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January 30,  2006

 County property owners who experienced sticker shock when they received their annual sanitary sewer service bill this week may not have realized that is just a foretaste of what is to come in 2009 when the property tax rate goes up for the first time in what then will be a dozen years.

According to the mid-fiscal year report, county government spending is running about $1 million less than budgeted. But chief financial officer Michael Strine cautioned County Council's financial committee against reading too much into that. Fuel costs, as everyone knows, have been rising astronomically. Delmarva Power is about ready to make up for time lost while waiting out the deregulation rate moratorium to run out.

The harsh reality is that no reasonable amount of belt tightening is going to preserve any of the county's budget reserve past the 2009-10 fiscal year, if it lasts that long.

Councilman Robert Weiner suggested that it might be better wisdom to "feather in" the inevitable tax increase "instead of waiting for doomsday." He drew zilch response from his colleagues.

Half of Council is up for re-election or replacement come November. Occupants of only two seats -- Penrose Hollins and Karen Venezky -- were around last time Council voted in a rate hike. Needless to say having been able to go so long without running up against every politician's nightmare has been a welcome experience. No elected official wants to vote for higher taxes in an election year. The prospect of having a bit more time -- like being able to hit the snooze button when the alarm clock goes off -- is inviting.

Dare we hope that Council will consider, as early as this spring, the benefits of spacing out and softening that '09 wallop with incremental adjustments? Maybe County Executive Chris Coons will share responsibility for the lesser of two evils and offer that possibility along with demonstrable assurance that his administration has spending under control when he presents his fiscal 2007 budget for Council's 'consideration and adoption'.

 Delaware is so far behind on road-building and other transportation projects that it's not likely to catch up until 2025.

That's not likely, of course, but Tigist Zegeye, executive director of the Wilmington Area Planning Council, said the situation is such that the council has decided not to produce a transportation improvement plan this year. It will concentrate instead on setting priorities for projects already in the pipeline. "Some [projects] are slipping; others are nowhere to be found," she said.

In a just-issued report on the status of its long-range plan for the years until 2025, it said 21 projects have been completed since the plan was drawn up in 2003 and four are scheduled to be completed within their projected in-service date. But 10 are behind schedule, 60 have no approved financing and are therefore considered to be just sitting on the shelf, and two have been cancelled.

Major Brandywine Hundred projects in the unfinanced category are improvements to the Interstate 95-Concord Pike interchange and the long-suffering Tyler McConnell Bridge. CLICK HERE for a complete list of all the projects and their status.

The council is beginning the process of extending the long-range plan to 2030. That will involve some public participation and is to be completed by March, 2007.

The council is designated as the official agency for providing the Federal Highway Administration with the public's view on transportation and transportation-related projects vying for federal financing. In theory, it tells Delaware Department of Transportation 'this is what the public wants and you had better do these things or Uncle Sam won't help pick up the tab.' The federal share on most major projects is 80%.

But, as demonstrated last year, council recommendations don't carry anywhere near the clout that bit of revenue-sharing would seem to command. In response to a budget-cutting directive, DelDOT slashed its program and the General Assembly, which has the final say over the state's share of the cost, directed that the Blue Ball projects and the widening of the Delaware Turnpike and straightening out the mess that is its interchange with Sate Route 1 proceed full-steam and everything else step aside.

At that point, DelDOT went back to the planning council, presented that plan and, in effect, said, 'This is what we've decided you want'. There was a bit of hue and cry, but in the end, the council responded, 'You're right. That is what we want.' The council's directors weren't about to pull the plug on getting the federal dollars. CLICK HERE to read Delaforum article

That's the real world for you. Zegeye said the planning process involves collaboration, not confrontation. The secretary of transportation and the department are represented on the council's governing body. And, she added, "We have no jurisdiction to tell the legislature what to do."

 It probably comes as no surprise to anyone who has been watching, but the rebuilt Concord Pike-Foulk Road intersection is no panacea. Traffic still backs up on Foulk Road and the wait to access the pike seems longer than it used to. As a result, the number of beat-the-light drivers appears to have increased.

Exiting Interstate 95 onto Concord Pike northbound is slower during rush hour and the weaving north of the barriers is as bad, if not worse, than it used to be at Augustine Cut-Off. The turn onto Weldin Road Extended to reach Foulk Road coming from the city is, to say the least, confusing. Anyone not familiar with that style of local-think would look for it to be at the Independence Mall traffic signal.

Don't say Delaforum didn't warn you. CLICK HERE to read that article.

 Shortly before he died, civic activist Malcolm MacKenzie produced the latest in a series of replicas of the blue ball once used by the tavern that was there to signal stagecoaches on Concord Turnpike. It was a painted bowling ball atop a log. The original, we understand, was a glass globe attached to a post. Placed at the intersection near the now-restored dairy barn, however, the replica managed to gave a touch of historic perspective.

Now, according to a DelDOT spokesman, no one knows where it might have been put for safekeeping whilst the intersection was being rebuilt. In fact, no one seems to know if it was put anywhere for safekeeping whilst the intersection was being rebuilt. The previous marker had similarly vanished a few years earlier

Since DelDOT is not likely to replace Mal's replacement, perhaps someone will see to it that a new replacement is ready by the time the barn is reopened in the spring.

  Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 111th Infantry is back home in northeast Philadelphia, but life isn't the same as it was before members of the hard-hit Pennsylvania National Guard unit went to Iraq. CLICK HERE read the Philadelphia Inquirer article about how the soldiers are coping -- and not coping.

  Is it getting hot in here? Yes, according to the Goddard Institute for Space Studies. 2005, in fact, saw the highest global surface temperature on record. Moreover, global warming is occurring an increasingly faster pace. CLICK HERE to reach a summary of the report.

  If you haven't already done so, it is well worth a trip to Philly to catch the Benjamin Franklin show at the National Constitution Center. And if you really want to make a pilgrimage in observance of Ben's 300th, CLICK HERE.

2006. All rights reserved.

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