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January, 2006

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JOB BID WITHDRAWN: Brandywine school superintendent Bruce Harter confirmed that he had applied to be superintendent of the Pulaski County School District in Arkansas, but told Delaforum that he withdrew from consideration after an all-day interview session. He did not elaborate on his reasons for doing so. He said he had been 'nominated' for the position. Little Rock is the seat of Pulaski County. Harter, who recently was one of four finalists for the superintendency of the Christina School District, has told the Brandywine school board and public that he will pursue professional opportunities if and when they become available. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

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TRAIN STATION STUDY: Wilmington Area Planning Council expects to hire a consultant soon to look into the feasibility of significantly upgrading or replacing the Claymont train station. Executive director Tigist Zegeye said the study, which will be paid for from the $30,000 left over from a $50,000 2003 transportation grant, will study options ranging from simply sprucing up the present station, though constructing a parking building with commuter amenities, to building a new station on Citi Steel property north of the present one. She said the consultant will take about a year to produce a 'master vision plan'. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

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Seniors and disabled persons who qualify for New Castle County property tax discounts are being billed for sanitary sewer service at the old rates. Everyone else is being hit with a 40% increase. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

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AD STRATEGY: County communications director Christy Gleason recommended that newspaper advertisingof public notices be changed to reach more people with ads half their present size while cutting the cost by nearly a third. Any weekly reaching more than 5,000 people would be added to Middletown Transcript and editions of Community News which are now being used. The News Journal ad would run on Sundays, when circulation is highest, rather than Saturdays when it's the lowest. That, she told County Council's finance committee on Jan. 24, would cost $195,414 a year, compared to $312,665 now being spent.

Council members, who must pass on the proposal, questioned the value of newspaper advertising. President Paul Clark said his impression is that more people are attracted to meetings and hearings by signs posted -- at developer expense -- on affected properties or "hear about [them] from their neighbors." Councilman George Smiley suggested that newspapers which get county advertising dollars be prompted to provide more than "negative reporting" about county affairs. Gleason also recommended that the county website be "enhanced" to provide more comprehensive information and that an optional e.mail notification feature be included.

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FINANCIAL REPORT: Midway through the fiscal year, county government spending is keeping pace with its budget, but financial officer Michael Strine told Council that it's likely an upward budget revision will be necessary to cover utility costs when electricity rates soar in May. Spending during the year ending June 30 is now projected to total $157.3 million. That would be down from $167.7 million in fiscal 2005, but $6 million more than anticipated revenue, he told Council's finance committee on Jan. 24. He said the county currently is borrowing against its financial reserves while it decides on timing of a planned $70 million bond issue.

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LEASE TERMS MODIFIED: Concord Soccer Association and Talleyville Girls Softball League will be permitted to recruit other sports organizations to help them pay to maintain fields at the Channin and Old Mill Lane school sites. They prefer to call it 'cost-sharing' rather than charging a fee. Terms of a lease with the softball group approved on Jan. 24 by County Council gives county government oversight as to how much they can charge and to prevent possible discrimination in whom they accept as partners. The sites are now officially county parks. The Concord group's lease will contain the same previsions.

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RATE INCREASE TAKES EFFECT: Sewer service bills being mailed to county residents average 41% more than a year ago, depending on water use, but include an option to pay them in two installments -- at the  end of February and the end of May. That, said Michael Strine, the county's chief financial officer, reflects the rate increase enacted last year by County Council plus a general increase in the amount of water typical county households are using. He said the residential rate held steady while the cost of providing the service increased by 61%. Still, he said, the new rate is "significantly lower than the rates in surrounding areas."

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'BROOKVIEW' NO MORE: Robert Ruggio, senior vice president, told the Claymont Design Review Advisory Committee that Commonwealth Group wants a new name for the redeveloped Brookview apartment complex. He invited the public to participate in the process of coming up with one by sending suggestions to the firm before the middle of March. He didn't offer a prize for the best suggestion. Also to be named are streets in the proposed community, except those that will connect with existing streets. The committee agreed unanimously to support the preliminary plan for the community which is now before the Department of Land Use.

In another matter at its meeting on Jan. 19, the committee opted to accept Wawa's offer to landscape the small plaza at the corner of the site of its Philadelphia Pike outlet. Member Brett Saddler told the group that the alternative, putting up a statue or other public art, would cost upwards of $20,000. "That's more than Wawa would be willing to pay," he said. Claymont resident Frank Kolling cautioned that a statue would distract drivers and make an already dangerous intersection more so. The resolution ending the dispute over the color of bricks on the fast food outlet included a suggestion that the company not forget to water the flowers. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

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Cost of constructing the New Castle County public-safety building is running $1.7 million over budget despite having been able to make $876,600 worth of cost savings.

Most of the overrun was the result of an average 7.6% increase in construction-related prices since project costs were estimated a year ago, Richard Przywara, general manager of the Department of Special Services, told County Council on Jan. 17. He said it was too early to project how much higher than anticipated the project's final pricetag will be. He cautioned that state-of-the-art equipment to be installed in the facility may well drive it up by a considerable amount. That is especially true, he said, for the 9-1-1 emergency center which will have a redundant backup communications system.

The project is budgeted at $46.2 million -- the largest single building expenditure in county history. Of that, the construction budget totals $34.1 million. There is a normal contingency fund built into the budget which could be used to offset some of the overrun. "As painful as this [information] is, we still see the benefits" of replacing the outmoded county police headquarters, Council president Paul Clark said. The present building is a former elementary school acquired by the county in the early 1980s and adapted -- some say jerryrigged -- for its new function. Przywara said the new building is on schedule to go into service by the end of the year.

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APPROVAL RECOMMENDED: The Planning Board and Department of Land Use recommended that County Council approve a change in the development code to allow recreational facilities in existing buildings  in industrial parks and other areas zoned for light industry. The recommendation is conditioned on altering the ordinance pending before Council to exclude heavy-industry areas. Sponsored by Councilman Timothy Sheldon, the measure is designed to make available more locations with suitable dimensions to house intensive recreational uses, now permitted only in shopping centers and other commercial areas.

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HOMESTEADS:  County employees will be given an opportunity to live in six county-owned houses in county parks for up to two years for what probably will be below-market rent. Rather than arbitrarily providing the housing, employees will bid competitively on how much they are willing to pay with the minimum set at half the going rental for comparable houses, general manager Richard Przywara said. Police officers will continue to live in Rockwood and Carousel Parks for security reasons, but they will have to bid against each other. In the past, there was no established process or apparent objective criteria for selecting tenants, he said.

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BOAT PARKING REQUIREMENTS LIKELY TO BE EASED: County Council president Paul Clark said Councilman George Smiley is attempting to work out a compromise to resolve the dispute over a section of the property code which significantly restricts parking of boats and recreational vehicles in residential areas. He advised the Council of Civil Organizations of Brandywine Hundred , "Don't bet" on the result including a provision that they have to be kept in screened side or back yards. "We can't [physically] get that in 60% of the houses" in the county, he said. Enforcement of that part of the code has been suspended..

Approximately 200 people -- an unusually high turnout -- thrashed the issue at a meeting of the civic group on Jan. 12. While most of the questions and comments put to Clark indicated support for efforts by the group's executive committee to greatly curtail if not eliminate the practice of keeping boats and recreational vehicles in suburban driveways, references to doing so as a violation of basic rights of property owners were the ones that drew applause. "Is it my property or does it belong to the state?" one attender asked rhetorically. "The way people use their property can impact other properties," said Philip Lavelle, the civic group's land use chairman. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

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RECYCLING COULD BE REWARDING: Tri State Waste plans to begin a pilot program in March that would result in Brandywine Hundred householders receiving merchandise or service coupons redeemable at selected business establishments proportionate to the amount of material they voluntarily recycle. The container they use would be automatically weighed when it is dumped into the collection truck and, based on total weight for the month, they would receive up to $25 worth of coupons, Kevin Shegog, of Tri State, said there "will be a charge" beyond the firm's regular collection rates, "but prices are not completely firm yet."

The program is an extension of one operated in southeastern Pennsylvania by Blue Mountain Recycling, which makes its money by processing and selling the material, and Recycle Bank which markets the coupons to area businesses as an advertising medium. Robert Anderson, of Blue Mountain, said processing will be done at its Philadelphia-area facility, but "as volume grows in Delaware we will look for a site in Delaware." Wally Kremer, chairman of the Council of Civic Organizations of Brandywine Hundred, predicted that the program "will get recycling going in Delaware." (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

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BONUS REJECTED: Bruce Harter, superintendent of the Brandywine School District, turned down a $5,250 performance bonus and a $9,290 merit increase, according to data provided by the district in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. He said he was concerned about  district finances and didn't want to embarrass the board over the size of his paycheck. The additional compensation would have amounted to a 9.4% supplement to Harter's  $154,832 fiscal 2006 salary. Other Brandywine administrators received merit increases ranging up to 2%. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

Brandywine administrators' compensation

  Base Merit Pct. of Total
Name Title salary component salary compensation
         
Harter Superintendent $154,832   0.0% $154,832
Blowman Chief financial officer $117,130 $1,054 0.9% $118,184
Davis Asst. superintendent $121,238 $1,091 0.9% $122,329
Cooper Attorney $109,471   0.0% $109,471
Bullock Director $108,680 $978 0.9% $109,658
Bush Director $113,275 $1,585 1.4% $114,860
Curtis Director $109,332 $984 0.9% $110,316
Hilkert Director $109,332 $984 0.9% $110,316
Meredith Director $114,400   0.0% $114,400
Alderson Supervisor $97,405 $877 0.9% $98,282
Conn Supervisor $98,824 $871 0.9% $99,695
Doherty Supervisor $97,647 $1,367 1.4% $99,014
Gleich Supervisor $100,559 $905 0.9% $101,464
Gouge Supervisor $97,405 $1,364 1.4% $98,769
Linscott Supervisor $97,405 $877 0.9% $98,282
Schmidt Supervisor $97,947 $879 0.9% $98,826
Viar, W. Supervisor $97,647 $1,367 1.4% $99,014
Barry Principal $98,800 $790 0.8% $99,590
Glaniak Principal $104,518 $2,090 2.0% $106,608
Goodwin Principal $102,752 $308 0.3% $103,060
Grant Principal $99,788 $1,996 2.0% $101,784
Gregg Principal $111,701 $335 0.3% $112,036
Hohler Principal $102,752 $2,055 2.0% $104,807
Holodick Principal $106,704   0.0% $106,704
Marshall Principal $99,542 $1,991 2.0% $101,533
Mendenhall Principal $104,518 $2,090 2.0% $106,608
Norman Principal $99,544 $796 0.8% $100,340
Pecorella Principal $99,542 $796 0.8% $100,338
Pinchin Principal $102,752 $1,541 1.5% $104,293
Robinson Principal $109,693 $329 0.3% $110,022
Sharps Principal $98,949 $792 0.8% $99,741
Skrobot Principal $99,542 $796 0.8% $100,338
Starkey Principal $104,518 $1,568 1.5% $106,086
Vansuch Principal $98,800   0.0% $98,800
Viar, K. Principal $98,800 $1,383 1.4% $100,183
Guagent Asst. principal $91,578 $733 0.8% $92,311
Harvey Asst. principal $97,260 $292 0.3% $97,552
Hill Asst. principal $97,260 $292 0.3% $97,552
Jarman Asst. principal $88,920   0.0% $88,920
Lambert Asst. principal $96,824 $290 0.3% $97,114
Levitz Asst. principal $90,896 $273 0.3% $91,169
Madaline Asst. principal $97,260 $292 0.3% $97,552
Muller Asst. principal $94,564 $1,891 2.0% $96,455
Murray Asst. principal $88,920   0.0% $88,920
Potter Asst. principal $95,078 $1,427 1.5% $96,505
Pullig Asst. principal $97,260 $292 0.3% $97,552
Smith Asst. principal $97,260 $292 0.3% $97,552
Snow Asst. principal $94,564 $1,891 2.0% $96,455
Tanzer Asst. principal $97,260 $292 0.3% $97,552
Thompson Asst. principal $91,578 $1,374 1.5% $92,952
Woodson Asst. principal $97,260   0.0% $97,260
Totals   $5,199,486

$44,470

0.9% $5,243,956

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EXECUTIVE WOULD APPOINT POLICE CHIEF: The county executive would be able to hire and fire the chief of police at will under terms of a proposed ordinance before County Council. The measure, introduced on Jan. 10 by Council president Paul Clark, would remove the position from the merit system. A chief who is dismissed by the executive, however, would have the option to return to the system with the rank he or she previously held. A companion piece sets the pay range for the position at $92,344 to $143,255, unchanged from the present. The measures are labeled as the first and second ordinances of the new year.

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VOTE RIGGING 101: Figuratively voting with one's feet is a time-honored feature of democracy, but the Council of Civic Organizations of Brandywine Hundred's effort to use a different part of the human anatomy turns out to be not so effective. The flyer promoting a meeting at which  the areawide civic association wants to drum up support for reinstating a ban on most driveway parking of boats and recreational vehicles said that showing up for the meeting "will be a yes vote" while staying home will be taken as a 'no'. Even if 100 Brandywine Hundred folks turn out, the vote will be something like 8,000-to-100 against what the council wants.

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The  Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control expects an expanded Cherry Island Marsh landfill to continue operating for at least 10 years.

A provision buried deep in the 29-page permit allowing  the trash pile to grow to 195 feet, which was made public on Jan. 9, defines the steps the Delaware Solid Waste Authority will have to take to get a new permit when that one runs out on Jan. 6, 2016. The permit also requires the authority to establish -- and listen to -- a seven-member  citizens advisory board which will include residents of the area around the landfill. It also will have to cap the pile and pick up litter along the approaches to the landfill site daily and along 12th Street as far west as Northeast Boulevard at least twice a week.

In addition to banning most yard waste from the landfill after Jan. 1, 2007, the permit specifies several types of material that cannot be accepted and charges all operating employees to inspect arriving cargoes for contraband. Included among unacceptable items are hazardous and infectious waste and radioactive material. A natural resources department official told Delaforum that the authority is not expected to conduct another recycling study, but has to update its official solid waste management plan to include provisions to "maximize recycling and diversion of materials from landfill disposal." (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

Beginning Mar. 1, the authority will be required to have in operation a facility to process recyclables and by June to have significantly expanded its present voluntary recycling program.

Trash disposal at the Cherry Island Marsh landfill.

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LIMITED APPROVAL: According to information posted on the Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control website, Secretary John Hughes has granted the Delaware Solid Waste Authority permission to expand its Cherry Island Marsh landfill. But the trash pile will be permitted to climb about 30 feet to 195 feet instead of the 300 feet the authority had asked. When it reaches the allowable height, the landfill must be shut down "in a manner that is environmentally protective and provides for an orderly transition to another location," the posting said. The actual order is not included in the Jan. 6 posting.

Several other strings reportedly are attached to the order. The most significant calls for the authority to come up with "a comprehensive recycling plan" to divert 40% of residential and commercial solid waste from the landfill. It is not clear how that might differ from a mandatory recycling program developed by the authority, the department and the Recycling Public Advisory Council and, after being modified in the governor's office into a voluntary plan, is pending in the General Assembly with slim to no prospect of being enacted. The authority also will not be allowed to accept recyclable yard waste at the landfill after Jan. 1, 2007. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

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Brandywine school superintendent Bruce Harter is one of four finalists being considered to become superintendent of the Christina district.

Craig Gilbert, president of the Brandywine school board, told Delaforum that Harter notified board members that he was in the running for the job the evening before Christina revealed such on Jan. 6 in a notice about all-day interviews with each of the finalists on successive days beginning Jan. 9. The Christina board conducted private interviews with an undisclosed number of candidates on Jan. 3 and 4 to narrow the field. The notice said 185 inquires about the position were received before the application period closed on Dec. 5. The other finalists presently hold school administrative positions in Georgia, Virginia and Massachusetts.

Harter could not be reached for comment. Brandywine information officer Robert Ziegler issued a statement on his behalf which quoted Harter as saying, in part, "Christina is at a unique and challenging place in its quest for improving student learning.  The board has set the vision and expectation for the kind of learning results that it expects.  I feel that, if selected, I would bring the experience, capability, energy and commitment to lead the district in fulfilling the board's vision." Gilbert said he would be "disappointed if Brandywine loses Bruce, [but] pleased at the same time to keep that talent here in the state."

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HISTORIC PROPERTY SOLD: Delaware Department of Transportation has completed the sale of the WeldinHouse property on Penny Hill at Marsh Road. The historic house is to be rehabilitated and converted into offices under terms of an agreement signed on Dec. 29, according to DelDOT spokesman Michael Williams. The offices reportedly will be used by a financial services business. Williams identified the purchaser as Sycamore Development Group, l.l.c. and said the purchase price was $52,000. DelDOT paid $700,000 when it bought the 1.38-acre property in 2003.

That happened after area residents blocked tearing down the house to make room for a Seven-Eleven convenience store. Concurrently, the house was granted 'historic overlay' protection. A commercial building also on the site is not covered by the 'overlay'. Williams said four prospective developers submitted proposals and Sycamore Development was selected last June after review by a committee which included transportation secretary Nathan Hayward, Ralph Reeb of DelDOT, state senator Harris McDowell, representative Diana McWilliams and Michelle Reed of the Friends of the Weldin House, a community organization. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

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Delaware asked the U.S. Supreme Court to appoint a special master to sort through the complexities of its border dispute with New Jersey. That could significantly delay the outcome of the case.

"It would be particularly unfair to Delaware to treat this long-standing dispute between the two states as suitable for resolution without further factual and legal development," the state contends in a motion filed with the high court during the holiday season. A master would act as a sort of hearing officer to gather evidence and resolve points of law in order to craft recommendations from which the court would be better able to render a decision. Because interstate disputes go directly to the Supreme Court without having such matters dealt with in lower courts, use of a master is a relatively common practice in such cases.

Relying on a 1934 decision, a 1905 compact and results of a suit over an 1871 fishing dispute, Delaware maintains its northern boundary extends to the low-tide watermark on the Jersey side of the Delaware River. In the current suit, Jersey claims sovereignty over underwater land out to the middle of the river. That is significant because Delaware has refused British Petroleum a permit to construct a pier into the river to serve the liquefied natural gas terminal it wants to build at Crown Point, N.J. The motion said extensive research is necessary to determine "the extent of BP's proposed project, which appears to present a moving target."

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PLAN ACCEPTED: The county Department of Land Use approved the plan to stain the off-white bricks on the façade of the Wawa's Claymont outlet to match the red ones. In an order dated Jan. 1, the department told the company and the community Design Review Advisory Committee to get together and see if they can agree on a design for a statue or monument in the small plaza at the Philadelphia Pike and Harvey Road corner of the property. If they can't reach a consensus by March, Wawa will have to install a flower bed there. No timetable was specified for recoloring the bricks. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

Last updated on December 28, 2007

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