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December, 2005

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County government should keep closer watch to assure that tax-exempt organizations are not using their property for profit-making activities which would subject all or part of it to taxes.

That and periodic review of workers compensation liabilities are the only recommendations to come out of the annual outside audit of its financial report. Francis Murphy, a partner with K.P.M.G., the accounting firm, told County Council's finance committee there are no apparent problems in that regard. Nor, he said, did the audit turn up anything that would indicate the report is not a full and accurate representation of the county's finances. "It is not a matter of concern. ... The county is still in a fine financial position," he said. However, he added, revenue and spending trends are "something that has to be closely monitored going forward."

Chief financial officer Michael Strine acknowledged that there is no procedure for the county to be notified of changed activity on a property, but that there also isn't any indication of a need to place an additional reporting burden on nonprofit organizations. The independent audit found the county is in compliance with the U.S. comptroller general's standards for state and local governments. The annual report for the fiscal year ended last June 30, which was the subject of the audit, also conforms to the Government Finance Officers Association's 'excellence in financial reporting' requirements for the 25th consecutive year.

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Although several members weren't happy with the terms of the deal, County Council voted unanimously to make the Channin and Old Mill Lane schools  sites available for youth sports.

The vote on Dec. 20 climaxed a two-year effort by Councilman Robert Weiner to find a constructive use for the long-abandoned sites other than putting an office building on the Channin one. Concord Soccer Association and Talleyville Girls Softball League will sublease the sites and maintain playing fields there for at least the next 20 years. Objections voiced before Council voted had to do with the extent to which the organizations will have to share the fields, which will be county parkland, with the general public. Richard Przywara, general manager of the Department of Special Services, said that will be whenever they are not being used for league play.

Shared use will have to be "compatible with maintenance of the fields," Dan Hammond testified. "We have to strike a balance." He said the Concord Association would have no objection to an occasional pick-up game, but doesn't want "neighborhood kids using it for football every day regardless of the weather." Mark LaVere said the short March-to-June softball season will allow plenty of access to the Old Mill Lane fields at other times. Przywara said both organizations will have to post schedules of when they intend to use the fields. Essentially, however, that means "control of these fields is going to the lessees," Councilman George Smiley said. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

.The county will pay Brandywine School District $40 up front to lease  the sites. That will be the only cost to add them to the park system.

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NO RUSH: Council endorsed the idea of establishing a stormwater utility to coordinate and pay for management of waste water, control flooding, stabilize streams, maintain water quality and deal with other matters involving waste water. A resolution enacted on Dec. 20 directs the Department of Special Services to lead an in-house study and make recommendations about the idea. Although effectively controlling stormwater is regarded as a major county need and a state taskforce recently  dealt extensively with the issue, the resolution sets Dec. 31, 2006, as the deadline for reporting results of  the county study.

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SECURITY GRANT: New Castle County will receive a $4.5 million federal Department of Homeland Security grant to beef up security of its buildings. That is part of $20 million allocated to Delaware and apportioned among local jurisdictions, David Carpenter, of the county Office of Emergency Management, told Council's finance committee on Dec. 20. Referring to media reports of similar grants going elsewhere for projects with dubious connection with protection from terrorists, Councilwoman Karen Venezky, who chairs the committee, said she is pleased that the county is more circumspect in spending the money it gets.

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BRIGHT OUTLOOK: Responding to sustained strength in the economy, Delaware Economic & FinancialAdvisory Council when it meets on Dec. 19 will likely bump up its state revenue forecast for the current fiscal year by another $28.9 million and by $28 million for fiscal 2007. That is nearly a robust 5.9% growth this year to be followed by an additional 3% next year. Meanwhile, state spending this year will be projected to be 15.2% higher than in the year ended last June 30. Department budget requests for the coming fiscal year reportedly are running well ahead of last year.

Biggest imponderable in the expected scenario is the effect of the acquisition of M.B.N.A., the state's largest employer, by Bank of America. According to David Gregor, the department's liaison with the council, company officials are keeping post-merger restructuring plans close to the vest. "We expect an announcement about jobs in January," he said. Severance packages will most likely postpone any significant effect until calendar 2007. Also yet to be determined, according to bank commissioner Robert Glen, is where the merged bank and-or its credit card subsidiary will be chartered. M.B.N.A. currently is the largest source of bank franchise tax revenue.

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Voting by secret ballot, the Claymont Design Review Advisory Committee agreed to recommend approval of a proposal by Wawa to stain the upper half of its Philadelphia Pike outlet red.

The company also agreed to add more landscaping to the property and to work with the committee toward the possibility of placing a memorial, statue or sculpture in the small plaza at the southwest corner of the pike and Harvey Road. Rejected by consensus during discussion at a committee meeting on Dec. 15 was Wawa's offer to donate $50,000 to be used toward 'streetscape' improvements along the pike in lieu of having to do anything to alter the two-color appearance of the store. George Lossť led the opposition to that idea, arguing that accepting the money would look like "they can buy us off."

"It's totally ludicrous that we're even considering making Wawa make this change," Thomas DiCristofaro said. The approved landscaping plan called for it to have a solid red brick front. Because of what the company's lawyer, Wendie Stabler, insisted was "an honest mistake," it ended up with a red bottom and off-white top. Stabler told the committee that the stain will by applied individually to each of the upper bricks rendering the two layers virtually indistinguishable. County planner Michael Bennett said the Department of Land Use will "take the [committee] recommendation under advisement" and make a final decision soon. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

Vernalee Frey proposed using an anonymous written ballot instead of the usual roll-call vote. The result was announced as seven-to-one in favor of agreeing to the proposal.

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PLAN SUBMITTED: Concord Soccer Association will have room for four average size playing fields on the 10.5 acre Channin school site, a preliminary development plan filed with the county indicates. The plan calls for using the existing entrance to the property, providing 144 parking spaces and erecting a combination concession stand and office. There is no proposed fencing but also no specific reference to the site's being available to the public. No timetable for installing the fields is included. The site, owned by the Brandywine School District, is being leased to the county and subleased to the youth soccer organization.

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CRIMES PUT ON THE MAP: County police have established a feature on the department's web page to enable people to see where selected serious crimes have occurred. An interactive program permits site visitors to access maps of individual communities which contain color-coded markers pinpointing  locations of reported crimes. The data will be updated monthly and cover a three-month period ended the previous month. According to the department that prevents possible interference with current investigations. Police officers have access to more current and inclusive information as part of the department's tracking of crime trends. (CLICK HERE to access the new feature.)

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UTILITY PLANNED:  Councilman John Cartier said he plans to introduce proposed legislation to establish astormwater utility for New Castle County. Financed by fees based upon the amount of impervious surface a property has, such an organization would coordinate financing and management of surface water. It "should take care of our flooding problems," he told a meeting of Council's finance committee on Dec. 6. Cartier provided no details about provisions the measure will contain, but said he does not intend to bring it to a vote until after the turn of the year.

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PARKLAND ADDED:  The Camp Wright site in Mill Creek Hundred will be added to the New Castle County park system with state money being used to pay most of the cost. County Council on Dec. 6 agreed to purchase the seven-acre tract from West End Neighborhood House for $400,000 with the understanding that state representative Roger Roy will reimburse half of that from his transportation allotment and the other half will be paid for from the state's greenways fund. The county will pay to demolish buildings on the site and maintain it as open space. The day camp has not been operated by the social services agency  for several years.

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Transportation secretary Nathan Hayward announced that he has been diagnosed with cancer and will step down from his state cabinet post on Feb. 1.

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SWITCH GOES SMOOTHLY:  Monday morning traffic flowed through the new Blue Ball interchange with no significant problems, according to Bruce Kay, Delaware Department of Transportation's on-site supervisor. There were some tie-ups as expected as traffic was switched from the construction by-pass onto Concord Pike but no accidents were reported, he said. Some additional work will be required, but that will be minor. The contractor will soon begin to break up the six-lane temporary bypass, but construction of the park drive which will replace it will not start until spring.

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SWITCH ON TIME: Rebuilt Concord Pike between Independence Mall and Augustine Cut-off will be opened during the weekend. Delaware Department of Transportation said the work will begin after the evening rush hour on Dec. 2 and continue through Dec. 4. There will be "significant delays" in the movement of traffic through the area during that time. The first and likely the largest of those will occur between 10 p.m. Friday and approximately noon on Saturday, according to a press statement. That is when the ramp from northbound Interstate 95 is closed. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

Last updated on December 22, 2005

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