Letters to the Editor -- December 17, 2010

Ending exemption from property taxation

The following is from the State of Delaware Code on Revenue and Taxation and the reference to the counties and incorporated municipalities’ power to “exempt” properties from taxation.

“Article. VIII, Revenue and Taxation:

Ҥ 1. Uniformity of taxes; collection under general laws; exemption for public welfare purposes.

“Section 1. All taxes shall be uniform upon the same class of subjects within the territorial limits of the authority levying the tax, except as otherwise permitted herein, and shall be levied and collected under general laws passed by the General Assembly. County Councils of New Castle and Sussex Counties and the Levy Court of Kent County are hereby authorized to exempt from county taxation such property in their respective counties as in their opinion will best promote the public welfare. The county property tax exemption power created by this section shall be exclusive as to such property as is located within the respective counties. With respect to real property located within the boundaries of any incorporated municipality, the authority to exempt such property from municipal property tax shall be exercised by the respective incorporated municipality, when in the opinion of said municipality it will best promote the public welfare.

“The legislature shall enact laws to provide that the value of land which is determined by the assessing officer of the taxing jurisdiction to be actively devoted to agriculture use and to have been so devoted for at least the two successive years immediately preceding the tax year in issue, shall, for local tax purposes, on application of the owner, be that value which such land has for agricultural use.

“Any such laws shall provide that when land which has been valued in this manner for local tax purposes is applied to a use other than for agriculture, it shall be subject to additional taxes in an amount equal to the difference, if any, between the taxes paid or payable on the basis of the valuation and the assessment authorized hereunder and the taxes that would have been paid or payable had the land been valued and assessed as otherwise provided in this Constitution, in the current year and in such of the tax years immediately preceding, not less than two such years in which the land was valued as herein authorized.

“Such laws shall also provide for the assessment and collection of any additional taxes levied thereupon and shall include such other provisions as shall be necessary to carry out the provisions of this amendment.”

Sussex County has approximately 165,377 properties. Those properties that are tax exempt include: 636 church properties, 14 commercial properties, 923 miscellaneous properties, 703 non-profit properties, 3,838 temporary exempt (development properties), 22 utility properties and 140 woodland properties. The 3,838 temporary exempt properties will/might come into the taxed properties at some time in the future, when their “roads are bonded” or when the developer has the funds to have the planned roads “bonded.”

The process to grant “freedom from property taxation” for some property owners hinges on a few words: “it will best promote the public welfare.” This gives our Delaware counties and any incorporated municipality the authority to decide to tax or not to tax all, some or none of the property owners. This gives our elected county and city officials options to financial solutions and how to balance our tax burden and from which properties it is to be focused.

Which properties do indeed “best promote the public welfare”? Would not food-source providers promote the public welfare? Would not health-care providers promote the public welfare? Would not housing construction and maintenance providers promote the public welfare? Would not energy providers promote the public welfare? Would not clothes providers promote the public welfare? Would not recreation providers promote the public welfare?

Imagine the number of properties that could be exempted from “property” taxes under this definition. Our base of property taxes would become much smaller and far more weighted on home owners. Should all properties be taxed, the present weight of the extra taxes would logically be diminished on home owners.

It is not necessary to tax public-owned land and structures, as our taxes are already paying for them and these properties are clearly to serve the public welfare. It is logical to have our school districts, State facilities, federal facilities to include in their taxing scheme the funds to contribute to Sussex County and/or the incorporated municipality where such structures are located to pay for services provided. It is logical and fair to tax all non-public properties, as they are provided services by our county or incorporated municipality.

Yes, I believe that it is logical and fair to tax the properties of churches, commercial properties, miscellaneous properties, non-profit organization properties, temporary exempt properties, utility properties and woodland properties, as are presently listed under “tax exempt” by Sussex County. It is logical and fair for all of us to share the cost of our public services. We all use and benefit from those services. It is logical and fair for all business operations to function on the same level field of competition and taxes paid are part of that field. It is logical and just that all property improvements are held to the same codes and fees.

Is not the paying of property taxes by all of us promoting public welfare, uniformity and fairness of taxation? Public welfare is a public issue to be organized and directed by public officials. We find public welfare in our public education, safety-net services for our least fortunate citizens, roads, police, courts of law, licensure agencies, fire departments, public water, public sewer, public transportation, libraries, recreation lands and programs, environmental codes, building codes, commerce codes, banking codes, public elections and much more.

The welfare of the public is the responsibility of our public governments and to do so as defined by our laws. We are a nation of law as guided and required by our U.S. Constitution, federal laws, state laws and local laws. Property and other revenue taxes are our joint effort to promote the public welfare. Our circle of taxation should be all inclusive, uniform and simplified.

Property taxes in Sussex County and our incorporated municipalities can be all-inclusive, as the authority to levy taxes is already their right. There is no mandatory/legal requirement to exempt any property from taxation. There is Section 1: “All taxes shall be uniform upon the same class of subjects within the territorial limits of the authority levying the tax…”

I want to see the circle of property taxation to be completely uniform and shared by every property owner. It is my petition to have those who presently “enjoy” their freedom from property taxes to voluntarily tell their taxing authorities to end their property tax exemption. It is my encouragement to our elected officials to have the courage to bring all property owners into the circle of our community responsibility to pay property taxes. We all benefit from them and we all should share in weight of these taxes – no exemptions.

Lloyd E. Elling
Ocean View

First visitor coming to Justin’s Beach House

Construction is finished, our doors are open and the tree is decorated! The Justin W. Jennings Foundation and Justin’s Beach House are ready to welcome its first guests. Nessa, a 4-year-old cancer patient, and her family are staying at the house from Dec. 27 through Jan. 3.

Donations of restaurant and grocery gift cards are needed. Please contact Rosanne Shoemaker at (302) 569-1332 to make a donation. You can learn more about Justin’s Bach House by visiting our Web site at www.justinjennings.org.

Justin’s Beach House and the Justin W. Jennings Foundation thank the community for the wonderful support it has received and looks forward to hosting many families in need.

Craig and Mary Ellen Nantais
The Justin W. Jennings Foundation
Justin’s Beach House

S. Bethany continues tussle over park

Editor’s note: The following letter is a response to a column written by South Bethany resident Mary Suazo and published in the Dec. 10, 2010, issue of the Coastal Point. It addresses Suazo directly.

I am a member of the South Bethany Park Committee. Since 2005, I have pursued development of a recreational park in South Bethany. I am so tired of the misstatements and inaccuracies being made against our committee and our members.

I felt it was time for someone to answer and defend your misleading accusations.

(1) There was no attack launched on one of South Bethany’s council members. There was, however, a public accounting, presented in a mannerly way, of several conversations between a member of our park committee and the council member.

(2) The vote you mention “to stop all plans for developing the park” at the August 2009 South Bethany Property Owners’ Association was invalid. Being you were an officer of the SBPOA in August 2009, you were surely aware of the by-laws (at that time) which stated, “one vote irrespective of the number of owners listed on the deed or the number of properties owned.” Several owners and their spouses who weren’t eligible voted at that meeting; however, the Association chose not to challenge this vote.

(3) The pro-park group, as you refer to, was not led by Sue Callaway; and furthermore, she did not form the South Bethany Park Committee. That was done entirely by me and Kathy Connor. We then asked three of the SBPOA officers, as well as others, to join our committee. They accepted as individuals not as officers of SBPOA. I do not agree with your statement that this was a conflict of interest, particularly when the SBPOA was no longer supporting development of the park.

(4) Your comments about our committee performing functions that are responsibilities of town officials are unfounded. Keep in mind the Town of South Bethany has never pursued development of a recreational area in the Richard Hall Memorial Park; therefore, no functions needed to be performed by them. All of our research was done to clarify the misinformation and questions that citizens had regarding these issues.

In response to the four statements you made: (a) we contacted the lawyer for the Hall heirs after the town code enforcer wrote to him, (b) a title search was done to satisfy how the land could be used, (c) a professional survey was done to establish that this area was not a wetland, and (d) we contacted two state officials for information and clarification on available grant money and tree preservation.

(5) As you stated, in June, the Town Council formed the Richard Hall Memorial Park Committee and you say, “the goal of their committee was to develop a simple survey asking property owners if they wanted the park or not.” This is not an accurate statement. At that June 11 Town Council Regular Meeting, and I quote directly from the minutes, Councilman Fields stated, “The committee will be looking at possibilities of creating a recreational area (can it be done, is it possible, what are the problems, what are the costs) and then put together a package that will give every citizen and property owner in South Bethany the pertinent facts about development of the Richard Hall Memorial Park property and have a mail-in referendum.”

(6) We disagreed with the costs for the project because the town committee was not comparing apples to apples. Yes, we wanted a multi-choice survey because this would allow citizens to weigh in on how much development they would like to have. More importantly, if the survey came back in favor of development, it would save taxpayer money by not having to send a second survey for this same purpose.

In closing, I was rather surprised to see your letter and these issues being rehashed once again. I hope my letter helps to enlighten you, as I see you are missing the facts when it comes to the intentions of our committee.

Diann Nazarian
South Bethany

QRCF board grateful for support with event

The Board of Directors of the Quiet Resorts Charitable Foundation (QRCF) wishes to thank everyone who supported Caribbean Christmas 2010 on Dec. 4 at Mango’s.

First, to our generous event sponsors and those who donated auction items: since we are a board made up primarily of current and former local business owners ourselves, we recognize how often you are asked to support many causes. Yet, for Caribbean Christmas, you step forward to offer your products, services, even your employees, with eagerness and generosity, and we are grateful for your continued support. What your generosity represents to us and to our beneficiaries is more than the spirit of the season. It is community heroism, and we deeply appreciate your contributions.

Second, for those in attendance, you directly supported our event beneficiaries — The Wellness Community-Delaware, Camp Barnes and the QRCF Scholarship Fund. In turn, scores of people in our local communities will benefit from your extraordinary generosity.

Third, to our tireless volunteers (too many to mention), we are sincerely grateful to you. Without your commitment and assistance, there would be no Caribbean Christmas.

Finally, again, we sincerely thank each and every one of you and wish for you a healthy and happy new year. To learn more about the QRCF and our community partnerships, including the Back Our Schools initiative, or to join our all-volunteer efforts, go to www.qrcf.org.

QRCF Board of Directors

Frankford resident questions council

I don’t think anyone is against having another police officer or even two more in the Town of Frankford. The only question is whether another officer is needed at this particular time, when towns across the state are cutting back on expenses.

Frankford has, at least for the past 20 years, had one police officer, with only a short period of having an additional part-time officer on maybe one occasion. Frankford used to contract for state police coverage. Then there were times when there was no coverage at all – perhaps when money was short or someone believed we didn’t need coverage at the time. During this time, Frankford remained relatively peaceful, quiet and safe.

While surrounding towns seemingly have increased their tax base and revenue, Frankford has little, if anything, to boast on in that area. First things should come first unless there is an emergency. The need ought to be already present and never created.

So, the question arises whether Frankford will be able to afford the additional officer without ultimately doubling the tax rates in the near future, along with its other obligations and expenses, seen and unseen.

A similar situation just occurred when Frankford double our water rates in a two-year period. This was not expected, since we were building a more efficient, state-of-the-art, technologically-advanced water plant. Nevertheless, it happened. When the question was asked about Frankford’s $64,000 annual water revenue loss, no one on the council responded. They seemingly found it easier to just raise the water rate.

I also don’t know of anyone who thinks our town hall meetings should not have rules. But when rules are made to technically drown out democracy, it becomes a problem more than a solution. More specifically, the rule was instituted to “limit citizen input,” to perchance drown out undesirable questions and concerns.

The three-minute rule has been practiced by the council for at least three years now and has been on every agenda, if it is not a new rule. This rule has been used or not used depending on who’s speaking or the questions they are asking.

If they are asking such questions as why water rates are doubling in a two year period or why water customers are being billed the new rate for water used under the old rate, the citizen is more likely to be told his time is up. Or, if a citizen is asking why the water bills are chronically late and why a customer is subjected to a penalty before having 30 days from the invoice date to pay their bill, as required by the ordinance, he is quashed.

Another type question where one is likely to be silenced is if they asked why our town office opens late or closes early or sometimes doesn’t open at all on business days, perhaps to accommodate the personal business of the council president’s wife.

When Mr. Oliver, a formal council person, asked the town to consider asking the fire company if citizens could wait there instead of out in the cold for an hour before allowed to come into the town hall, the question was glossed over. The response from the council was that they are making arrangements with the fire company to accommodate a now-larger citizen attendance – hardly an answer to his concern.

These types of questions were not asked of the council, for the most part, prior to the three-year-practiced three-minute rule.

More often than not, certain public participants are often ridiculed, laughed at, scorned and talked over during their three-minute time allotment. For example, a mechanical witch sitting in the back room was set off by town employees (Halloween 2009) and the council broke out in uncontrollable laughter while a person was addressing the council. It disturbed the entire meeting, and no apology was ever made, as if it had been planned.

Another time, a person on the planning and zoning committee, a friend of the council, berated and belittled a 77-year-old gentleman and water customer. The council had no problem with this outrageous behavior, and this person was allowed to have the floor at will, often cutting off this gentleman. Other times, a council member or two would just burst out in an uproar using unwarranted profanity or shouting at the person speaking.

The three minutes given to allow a citizen to speak have always been given at the end of the meeting, so the council has always been able to do its business in a timely manner. With virtually no citizen attendance or participation, only two people, from time to time, address this council at the end of the meeting. I believe three minutes is designed simply to silence the issues this town has.

Furthermore, I’ve been attending the Frankford town meetings for some years now, and I have not seen anyone go against the order or command of any presiding town council person, not even once.

So who’s really the problem here, if any problem is thought to exist at all? What is the real motive behind the three-minute rule?

Jerry Smith

Former councilman praises Gregory

Editor’s note: The following letter is addressed to Ocean View Councilman Perry Mitchell regarding his recent praise for Ocean View Town Manager Conway Gregory and was forwarded to the Coastal Point for publication.

Councilman Mitchell, your recent letter displayed your keen perception and professional insight to recognize a “job well done,” an attribute not found by many individuals in positions of authority.

There can be no doubt that Mr. Gregory has served Ocean View well during the last four years. No matter how hard some individuals have tried, Mr. Gregory’s accomplishments cannot be minimized.

Mr. Gregory took over a situation where Ocean View was spending $1.90 for every dollar it took in. The Town Council had put Ocean View on a fast track to bankruptcy.

Under Mr. Gregory’s professional and skillful leadership, this process has been reversed.

As a member of the Town Council, I was part of the process that brought Mr. Gregory to Ocean View. We reviewed stacks of résumés, interviewed numerous candidates and found Mr. Gregory’s qualifications head and shoulders above the other candidates.

The decision to hire Mr. Gregory was unanimous. Councilmen Amendt, Wickmann, Magill, Thomas and Mayor Meredith made the right choice.

If I recall correctly, it was Mr. Wichmann who put forth the motion to hire Mr. Gregory.

The last four years have often been turbulent. Decisive leadership was required to keep the ship afloat, and that is exactly what Mr. Gregory gave.

Mr. Gregory attacked the budget process with absolute tenaciousness. Nothing was untouchable.

At times this offended employees, council members and citizens. Everyone wanted the cost of government lower. They just did not want their pet projects affected.

Throughout this time, Mr. Gregory has never lost sight of his goals. He has maintained a high level of professionalism throughout.

Citizens have stood before Town Council meetings and professionally and courteously expressed their disagreements regarding Mr. Gregory’s budgets and plans. Mr. Gregory treated them with respect and their opinions weighed in the final decision making process.

Also, during this time, a few citizens stood before the Town Council meetings and unprofessionally, disrespectfully and downright mean-spiritedly attached Mr. Gregory personally instead of dealing with the issues.

This is what is so great about Mr. Gregory. These citizens were treated with the same respect and their opinions weighed in the decision making process. They were not excluded from the process because of their insulting and childish behavior.

How many of us could do the same? Mr. Gregory is what Ocean View needed.

I have often heard it expressed over and over that Ocean View has the best police chief in the state. If I have heard it once, I have heard it a 100 times. To the point of ad nauseam.

As I look back over the past four years, I can remember very few compliments or statements of credit given to the Mr. Gregory from this Town Council.

I guess being the leader of a team that saved Ocean View from bankruptcy is no big deal, or maybe others would like to claim the credit.

You know what – I think it is a big deal.

If no one else will do it, I will. On behalf of the citizens of Ocean View, I want to personally thank Mr. Gregory for the job he has done and will do in the years ahead. Mr. Gregory is neither divine nor all-knowing, but he certainly is a savior to Ocean View.

And let it be proclaimed henceforth: Conway Gregory is the best town manager in the state of Delaware.

Roy Thomas
Ocean View

Reader not supporting same-sex unions

Society extends certain benefits to marriage because marriage provides certain benefits to society. One man, one woman marriage is a unique because it provides the best environment for raising children. Children need a mom and a dad. And society needs healthy children and families. That is something a same-sex relationship can never provide. Marriage is unique and special, and we should keep it that way.

In the mad rush for so called “marriage equality,” other rights are being trampled.

In Massachusetts, for example, the state’s largest adoption agency was shut down because their religious beliefs were that children should be placed with both a mom and a dad. Their religious rights were stolen away, and society lost the great benefits of that adoption agency.

New Jersey provides another example, where a Methodist camp group had their rights trampled in the wake of civil unions legislation. Civil unions are nothing more than marriage with a different label. And the homosexual groups demanded that the Methodists affirm their sexual relationship by allowing them to hold a “wedding” at their pavilion. When the Methodists refused, they were taken to court and lost their tax-exempt status.

All across the country, people of faith are having their rights trampled by a sexual agenda.

One organization that is standing up for your religious liberties is the Delaware Family Policy Council, also known as the DFPC. The DFPC believes in the unique role of marriage in society. I am a card-carrying member of the DFPC, and they proudly and professionally represent our values at our state capital.

To learn more about the DFPC and become a member, please visit www.DelawareFamilies.org.

Jordan Warfel