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June, 2006

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Kent County Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals takes over dog control in New Castle County on July 1 with a promise to significantly improve that service.

The non-profit organization has a $2.8 million contract with the Fish and Wildlife division of the Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control to cover all three counties, except the city of Wilmington. Delaware S.P.C.A., a totally separate organization, operated in New Castle. It has drawn considerable criticism during the past several years. Lynn Herman, the division's coordinator, said the new contract provides about three times as much money as the former one did. A proposal to have New Castle share the cost has been dropped. S.P.C.A. director Murrey Goldthwaite did not return a call from Delaforum seeking comment.

David Singleton, chief administrator of New Castle County government, said the arrangement is entirely a state function, but county officials have been assured that Kent S.P.C.A. will provide sunrise-to-sunset service 365 days a year with four or five officers on duty. There also will be an on-call  arrangement during off-hours to handle emergencies. The county is providing an office to serve as a base. The public can obtain service by telephoning 888-352-7722, a toll-free number. Although the contract calls for just dog control, the organization will respond to other animal problems on a case-by-case basis, he said.

Under study is possible posting of photographs on a website to enable people to determine if the S.P.C.A. has custody of their missing dog.

    

County police officers will receive pay raises retroactive to April, 2005, after County Council approves the new labor contract with their Fraternal Order of Police union.

Although union officials and the county administration have refused to disclose terms of the agreement, which took 18 months to negotiate, its salary provisions were disclosed in ordinances sponsored by County Council president Paul Clark and Councilman William Bell, introduced on June 27 for certain enactment at Council's July 11 session. Council then will also pass a resolution formally authorizing County Executive Christopher Coons to sign the contract. It is not clear why its contents have been withheld from the public since, as Delaforum previously reported, members of the union already have ratified it by an overwhelming majority.

According to the proposed ordinance, a 3% increase will be retroactive to April, 2005, and another 3.1% to last April. Another 3.1% raise will take effect Apr. 1, 2007. The officers' shift differential will be set at 6% of their escalating salary instead of being a fixed amount. The force's 46 sergeants and lieutenants will get an additional 2.38% raise retroactive to the past May 15. The agreement also establishes a new rank, senior corporal, to which about 60 officers will be eligible for promotion. Officers who pass a fluency test in a foreign language will get a $400 bonus and those earning a college degree will get $200. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delafourm article.)

Estimated cost of implementing the contract is between $6.8 million and $7 million, according to the fiscal note to the proposed ordinance.

    

LARGER THAN EXPECTED: New Castle County government will end the fiscal year on June 30 with about $82.9 million in operating reserves -- almost $12 million more than had been anticipated. Chief financial officer Michael Strine told County Council's finance committee on June 27 that it is estimated the county will have taken in $9.8 million more expected, most of which came from real estate transfer tax, and spent $2 million less than budgeted, despite significantly higher fuel costs. He cautioned, however, that even with the slower drawdown, reserves are still likely to run out in fiscal year 2009 if there are no significant changes in the revenue structure. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

    

HATS IN THE RING: Four of the six members of County Council whose terms expire this year will seek re-election in November. Patty Powell and Karen Venezky have said they will step down. Penrose Hollins, the longest-serving councilman, will go for another term as will Joseph Reda, who has been on Council for the shortest time. Reda was appointed by former County Executive Tom Gordon to fill the remaining two years of the term of Robert Woods, who resigned just after the 2004 election. William Tansey and Robert Weiner, the only Republicans, will seek another four-year term. The other seven members have two years left of their terms.

    

INVITATION EXTENDED: New Castle County Economic Development Council will actively recruit civilian workers whose jobs  are going to be transferred from Fort Monmouth, N.J., to Aberdeen, Md., to come live in the Newark-Glasgow area. "It will be the equivalent of a major company relocating here," executive director Dale Ervin told County Council's economic development subcommittee on June 19. When the New Jersey base closes in 2008, its communications electronics unit, which accounts for most of the 5,500 jobs there, will be transferred to the Army ordnance facility, about 25 miles west of the Delaware-Maryland border.

    

Thomas Comitta, the professional planner who developed the design guidelines for the 'hometown' redevelopment in Claymont, has resigned from the community's Design Review Advisory Committee. Nominated to succeed him in that volunteer position is David Hunt, senior associate with Wilmington Renaissance Corp.

    

COMMERCIAL LANDMARK:

A woman seeking to have a lamp which once belonged to her great-grandmother repaired knew just where to come. Gross Lighting, at Fourth & Orange Sts. in downtown Wilmington, has been doing that sort of thing at the same location since 1916. Third generation owner Louis Gross (above right) said the business niche is providing products and related services that the 'big box' home supply outfits are unable or unwilling to provide. Continuing decline of the 'carriage trade' and its sense of customer loyalty has led to his seeking to relocate, probably to Brandywine Hundred, but he said a move is not imminent.

    

UNDER WRAPS: After more than 18 months of negotiation, the Coons administration and the county police officers' union have reached agreement on a new labor contract. But neither side will tell the public what's in it. "We don't have a contract until it's ratified," Joe Lavelle, of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5, told Delaforum after announcing to County Council's public safety committee that members voted 196-to-11 to ratify a tentative agreement. He said later, however, that terms cannot be 'released' until after Council authorizes County Executive Christopher Coons to sign the contract -- probably at it July 11 session.

Public safety director Guy Sapp told the committee on June 13 that names of five finalists to be police chief are awaiting Coons's decision on who'll get the job. Filling the post is about a month beyond its promised timetable, he said, because of a delay in completing background checks. He promised a decision "in a couple of weeks." Councilman Jea Street said he sees no reason why acting chief Scott McLaren is not advanced to permanent status after capably performing the job for 10 months. That reportedly would be politically unacceptable to Coons. McLaren is presumed to have come through the objective selection process as a finalist.

    

PUT ON HOLD: Councilman John Cartier tabled a pending ordinance to rezone the Brookview Apartments site to permit its redevelopment after several of his colleagues balked at voting on a measure referencing an as-yet-unsigned development agreement. Cartier said it was signed on behalf of the Commonwealth-Setting joint venture development company on June 9, but County Executive Christopher Coons requires approval of a  Council resolution authorizing him to sign on behalf of county government. There was not time for the required seven-day advance notice in order to get the resolution on Council's June 13 agenda.

Cartier reiterated his view that having an agreement requiring 'affordable' housing in the new community is essential to assure that the project is built as intended. Specifically linking the agreement to the rezoning ordinance gives it added authority, he said. He agreed to postpone a vote after Council attorney Wendy Danner ruled that it will not be necessary to wait four months to take action. Council may act on rezonings only in June, October and February. Land use general manager Charles Baker testified that tying rezoning to a development agreement was never done before, but is not unlike linking to deed restrictions, which has been done often. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

    

The county ordinance imposing penalties for an excessive number of false alarms from automatic security systems will put as many as seven more police officers on patrol, its primary sponsor said.

Councilman Timothy Sheldon based that estimate on calculating how much time officers now spend responding to approximately 14,000 alarms a year, of which 97% turn out to be false. County Council on June 13 enacted the measure unanimously. County Executive Christopher Coons expressed unqualified support, indicating he will sign it into law soon. Bill Moody, spokesman for the Delaware Alarm Association, testified that that trade organization supports the ordinance. It goes into effect six months after being signed. Administrative fines kick in after the third false alarm in any 12-month period.

Councilman David Tackett voted in favor of the ordinance although he said he was uncomfortable with a provision authorizing police to not respond after the fifth false summons. Sheldon said those people can still use the 9-1-1 telephone system to obtain help in an emergency. Although not the purpose of the law, he said county government could turn a profit from the fines. A commercial firm will be hired to administer alarm registration and monitor the number of calls on a split-the-proceeds basis. Companies that sell alarm systems will be required to train customers in their use and to verify alarms before summoning police. [CLICK HERE to read previous Delafourm article.]

Sheldon submitted a last-minute amendment to the legislation to exempt banks. Otherwise, he said, alarm companies and their business customers cooperated in drafting the measure "once they found out I was going to go through with this."

    

New Castle County government will capitalize on its much-touted triple-A bond rating when it goes to market in August to borrow $70 million for capital projects.

Chief financial officer Michael Strine said that, contrary to past practice, prospective underwriters will have to bid competitively for what is expected to be an attractive issue. Previous sales were negotiated, which results in the county having to pay a somewhat higher interest rate. He told County Council's finance committee on June 13 that he is looking for the 20-year incrementally-redeemed bonds, whose interest payments are exempt from income tax for most eventual purchasers, to carry an average rate of between 4% and 4%. It makes fiscal sense to finance assets with an expected life of more than 10 years with long-term debt, he explained.

After the sale, the county will carry $239.1 million in long-term debt. Of that, $174.1 million will be general-obligation debt financed by tax revenue; the rest is covered by sanitary-sewer service fees. The general-obligation portion is about half the limit, based on total property assessment, that state law imposes, Strine said. The new issue will increase the county's annual principal and interest obligations by about $5 million during the first 10 years of the life of the bonds. He told the committee that New Castle County is one of only 23 counties in the nation with triple-A debt. There also are 20 cities and seven states, including Delaware, in that club.

    

A first-of-a-kind agreement seeks to assure that 'affordable' housing in redeveloped Brookview remains 'affordable' and that at least 70% of the units to be built  are sold rather than rented.

"We're not going to have a bunch of units bought up by absentee landlords," Councilman John Cartier told Council's land use committee as it cleared pending rezoning ordinances for votes on June 13. One of the measures would change Bookview's classification from garden-apartment to a combination of  suburban residential and neighborhood commercial. Both the Planning Board and the Department of Land Use have recommended the rezoning and there is no apparent opposition from any quarter. Cartier on June 6 referred to the rezoning as "critical" adding that "with this rezoning we will be able to begin the project."

A proposed agreement between county government and Brookview Townhomes Redevelopment, l.l.c., to be incorporated into the rezoning ordinance, provides that only 5% annual increases from the initial maximum selling price of $165,000 will be allowed for 10 years after the initial sale of 'affordable' units. The ceiling will apply to 120 of the 1,200 units to be built. The agreement limits rental housing to no more than 30% of all Brookview units  -- compared to about 50% now throughout the Claymont area. Properties originally sold as 'homeownership units' must be deed-restricted to maintain that status after subsequent resales. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

The redevelopment company will be required to contribute $25,000 to Claymont Renaissance Development Corp. "to further the ongoing efforts to increase the economic viability of the Claymont community."

    

The county Department of Special Services is negotiating a contract with a consulting firm which its general manager described as probably the first step toward establishing a stormwater utility.

Richard Przywara told a County Council committee on June 6 that the object of a study expected to be completed by the end of the year will be to "tell the people what they're going to get, how they're gong to pay for it, and what problems are going to be solved." The basic objective of stormwater utilities -- there are about 450 across the nation, he said -- is to provide a sustainable revenue stream to finance a variety of stormwater management functions, including flood-prevention and -remediation. Most common financing method is a fee based on the extent of impervious surface on properties, including those owned by tax-exempt entities.

The approach, Przywara said, is open-ended. "We're not going to get one solution; we're going to get options," he said, adding that there will be public participation throughout the process. He declined to even guess at the ultimate pricetag. The first of what is likely to be a series of studies could cost up to $550,000. It is necessary to come up with a new way to deal with controlling excess water because "the magnitude of the problem so exceeds our capacity to manage it," he said. Several Council members complained that recalcitrant legislators from Kent and Sussex Counties blocked efforts to seek a statewide solution.

    

COUNTY MOUNTIES CELEBRATE:

The New Castle County mounted police unit commemorated the 25th anniversary of its founding with a well-attended community open house on June 4 at its base in Carousel Park. Officers demonstrated several of the techniques they use when

patrolling on horseback -- ranging from controlling an angry mob to issuing a ticket for a traffic violation (above left). After the show, attenders over the age of eight were given rides aboard the Clydesdale mounts (above right).

    

THAT'S WHAT IT said:

We wouldn't have it any other way.

    

The Da Vinci Code, won't destroy Christianity, but could sow seeds with potential to grow out of control and produce terrifying results, according to spokesmen for the Catholic diocese.

Stephen Jenkins, a lawyer on a taskforce visiting several parishes, compared the controversial novel by Dan Brown and the recently released motion picture to the infamous but widely read The Protocols of the (Learned) Elders of Zion, an early 20th century antisemitic work. There is no doubt, he told an audience at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Brandywine Hundred on June 1, that Protocols "had an influence on the Holocaust" and is now being avidly read in Islamic nations bent on destroying Israel. "The trouble is some people believe it," he said. "Lies can be spread and do an awful lot of harm."

Leonard Klein, a nationally prominent Lutheran pastor who is now an ordained Catholic priest, said mainline Christian churches and several other denominations are not into book burnings, but see a need to respond to Brown's many historical and theological errors. "He domesticates Jesus into a middle-ground bourgeois guru," he charged, describing the work as a modern revival of third century gnosticism. Klein said historians agree there is no basis for claiming an early church conspiracy to downgrade women or dispute Mary Magdalene's role as a follower of Jesus. She is presented significantly in all four gospel accounts of the Resurrection, he said.

    

SUPERINTENDENT SEARCH BEGINS: A total of three members of the public showed up -- two at Mount Pleasant High and one at Springer Middle School -- on May 31 for the first two of five public meetings to gather views on the qualities the new superintendent of the Brandywine School district should have. Sam Mikaelian, of Hazard Young & Attea, said the search firm also will be meeting with about 35 groups to gather information to use in compiling a profile on which to judge candidates. He said the firm expects to present finalists to the school board in August. "The final decision is the [Brandywine school] board's," he said.

Mikaelian said the Glenview, Ill.-based firm has posted the job opening on its website and already has begun lining up potential candidates. Some job-seekers apply to be considered, but the most promising tend to be  ones the firm contacts. "The board told us to bring [it] the best and the brightest," he said. The search, he added, will be national in scope with potential candidates from Delaware considered in the same way as those from elsewhere. He said that outgoing Brandywine superintendent Bruce Harter had contacted the firm during his job search. It  is not unusual for employed school officials to do so, he said. "We get hundreds of applications." (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

Last updated on December 28, 2007

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