jobs, why can’t Cape Charles reign in our spending?

I’m not saying to go on a firing spree. But something needs to be done to get expenses under control. For example, why should we spend $30,000 on a redo of the town comprehensive plan when our Town Council does not even follow the one we have? Our new town planner does not have any baggage. Let him take care of the logistics and writing of the revised plan this time.

This town needs to get a grip on spending. We are just a tiny town with less population than Onancock. Why can’t we cut back so that we can avoid borrowing more money, raising taxes, and water/sewer bills? Then we could afford to do repairs and upkeep on our public buildings, lighting, equipment, and providing public services. If the mayor, Town Council, and both town managers can’t figure it out, maybe what we need is all new people running this town.

There is one more thing that Onancock has that Cape Charles does not have: Onancock has a historic old school on College Street that had fallen into disrepair due to government neglect. The people of Onancock rallied around when a developer tried to take their historic old school. They kept it. It still needs some repairs, but they are working to get grants and to find a way to bring their town asset back to use. In Cape Charles our Town Council gave away our historic old school and $41,000 with it. That could have built a basketball court. They did not have to give that money away.

Wake up, Cape Charles!



One Response to “BENDER: Wake Up and Trim the Fat, Cape Charles!”

  1. Deborah Bender on May 3rd, 2014 1:13 pm

    There is one edit to this article: The town of Onancock uses the same trash company that Cape Charles does. In Cape Charles we pay $12.57 per month while in Onancock they pay $14 per quarter. I asked the Onancock town manager recently how they can charge their citizens so much less, and was told that as a courtesy to residents, the town pays the difference out of their tax revenues. A COURTESY!