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April 2010

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In a rerun of a storied tradition from Delaware's past, the Du Pont company apparently has ridden to a last-minute recue of state officials caught in a dilemma of what to do about the Brandywine Hundred yard waste disposal site.

Natural resources secretary Collin O'Mara announced at a well-attended community meeting that his department had just reached an agreement-in-principle with the company to rent -- for what he said will be a nominal fee -- a two-acre site at Edgemoor and Hay Roads so it can relocate the facility now just off Cauffiel Parkway. State senator Harris McDowell, who has long been pushing to move it, warned that failure to do so by June 30 would put the Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control in violation of a state law which he got enacted a year ago. O'Mara said the present site will be shut down permanently at the end of the day on June 29. He acknowledged, however, that the new site might not be ready for use by then and was vague on what will happen if that is so.

Marjorie Crofts, acting director of the department's Division of Air & Waste Management, said that only the Cauffiel and Du Pont sites among 18 studied met the criteria for a suitable place for dropping off and mulching yard waste, now banned from being buried at the Cherry Island landfill. The primary requirement, she explained, was not being near a residential community. A woman at the meeting on Apr. 27 complained, however, that it will be yet another irritant from the industrial area east of Interstate 495 for residents of Edgemoor and Paladin Club. O'Mara said talks are underway with Holland Mulch, which abuts the Du Pont property, to have it dispose of the waste. Eventually, he said, it is hoped that all recycling activity can be 'privatized'.

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POSSIBLE AMENDMENT: There is an outside possibility that County Council for the first time in recent memory will amend the budget. Councilman Bill Bell told Delaforum that he intends to seek a provision to establish a 12-hour, seven-day paramedics station south of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal. He said he is working with the Coons administration to find a way to finance it -- probably by shifting money in the public safety department's budget. Although several Council members have talked about a need to provide for filling some vacant positions across county government departments, Bell apparently is the only one seriously considering attempting to modify the administration's proposed budget. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)  

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GRANULATED HANBY:

Most of the debris from the demolished Hanby school building is being pulverized to be used in construction the new elementary school to be built on the site in Chalfonte, beginning later this year. Besides being in keeping with plans to have the new structure be certified as a 'green' building, the recycling has eliminated need for a large amount of dump-truck traffic through the community, according to project manager John Read. What to name the new school is so far undecided since it will replace Brandywood Elementary but be located in the neighboring development.

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OUTLOOK BRIGHTENING: Delaware Economic & Financial Advisory Council will bump up its state revenue forecast for the coming fiscal year, but David Gregor, the finance department's director of research and analysis, told its revenue committee that most of the increase is expected to come from volatile and largely unpredictable abandoned property payments. Nevertheless, he and private economist Fred Dixon said they are seeing some upward momentum in the national economy. Overall, the committee agreed at its meeting on Apr. 16 that the state will take in $64.6 million in the year beginning July 1, or about 1% more than it thought in March. Of that, $45 million will be in escheat payments and $18.5 million will come from corporate income tax.  (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

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CHALLENGE: Councilman William Tansey challenged colleagues who questioned whether some county government departments may have tightened their belts too much to provide them money to fill vacant positions. "If there is a strong feeling we ought to increase [staff] here and there, we should amend [the proposed budget] and then figure out where we're going to find the money," he said. Since the budget Council will enact in May has to be balanced, the alternatives, he said, would be to "cut someplace else" or to raise the property tax rate. Tansey, who is stepping down when his term expires in November and who has consistently opposed tax increases, did not indicate which, if either, of those he favors.

He made the remarks while presiding as co-chairman of Council's finance committee at a budget hearing on Apr. 12 after some Council members questioned how long the Department of Community Services can rely on volunteers to fill the gap left by 20 vacant job slots. "Some of those positions should be classified as essential personnel," William Bell said. The job functions are "critical to the quality of life" of county residents, Penrose Hollins said, adding, "We can't continue this way or something is going to crack." Community services general manager Ann Farley told the hearing that volunteers provided a total of 13,413 hours of cost-free services last year while 375 part-time employees helped hold down personnel costs. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article)

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The extent of county government incentives -- if any -- for the reactivation of the oil refinery near Delaware City has not been determined, according to the spokesperson for the county executive.

"Chris Coons is working closely with the governor to determine what the county can do to assist this important venture, which will bring much needed jobs to the area," Angie Basiouny said in response to a Delaforum inquiry. A press statement from the governor's office referred in general terms to a state loan of $20 million which would convert to a grant if employment targets are met and a $10 million donation and piggyback bond authorization for capital improvements to control nitrogen oxide emissions. County government agreed last year to give Fisker Automotive a five-year tax holiday as an incentive to purchase and operate the closed former General Motors assembly plant.

Under an agreement made public on Apr. 8, the investment subsidiary of Germany-based Petroplus Holdings A.G. will acquire the idled refinery, power plant, Delaware River terminal and pipeline from Valero Energy for $220 million. Following an extensive overhaul, the refinery would be restarted in the spring of 2011. But, according to an announcement posted on a business public relations wire, the deal is "conditioned upon certain regulatory approvals and obtaining satisfactory permits from local regulatory authorities." Petroplus is the largest independent refiner and wholesaler of petroleum products in Europe with refineries in Germany, Belgium, Britain, France and Switzerland. The Delaware refinery would provide its initial entry into the United States. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

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OPEN HOUSES: County government has borrowed a sales technique from realtors in its effort to revive the resident curator program which has languished for several years. It has scheduled public inspection tours at the 19th Century houses in Bechtel and Talley-Day Parks on Apr. 17. The Department of Special Services hopes to attract people who will agree to fix up and then maintain the structures in return for open-end leases allowing them to live there rent- and tax-free. The Brandywine Hundred sites are the first of several throughout the county to be made available. The Ivyside house in Bechtel Park is said to date from 1853 and the Talley house goes back to 1847, according to a county press notice. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

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STILL UNCERTAIN: While several governors around the country are questioning how just Delaware and Tennessee, alone among the states, qualified for education financing windfalls, the state Department of Education remains vague on how $100 million will be divvied up. In response to Delaforum inquiries, DelDOE spokesman Ron Gough repeated a previous statement: "Fifty percent of the [money] goes directly to the schools while the remaining 50% of the funds will go to the state." The latter, he went on to say, "will be portioned out to the school districts and charter schools with a small amount" kept by the department "to help provide oversight of the ['Race to the Top'] programs and funds."

He declined to say what criteria will be used to determine who gets what other than to note that "there will be no local competition" involved. "Federal calculations will determine the amount of funds going to each school," Gough said. The money will be doled out over the next four year with only public schools in line to get a slice of the pie and charter schools being treated no differently from traditional ones, he said. Meanwhile, according to a New York Times article published on Apr. 4, officials in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nebraska, South Carolina and South Dakota have indicated they are so put out that they may not even bother to participate later this year in a scheduled 'second round' of competition for grants. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.) (CLICK HERE to read New York Times article.)

Last updated on April 28, 2010

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