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June, 2007

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FINANCIAL AID: Legislation to allow New Castle County government to levy a tax of up to 2% on motel and hotel bills was introduced into the General Assembly on June 28. Sponsored by representative Melaine Marshall, it would provide the same taxing authority in unincorporated areas that municipalities now have. Newark and Wilmington collect lodging taxes. The measure apparently is the only one of several requested by the Coons administration to help relieve the county's financial pinch that have been put before the Assembly. It is uncertain whether there will be time for the legislature to act before it wraps up its current session on June 30. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.

    

REDEVELOPMENT FINANCING: The state House of Representatives on June 28 unanimously passed a bill sponsored by representative Robert Valihura to allow the county to establish special development districts and use tax increment financing to support redevelopment projects. The measure, which now goes before the Senate, is aimed initially at supporting Renaissance Village. Larger municipalities in Delaware already have that authority. The financing method lets developers take advantage of county government's ability to float bonds that are generally interest-free. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

    

TERMS DISCLOSED: School bus drivers in the Brandywine District will get a one-time $25 payment this fiscal year and 8-an-hour raises in the locally-paid portion of their wages next year and in the following one. They currently make between $14.40 and $17.22 an hour, depending upon length of service. Drivers also will be eligible for bonuses of up to $100 for safe driving, service performance, 'exemplary' attendance and on-time arrival. Terms of the contract with their union recently ratified by the school board were provided by superintendent James Scanlon on June 28 at the request of Delaforum and Community News. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delafourm article.)

    

ON TARGET: Entering the final month of the fiscal year, it appears that county government's belt-tightening is having pretty much the desired effect. The monthly financial report presented to County Council's finance committee on June 26 projected spending through June 30 to be $10.2 million below budget. Major contributing categories have been employment costs and contractual services. Revenue is expected to be $4.2 million less than planned as the result of the falloff in receipts from the property-transfer tax. The county will begin the new year with reserves, exclusive of the 'rainy day' emergency fund, of $73 million, down from $85 million on July 1, 2006.

The county will have to pay out $7.5 million from reserves if its appeal of the adverse ruling in the civil court case over its handling of the situation involving the unopened hotel off Interstate 95 south of Basin Road is unsuccessful. That would result in the reserves running out in fiscal 2011, a year earlier than previously calculated, according to the long-range forecast in the report. Proposed legislation was introduced into Council to authorize payment of up to $326,000 to settle a suit brought by Enron Corp. to recover $5 million paid on county investments after it declared bankruptcy rather than risk possible loss of the full amount. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

    

HELP WANTED: The county administration has established a policy authorizing solicitation of donations and contributions to help pay for special public events. Individuals and businesses -- including those which do business with or are regulated by county government -- can now be asked to kick in provided they are approached as part of a general solicitation and are informed that a decision to give or not give will have no  effect on their relationship with the county. The amount of the donations or value of in-kind services that are contributed will not be publicly disclosed, according to the policy.

Anne Farley, general manager of the Department of Community Services, which conducts events, told County Council's finance committee on June 26 that the policy was reviewed and approved by the ethics commission. It was issued in final form in March, but not previously made public. The ice cream festival will not be held this summer because of the county's financial situation and other events have been suspended. Because of their popularity, county officials have  been looking for ways to underwrite their costs. Apparently no decision has yet been reached on whether to begin charging admission.

    

TIME RUNNING OUTIt appears all but certain that the General Assembly will wrap up its annual session without even considering legislation to provide financial assistance to New Castle County government. County spokeswoman Christy Gleason told Delaforum that officials are working with Assembly leaders to complete proposed legislation. "Legislators are aware of the county's [continuing] financial situation and continue to offer their assistance, once they address pressing state financial issues," she said. However, it would be unlikely that any of the measures could be introduced and acted upon before the June 30 adjournment. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delafourm article.)

    

CORRECTION: Ocean Atlantic Associates, of Rehoboth Beach, Del., will be 'co-developer' of Renaissance Village with the Commonwealth-Setting joint venture. Delaforum incorrectly reported that Alexandria, Va.-based Ocean Atlantic Corp. would have that role.  There is no relationship between those firms. Associates, a diversified firm, is involved in real estate development, building and sales in eastern Sussex County. Among its current projects is The Vineyards at Nassau Valley, a residential condominium-commercial-retail project, Nick Hammonds, executive assistant to the firm's president  and project manager. said. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delafourm article.)

    

American College is close to reaching agreement to acquire part of the Holy Rosary church-school campus and is looking to team with state government to reopen the Darley House.

Only "a few minor details" need to be worked out before the college and the parish council sign a letter of intent involving 6.7 acres of the 16-acre property, Brett Saddler, executive director of Claymont Renaissance Development Corp., told the Design Review Advisory Committee on June 21. The deal would include the historic Grubb mansion fronting on Philadelphia Pike, which most recently served the parish as a retreat house, and cover land extending downhill toward Governor Printz Boulevard. Historic zoning is being sought to protect the house, according to Carolyn Mercandante, president of the Claymont Historical Society.

Saddler said the college also hopes to have a student-faculty coffee house in the building which once was the home of prominent 19th Century illustrator Felix Darley. It was purchased by the state government a few years ago after the bed-and-breakfast Darley Manor Inn closed. There also would be a Darley museum and some office space. In another matter, Saddler said plans to rebuild the Claymont railroad station now involve choosing between locating it at the present site opposite Manor Avenue or a short distance north at Myrtle Avenue. Tying it to potential redevelopment of part of the Claymont Steel property would result in too long a delay, he said. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

    

PARTNER SELECTED: The Commonwealth-Setting joint venture has picked Alexandria, Va.-based Ocean Atlantic Corp. as its Renaissance Village 'co-developer', according to County Councilman John Cartier. Rehoboth Beach-based Schell Brothers will build the planned 'new urbanist' community. Ocean Atlantic describes itself as a firm which "specializes in developing high-quality residential communities that feature affordable luxury homes." Cartier told the Claymont Design Review Committee on June 21 that a plan for demolishing the former Brookview apartments complex is being negotiated. "Those buildings are coming down this summer," he said. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delafourm article.)

    

Even while agreeing that 100% recycling might be an appropriate goal, members of the Recycling Public Advisory Council were not optimistic that much less ambitious legislation will be enacted.

James Werner, director of the Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control's waste management division, told the group at its meeting on June 20 that compromise legislation blending the state administration's proposal for establishing a voluntary program and state representative Pamela Maier's bid for a mandatory one has been worked out, but indicated that chances for it passage in the waning days of the General Assembly session are minimal. "If it doesn't pass, the [administration bill] is still out there," he said. That measure would be held over until the legislature reconvenes in January.

Patricia Todd presented a draft 'vision statement' which contains an "abstract goal of complete resource recovery or complete diversion from the landfill" that appeared to receive a favorable consensus although she did not present a specific proposal on which the council could vote. "We don't say when [the goal] can be achieved or even if it will be achieved," she said adding that it would be a target worth shooting for. She said the drafting committee decided to avoid the term 'zero waste' -- which has some currency among environmental activists -- because "that scares people."

Werner also said during the discussion that it is "highly unlikely" that the department's ban on dumping yard waste into the Cherry Island Marsh landfill will go into effect, as now scheduled, next Jan. 24. He did not elaborate.

    

PERMIT TIMING RULES: Brandywine school officials decided to begin the permitting process necessary to construct a new school building on site of the present Lancashire Elementary School because it takes at least 12 months for a development plan to work its way through the county Department of Land Use, according to district spokesman Robert Ziegler. "Due to the length of time the process takes, we need to continue with design and permitting," he said. As of now, work is scheduled to begin in the summer of 2008 although that could change as the district evaluates its overall building-capacity situation. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

    

NEW SCHOOL ON TRACK: The day voters approved a tax increase linked in part to a stated intention to cut operating costs by, among other things, closing at least one elementary school, Brandywine School District filed a preliminary development plan with the New Castle County Department of Land Use which evidently represents the first step toward building a new elementary school on the site of the present Lancashire Elementary. "As far as I know right now the plan is still a go," district spokesman Robert Ziegler told Delaforum when asked if the plan to replace Lancashire and Brandywood Elementary is still viable.

The development plan, filed on June 4 and made public on the county government website, seeks approval to "provide parking and stormwater [mitigation] needed to operate two schools, construct [a] 40,000 square foot elementary school, [and] demo[lish the] existing school two years after completion of [the] new school." Phase three of the district's building and modernization program calls for constructing a new building at the Lancashire site beginning in 2008, use the existing Lancashire building to house Brandywood while a new Brandywood building is constructed beginning in 2010, and then demolish the existing Lancashire building. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

    

CONGESTION: The commuter route between Interstate 95 and Shipley Road via Marsh and Silverside Roads is the fourth most congested in Delaware, according to a Washington-based organization which calls itself Trip -- an apparent acronym -- and describes itself as a "national transportation research group." Northbound Concord Pike between I-95 and Woodlawn Road ranks 12th. The group, in a press statement issued on June 19, said traffic congestion in Delaware costs the average driving commuter who uses the designated roads daily during rush hours up to $1,015 a year in wasted time and fuel.

The most congested travel route is I-95 between the Ogletown-Christiana Road interchange and the Basin Road interchange. Others on Trip's list of the 25 most congested are: Centre-Barley Mill Road between Faulkland and Rockland Roads, 11th; Delaware-Pennsylvania Avenues and Kennett Pike between 12th Street and Barley Mill Road, 14th; and Lancaster Avenue-Lancaster Pike between King Street and Centre Road, 18th. It lists as priority unfinanced highway projects in Brandywine Hundred improvements to Philadelphia Pike through Claymont and a new I-95-Concord Pike interchange.

    

PAYROLL DATA: Brandywine School District apparently has 77 staff members, or 5.3% of its 1,447 employees, paid entirely or partially -- beyond the required match of state salary money -- from local tax revenue. That includes "approximately 30 ... mainly paraprofessional aides" and "approximately 11 technology positions," according to the response to a request for a complete and accurate accounting put to Superintendent James Scanlon by Delaforum on May 29 at a pre-referendum media conference he called to refute 'misinformation'. The question was intended to resolve conflicting reports published by other media.

In an e.mail received on June 3, chief financial officer David Blowman also referred to one regular teacher, 15 special-education teachers and 20 special-education aides. The special-educational positions are paid with revenue from the tuition-tax component of the tax rate and the technology personnel from its technology component, he said. "By the way," he added, "when Christina [School District] got in trouble, they had over 300 across these same categories and over 170 just in current expense." Blowman did not include any administrator salaries above matching the amount financed by the state in his accounting. No response to a subsequent request for clarification has been received. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

    

RUMOR DISCOUNTED: Brandywine superintendent James Scanlon said no one has expressed interest in buying the site where any school the district will close now stands. He said he was unaware of a rumor current among some realtors that a developer is eyeing the large Brandywood tract as possible location for over-55 townhouse housing. Scanlon said any property sale would not net a revenue windfall. The state would get 60% and taxpayers the rest through a lower capital-spending tax rate, he said. District officials haven't responded to a Delaforum request for an accounting of employees supported by local money beyond the basic salary match. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

Last updated on June 29, 2007

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