delaforum

January 2008

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NEW CONTRACT: The Brandywine school board most likely will approve a four-year contract with the union representing teachers in the district when it meets on Jan. 28. Teachers have been working without a contract this academic year. Superintendent Jim Scanlon did not respond to a Delaforum request for terms of the agreement, which runs a year longer than previous ones, nor tell why it took so long to reach a deal. Past practice has been to wait until union members ratify contracts and not make their details public until the board completes the process. Taxpayer-financed teacher salaries are the biggest item in the district budget.

    

American College, which last year pulled out of a deal to buy part of the Holy Rosary parish site to develop a campus, apparently is still interested in expanding its presence in Claymont.

County Councilman John Cartier and Brett Saddler, executive director of Claymont Renaissance Corp., said the college is "in the early stages" of exploring the possibility of locating a student- and faculty-run cafe and museum in the state-owned but idle Darley House. Although he said he would like to see details of the proposal, Cartier said it could alleviate "concern that a vacant historic property like that is vulnerable." The house, at Philadelphia Pike and Darley Road, formerly was a bed-and-breakfast inn. The museum would be devoted to the life and work of illustrator Felix Darley, who lived in the house in the 19th century.

In another matter at a meeting of the Claymont Design Review Advisory Committee on Jan. 23, Saddler said Delaware Department of Transportation's present thinking about improvements to Philadelphia Pike is "the antithesis of everything we've been working for." He said the preliminary plan includes adding a turn lane into Renaissance Village at Manor Avenue, which would eliminate on-street parking and reduce sidewalk width. "We don't think that is necessary. ... We don't want people speeding on Philadelphia Pike," Saddler said. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

Saddler also reported that Renaissance Village site work is about to get underway with initial construction now scheduled for late summer. The redevelopment project, he said, "is ahead of schedule."

    

NOT TO WORRY: Concerned residents who turned out for a state environmental control department informational meeting to learn details of Claymont Steel's request to modify its pollutant-emissions permit were told the firm actually wants to lower the limit on how much nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and particulates the plant is allowed to emit. Department environmental engineer Brad Klotz told the gathering on Jan. 23 that the firm, recently acquired by a Russian holding company, would still be well below the new limits and would avoid the fuss and expense of justifying higher levels under new federal requirements.

    

FREEZE REPORT: Charlotte Crowell, chief human resources officer, said county government has hired 43 employees and filled 13 other vacancies through promotions or transfers since a 'soft freeze' went into effect at the start of the fiscal year last July. She told County Council's finance committee that 30 of the positions were exempt from the freeze and six were authorized by the contractor-licensing ordinance. The others, she said, required department general managers to justify filling to a panel of top administration officials. She said her office currently is advertising for candidates for eight vacant positions.

Although contractor registration is running slower than expected, the new program already has brought more revenue into county coffers than it is expected to cost during the remaining six month of the fiscal year, financial officer Michael Strine told the committee on Jan. 22. It has spent $21,000 and encumbered close to another $50,000 while collecting $470,000 in fees, he said. "One thing I'll commit to is that we'll not spend more than we bring in" Charles Baker, general manager of the Department of Land Use said. Inspectors and code-enforcement officers have begun checking job sites to make sure contractors are licensed, he said.

    

FISCAL MEASURES: Proposed ordinances to limit spending of revenue from the volatile reality transfer tax and to establish an advisory council modeled on the Delaware Economic & Financial Advisory Council were introduced into County Council on Jan. 22.. They are two of the measures proposed by County Executive Christopher Coons to make structural changes in the way county government budgets and spends its money. Sponsored by George Smiley, chairman of Council's finance committee, the ordinances could be enacted in time to apply to the fiscal 2009 budget which Coons will present in late March.

The realty-tax ordinance would cap the amount of revenue that could be budgeted at 90% of what was generated by the tax during the previous fiscal year. Anything beyond that would have to be earmarked for capital spending or used to reduce debt. The advisory council would have nine members from government and the private sector appointed by the executive and Council. It would present revenue estimates every year, except the current fiscal year, at the beginning of December, March and May. Unlike the state panel, its estimates would not be binding, but would have to be "duly considered" while formulating the budget. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

    

VOTE PLANNED: Councilman Penrose Hollins intends to bring his controversial 'affordable' housing legislation before County Council for a vote at its Feb. 26 session, about a month later than originally scheduled. He told Council's land use committee on Jan. 15 that the need to give public notice sufficiently in advance prevents it from being considered on Jan. 22 and rezoning ordinances are expected to occupy the Feb. 12 session. As Delaforum previously reported, a revised version of the pending ordinance will be offered under Council rules allowing substitute measures to be introduced and voted upon at the same session. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

    

END OF THE LINE? The long-running dispute over further development of the Paladin Club complex will be resolved by a mere formality. Charles Baker, general manager of the land use department, told a Council committee on Jan. 15 that Edgewood Village's plan to build 38 townhouses meets all code requirements. Under the law, Council must now approve the plan. "That has nothing to do with my personal feelings. ... We're just doing our professional job," Baker said. Objecting residents argued that the plan violates their rights as condominium owners to common property. "I feel like the victim of a hold-up," Roy Jackson said. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

    

Delmarva Power has begun collecting the portion of its massive 2006 rate increase which some customers chose to defer under a state-mandated phase-in plan. The deferred amount will be charged in equal installments included in the public utility's next 17 monthly electricity bills.

    

PLAN REVEALED: B.T.L. Foundation wants to use the historic house in Bechtel Park as a facility providing office, meeting and activity space for ethnic organizations and a children's theater. Foundation secretary Punith Venkatesh told Delaforum that the goal is to promote "better understanding between different cultures." He said the Hockessin-based foundation provides assistance to needy people in this country, India and elsewhere. Although it submitted proposals on two resident-curator sites, Venkatesh said it will pursue only one and probably would prefer the Naamans Road property over Banning Park. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

    

State Representative Gregory Lavelle apparently has lost his last-minute bid to block the ban on dumping yard waste into the landfill although enforcement will be put off until July.

The House natural resources committee voted to indefinitely table Lavelle's bill after it was strongly opposed at a committee meeting on Jan. 9. That indicated he would be unlikely to garner enough support to bring the measure before the full House of Representatives for a vote. Most significantly, two of Lavelle's Brandywine Hundred colleagues testified against the measure. "Removing the ban is bad policy for the community and businesses," Diana McWilliams said. Bryon Short disputed Lavelle's contention that there is widespread public opposition to the ban. "I don't hear anybody saying it's onerous," he said.

Although the yard-waste ban officially goes into effect on Jan. 24, a natural resources department report distributed at the hearing said "enforcement procedures" will not begin as previously planned in April.  They will be directed at wholesale violations. "We're not going to be issuing tickets to homeowners," natural resources secretary John Hughes said. Robert Byrd, a lobbyist, testified that trash-hauling firms are ready to offer collection services to their customers "once we see the yard-waste ban is going into effect." Lavelle questioned whether the firms are "prepared to do what they're supposed to do with the stuff." (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

Hughes said the department's drop-off mulching sites have proven to be popular. "I love meeting the happy people who are using them," he said.

    

Advanced five years ago as a sure-fire way to preserve historic buildings in Jester Park and other county parks, a resident curator program has bombed.

Only one proposal was received for one the three properties offered in Brandywine Hundred and three were submitted for two properties elsewhere. B.T.L. Foundation proposed to convert Ivyside, a house in Bechtel Park, into a "multi-cultural service center." Limited information publicly available at a bid opening on Jan. 9 did not explain what that would be nor provide any details about the foundation. A call to the contact telephone number in the proposal reached an answering machine at what apparently is a private residence. No proposal was received for the house in Talley-Day Park or the farmhouse in Jester Park.

Delaware Humane Association and 'Dimnia Humitas' submitted proposals for the Hermitage in Glasgow Regional Park and B.T.L. Foundation also submitted a proposal for Woodstock in Banning Park. A resident curator arrangement, which provides open-ended rent- and tax-free occupancy in return for maintaining the building, was first suggested by Councilman Robert Weiner in response to opposition to developing Jester Park for active recreation. Councilman David Tackett revived the idea last summer in connection with developing the Glasgow park. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

County officials previously told Delaforum that the deadline for submitting proposals was extended because numerous inquiries about the program had been received.

    

NEARING COMPLETION: The final phase of the Blue Ball highway project -- reconstruction of the Concord Pike-Interstate 95 interchange -- is now expected to begin in 2009 and be completed in 2011, according to Delaware Department of Transportation project manager Mark Tudor. He said DelDOT has money budgeted for design work and is looking for the General Assembly to provide construction funds in this year's capital-spending legislation. The conceptual plan presented at a public 'workshop' on Jan. 7 showed relocation of the southbound I-95 exit ramp and widening of the other existing ramps. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum commentary.) 

    

EARLY START: The administration has begun, several weeks earlier than usual, negotiations with the unions representing most county employees, whose current contracts expire in April. The one covering park and sewer workers already has gone to binding arbitration, County Executive Christopher Coons said. He described determining wages and benefits has "our biggest challenge" as the process of coming up with a proposed budget for fiscal 2009 gets underway. Looming are the previously reported $7.5 million court judgment and an $800,000 revenue loss  from an assessment appeal, both of which are being appealed.

Last updated on January 26, 2008

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