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June 2010

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Brandywine School District shaved a ha'penny from its all-time-high property tax rate for the coming fiscal year, reducing it to $1.8165 for each $100 of assessed value from $1.8215 this year.

Although the move by the school board at its meeting on June 28 will save the owner of a 'typical' home just $3.75, board president Debra Heffernan said, "I am sure our community is happy. It's especially welcome during these tough economic times." The district defines the 'typical' residential property as one assessed at $75,000. The tax on such a property this year was $1,366.13. The cut was in the minor capital fund; all other components of the tax rate remain unchanged. Chief financial officer David Blowman told the board that the minor adjustment was "perfectly justified." School tax is billed and collected, either directly or through mortgage holders, along with significantly lower New Castle County property tax. It is due by Sept. 30.

Blowman said that apparent elimination by the General Assembly of the previously proposed shift of a portion of the cost of bus transportation of students from state to local taxpayers averted a tax increase. Since the state budget has not yet been enacted, the board has tentatively scheduled a special meeting to revise the rate "should something out of the blue" hit. Blowman added that, with the completion of bond financing for the third and final phase of the district's long-term building renovation program, the debt service component "is as high as it is going to get" -- 22.8˘, compared to 31˘ projected at the time of the 2005 capital referendum -- and "should start dropping off" with the fiscal 2012 rate. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

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Unable to sell previously authorized bonds to help finance sewers in Darley Green, the developer and county government are turning to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in hopes of obtaining some rural development financing.

Although Councilman John Cartier acknowledged that the site of the Claymont project "hasn't seen a cow or a crop on it in decades," Council approved his resolution authorizing County Executive Chris Coons to file an application for a low-interest loan in an unspecified amount. Like the earlier idea, which ran afoul of poor conditions in the bond market, incremental tax financing imposed on property owners would be used to repay the 30-year loan, which is expected to carry a net interest rate as low as 2%. Darley Green could qualify for the rural infrastructure loan program, county bond counsel Tim Fry said, as a 'town' with fewer than 10,000 residents. The money can be used to pay for solid waste disposal, which includes sanitary sewers, and storm drainage.

Fry said what could be considered an end run around the depressed bond market is likely to be successful because private-investment "bond buyers are fussier and more demanding" than the federal government when it comes to deciding where to put their money. Moreover, he added, the agricultural department is under pressure to "get as much infrastructure financing out there as it can" as a form of economic stimulus. In another matter at its meeting on June 22, Council unanimously enacted a measure allowing changes in Darley Green design guidelines with approval of the Claymont Design Review Advisory Committee and Department of Land Use without recourse to County Council unless the changes are controversial.

Contrary to the impression given by the text of the ordinance and a resultant Delaforum article, the Darley Green developer -- not county government -- will provide $300,000 to subsidize down payment assistance to qualified home buyers. It was explained that the money will be funneled through the county's 'homes for heroes' program because Federal Housing Administration rules prohibit a seller from providing such help.

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SURCHARGE APPROVED: County Council unanimously approved a quarter of 1% surcharge on fees for all building permits to establish a fund to help support volunteer fire companies. The vote at its June 22 session came after Councilman David Tackett argued that a broader public safety financing arrangement "spread over all property owners" would be more equitable. William Tansey said the ordinance "hits the segment of the economy (residential construction) that can least afford it." Both councilmen, however, voted in favor the measure. Council president Paul Clark noted that expected revenue will be relatively limited. The fire companies "would rather have a steak dinner, but will settle for a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich because they're hungry," he quipped. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

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WASTE SITE ARRANGEMENT: Northern county residents with yard waste to get rid of apparently won't be left high and dry this summer. According to state Representative Tom Kovach, the Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control has cut a deal with Holland Mulch to accept the material without charge during the interim between closing of the present site off Cauffiel Parkway on June 27 and when the new site on Du Pont Co. property at Edgemoor and Hay Roads opens. The adjacent commercial firm will operate the new site, which Kovach said should be ready by the time autumn leaves fall. The department, which has been close mouthed about what's happening, is conducting environmental tests at the new site, he told the Claymont Coalition on June 17. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

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George Lossé, a principal founder of the movement to revitalize Claymont, will relinquish the presidency of the Claymont Community Coalition, the 'umbrella' civic association he has led for 16 years.

Lossé said his personal battle with cancer will restrict the extent of his future involvement even as the apparent early success of the Darley Green redevelopment project indicates that the movement is on its way to achieving its original goals. At a meeting of the association on June 17, Lossé appointed a nominating committee to produce a slate of officer candidates for an election to be held in

George Lossé (left) presides at the June 17 meeting of the Claymont Community Coalition while Babak Gogolab takes notes.

August. Meanwhile, vice president Babak Gogolab will take the helm which Lossé has held, mostly by acclamation, during a series of two-year terms. County Councilman John Cartier paid tribute at the meeting to Lossé for his effective involvement not only in Claymont but throughout the county.

Lossé returned in 1990 from deployment with the Delaware National Guard during the first Iraq war to find Claymont Terrace without a civic association and the broader community challenged by state government's disposal of what is now Woodshaven-Kruse Park. With Joe Tilley, Dawn Lamb, Frank Kolling, Janet Dalton, Lossé and his wife, Nora, started what would morph into the Claymont Renaissance. Tilley was the coalition's first president. They obtained from then County Executive Tom Gordon a $25,000 grant as seed money and enlisted the support of Councilman Bob Weiner. Amid considerable skepticism, their organization wended its way through several subsequent issues culminating in obtaining a developer for the blighted Brookside apartments complex.

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ADS COMING: County government is about to step gingerly into the advertising world in an effort to bolster, albeit slightly, its fiscal situation. Communications director Angie Basiouny told County Council's finance committee on June 8 that the administration will provide space on several of its website pages for Google ads. The county will receive a commission based on how many viewers access the page and a bonus for the number who click on the ads. However, she said, there is "no way of telling" how much will be earned nor even how it will be calculated. "It's not going to generate a lot of money," she said. "This is a program designed to make money for Google, not us." Research found only two other local government agencies around the country using the program. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

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County government will use a newly authorized 'revenue stream' to provide some additional financing to volunteer fire companies. Until now, the county contribution to their operating costs has been limited to an annual grant.

An ordinance introduced at County Council's session on June 8 and certain to be enacted on June 22 will impose a surcharge on all building permits amounting to a fourth of 1% of the residential constriction value and the first $1 million of commercial construction value. Effective July 1, it will not be applied to permits issued for projects undertaken by public and nonprofit private housing organizations. Based on last year's permit activity, the surcharge is expected to bring in about $500,000 a year, according to Nicole Majeski, County Executive Chris Coons's chief of staff. The fiscal 2011 budget sets the coming year's grant at $3.6 million. Fire officials have complained that the amount of the grant is dependent on the county's fiscal situation.

Majeski told Council's public safety committee that, although Kent and Sussex Counties already used similar surcharges, obtaining General Assembly approval of legislation enabling New Castle to follow suit was a tough sell. It passed the state Senate by one vote after the homebuilders association and county chamber of commerce lobbied against the measure. She said she does not expect a repeat when the proposed ordinance reaches the Council floor. Coons, she said, called a meeting of business leaders and told them the alternative would be an extremely costly replacement of the volunteers with a paid county fire department and ambulance service. Money raised by the surcharge will be distributed evenly twice a year among the 21 companies.

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DARLEY GREEN GRANT: Legislation introduced by County Councilmen John Cartier and Penrose Hollins and scheduled to be acted upon on June 22 would provide a $300,000 grant to Brookview Townhomes Redevelopment Inc., a unit of Commonwealth Group, to provide down-payment  assistance to eligible public safety personnel who purchase properties in Darley Green. The measure is intended to "increase sales in the neighborhood and in the workforce housing community," according to its legislative summary. Cartier also intended on June 8 to introduce an ordinance to allow changes in the Darley Green design guidelines, if approved by the Claymont Design Review Advisory Committee and the Department of Land Use. It was withdrawn to correct a technical flaw in its wording.

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REBOUND: Average residential property value in Claymont in May was $240,000, up 21.7% from a year earlier. That easily topped value at the peak of the real estate boom in 2005 and set a new high for the decade. Statewide, average value in May was $244,500, up 16.4% from a year earlier. That data, from the Home Value Index  maintained by Zillow.com, a national real estate tracking service, was provided by Commonwealth Group and made public by County Councilman Robert Weiner, who said the trend was "just as we predicted ... at the onset of the Claymont Renaissance." The index placed average property value in Claymont in 2000 at $124,000. Commonwealth apparently is successfully marketing townhouses in the first section of the Darley Green development.

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STILL TALKING: It now appears all but certain that Brandywine Hundred residents will be hung up for a free and convenient place to dispose of yard waste for, at least, most of the summer. The state Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control is still negotiating with the Du Pont company in hopes of using a site on Hay Road near Edgemoor to replace the one off Cauffiel Parkway, Marjorie Crofts, acting director of the department's Division of Air & Waste Management, told Delaforum. Meanwhile, the present site, which has drawn considerable public criticism, especially from residents of nearby Delaire, will be permanently shut down as scheduled on June 27. A provision in last year's state capital-spending legislation required the closure.

The department created confusion on June 4 when it distributed a media notice about the closure which said it was "seeking a suitable location for a new site in North [sic] New Castle County." The handout did not refer to Du Pont nor to the previously announced alternative site, leaving an impression that that deal might have fallen through. Designated spokesman Michael Globetti told Delaforum that he "couldn't possibly" explain the notice nor even confirm the previous announcement. The notice listed several alternative disposal sites, including the Delaware Solid Waste Authority landfill near the 12th Street exit from Interstate 495, but noted that all but the department's other sites on Polly Drummond Hill Road and South Du Pont Highway charge fees for dumping. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

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DISPUTE RESOLVED: The long-running dispute over how much New Castle County government has to pay to use the Wilmington wastewater treatment plant has ended, but the future cost to the county is still to be "determined based on new rate-setting methodology." The two governments issued a media statement on June 4 announcing that they had accepted, three days earlier, an independent arbitrator's decision resolving the dispute. It provides for a five-year agreement. The county already has paid $17.4 million for fiscal 2008 and $17.6 million for fiscal 2009. The statement said neither County Executive Chris Coons nor Wilmington Mayor Jim Baker "walked away from the arbitration process with 100% of what each wanted," but did not say what that was.

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COONS WON'T STEP DOWN: Chris Coons confirmed that he intends to remain as county executive while he runs for election to the U.S. Senate. Responding to a Delaforum inquiry, he said he has "great confidence in [his] leadership team," indicating that he and they are fully capable to managing county government during the campaign. Moreover, he said, "I remind you that during the four years I was County Council president -- which was really a full time job -- I was also in-house counsel at Gore and had three children in three years." It is not unusual for an incumbent to remain in office while seeking re-election or a different office. He pointed out that his opponent, U.S. Representative Mike Castle, is not likely to resign his current position.

Last updated on June 29, 2010

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