Council returns and hears grant requests

Sussex County Council returned from summer break to an agenda full of grant requests, and one request for a loan, at the July 19 council meeting.

University of Delaware Cooperative Extension’s Ed Kee picked up a $10,000 check, which he pledged to use in support of local agribusiness — vegetable farmers, in particular.

Diane DiTolvo picked up a check for $25,000, which will support construction of a new site for senior activities, near Millsboro — the Indian River Senior Center.

Along related, but more critical lines, council unanimously agreed (Council President Finley Jones absent for a funeral) to grant a request from CHEER, Sussex County Senior Services, for permission to reprogram $10,000 council had already approved.

CHEER received those funds earmarked for the meal program at budget time, but had come to realize a much greater need in home services (which make it possible for many elderly residents to remain at home, rather than move to care facilities).

For accounting purposes, CHEER asked council approval to permit the shift to operating expenses — an area not typically funded through grants-in-aid.

Or through loans, for that matter, as illustrated in the very next request, from La Red Health Center.

La Red provides a broad range of medical services to working-class and indigent populations (including outpatient care for patients with no health insurance).

Back in March, as the budget committee was putting together its list of recommendations for council consideration, La Red came to the county with a request for $85,000 in operating expenses, ostensibly a stop-gap measure until the medical center could revitalize its own funding stream.

Representatives pitched their case as the county approached a finalized budget, but council declined to set a precedent with grants-in-aid that supported operational costs.

This time around, La Red asked for $100,000 — as a five-year loan, not a grant. Council still balked however, and Council Member Dale Dukes suggested the medical center should instead ask for the support from industries that primarily employed the most immigrant workers.

Council Member George Cole said he wasn’t clear on how the county would provide that kind of loan anyway. He considered an industrial revenue bond, but County Administrator Bob Stickels said it would likely come from the $1 million economic development fund, although, as Council Member Vance Phillips pointed out, the county had initially created that fund for the municipalities.

As Council Member Lynn Rogers noted, they’d supported non-profits in the past (the volunteer fire companies, for instance), but quoting La Red’s own statement, these funds would be used to offset a “loss of revenue” incurred by serving a high percentage of under-served and under-insured county residents.

Stickels suggested it would indeed be precedent-setting.

“If you do this, you’re getting into social programs,” he said.

Council deferred action and moved into more modest grant issues.

• $100 from each council member for the Delaware State Police National Night Out event (helicopter, K-9 and other demos), to be held at Long Neck Elementary School this year.

• $500 (from Cole) for the Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival.

• $500 (from Cole) for the Rehoboth Summer Children’s Theatre.

• $100 apiece for the Delaware National Guard Family Program Youth Camp (Bethany Beach).

• $250 apiece from Phillips and Cole, for the Indian River High School Volleyball Boosters.

A Coverdale Crossroads Community Council item also appeared on the list – but to council’s surprise, it was for a big $200,000 in transportation enhancement funding. (They deferred action).

The Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) has stopped short on numerous local projects, at least for this year, but community group representative Evelyn Wilson said she hadn’t heard whether or not their project was still on schedule.

The group is trying to raise funds to match a proffered 80 percent DelDOT cost share, for shoulders and sidewalks.

Council typically defers to the state on DelDOT issues, but Dukes questioned the department’s decision to purchase a golf course in Dover (its future use to be determined) and Phillips noted a comment from Sen. John Still (17th District) that he’d read in one of the local papers (Delaware State News), regarding the amount of money DelDOT spends in working groups and study groups.

In other business, council introduced a draft ordinance enforcing the transition to new 911 addressing and considered public comment regarding a possible noise ordinance.

Lewes resident Judy Mangini protested dawn-to-dusk site preparation roughly 100 yards from her house — the continuously high noise levels had seriously diminished her quality of life, she said.

Mangini said both Kent and New Castle counties had noise ordinances, and she petitioned council to consider one for Sussex County.

Stickels said there were existing state laws, but they were difficult to enforce. In Kent — at least until recently — the courts had thrown out charges based on county ordinance, he said, although that county had since established an enforcement agreement with the Delaware State Police.

(“Noise Control and Abatement” falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC).)

Cole asked Mangini if limiting permitted hours of operation (specifically for activities associated with development — not agricultural activities, he clarified), rather than decibel levels, might more effectively address the situation.

Phillips said he’d seen a high rate of success with interventions on a case-by-case basis, and suggested problems could often be solved through contact with the developer or work supervisor.