Shore Dems hear from Sussex County Council members

Two Sussex County Council members stopped to chat with the Shore Democrats on March 18. George Cole and Rob Arlett talked about development, as well as County services, at the group’s lunch meeting at NorthEast Seafood Kitchen in Ocean View.

• Some people were concerned about allowing new developments (including a proposed shopping center between Lewes and Milton) when, they said, adequate roads haven’t been laid to get there.

“We have a high-density agricultural zoning,” Cole said simply, which farmers fought to keep long ago.

“These are the four things I will look at in all decisions,” Arlett said denoting: property rights (“I believe if you own a property you should have a say.”); the current zoning designation; impact to the surrounding community and quality of life; and environmental impact.

• In economic development, the emphasis has been on housing, Cole said. He personally opposes “monster developments,” he said, citing Sea Colony, which he said hire a fleet of contractors from outside the area. He said he prefers single-family projects, where local plumbers and builders are hired. For instance, he said, he had approved of Salt Pond but opposed plenty of other developments.

As for new industrial parks, “We can’t dangle tax benefits, because we have the lowest tax rate east of the Mississippi … so it’s hard to get big companies to relocate” for benefits besides quality of life, good work force and community-college training, Cole said.

• “Public safety is our No. 1 role,” Arlett said.

There is no Sussex County police force, which Cole had voted against when the topic once arose. But the council augments the Delaware State Police budget by at least $2 million, for 44 additional troopers deployed across the county.

Perhaps the area needs more services, suggested moderator Ray Sander.

Then go pay for that, Cole said. Services can be purchased, such as additional security or waste disposal. Or tell the Delaware state legislators, he added.

“If we put more money on the table, could we get more troopers?” Sander asked.

“They are at additional staff now,” so if they need more, they haven’t asked, Cole said.

“Sussex County is very rural. You are not going to see police as much as we’re used to seeing them [where we relocated from],” Arlett said.

The DSP prioritizes calls. A robbery will always get immediate attention, but a smashed mailbox might take a few hours.

• Their views on alternative energy, such as the once-proposed offshore wind farm?

“The proposals to put windmills in the ocean — what a joke,” Cole said bluntly. “I think it was a way to make people feel good,” especially as oceanfront residents didn’t want to see turbines so-many-miles off the coast.

When he had asked if wind energy would reduce power rates, he heard that a small percentage of costs would be impacted, but building costs would outweigh that, he said.

It’s not a county issue, Arlett argued, but if the market demands it, alternative energy will be successful, he said.

“I’m a free-market guy,” Arlett said.

• In terms of poor Internet service and pricey propane, what can the county council do to encourage competition?

The County’s new fiber optic line is a start, Arlett said. When council asked how quickly neighboring areas would get access, they were given the same answer: “It all gets back to free market and demand.”

Cole quipped that one fiber-optics manager has a house in Bethany Beach, so he believes “It’s coming.”

• “I think that most people who work here can’t afford to live here,” another Shore Democrats member said.

“It has been that way for many years” in an area with such affluence and growth, Cole said. “I think there’s some very affordable housing … because the market has come down.”

Washington, D.C., is the same way, Arlett said. Plenty of people work inside the Beltway and travel to the suburbs. That’s a personal choice, too.

Meanwhile, western Sussex is still struggling with the economy more than the east, Arlett added. Jobs brought many people to the shore, and the County Council provides incentives for developers of affordable housing, such as increased density. But if a developer suggested a low-income community next to Salt Pond, for instance, Cole said, area residents would likely fight it.

• Any nonprofit applying for a council discretionary fund grant can send a letter to the council, they noted.

“There’s all these organizations that do a good job. The County doesn’t want to duplicate these services,” rather to supplement them, Cole said.

• Decrepit and condemned properties are a concern in many areas. Arlett said he liked giving the fire companies use of the structures, but he said state law only allows companies two planned burnings per year.

For further code enforcement, “The new constable is proactive,” Arlett said. “There are a lot more conversations about cleaning up.”

• One Shore Democrats member pointed out that, during council debate, a lawyer had verbally attacked Councilwoman Joan Deaver, which they found disturbing.

“I remember that,” Arlett said. “Joan would say, ‘I can take care of myself.’”

(“And she can,” others agreed.)

“But there needs to be a level of professionalism and respect,” Arlett emphasized.