Sussex County Councilman Vance Phillips filed for reelection to his District 5 seat on April 10.
“I’m a sixth-generation Sussex Countian. My roots run deep in Sussex County. Public service is in my DNA,” said Phillips. “Public service is a sacrifice. I take this decision to prayer every cycle.
“The question always begs, ‘If I do not serve in this capacity, what capacity will I serve?’ Since I have not seen any other opportunity to serve at either the state or federal level, I decided to continue to offer my time and energy and experience to the citizens of the Fifth Councilmanic District.”
Phillips, a Republican who owns a soybean and watermelon farm in Portsville — a little village west of Laurel — noted his enjoyment of public service to the community since his 1998 election to the council.
“I think the greatest joy is to be given the opportunity to serve others on an almost daily basis. Certainly, working on maintaining our low tax rate and keeping our government from overreaching its authority and regulatory control are important, but helping a little old lady get a building permit or helping a farmer navigate the bureaucracy when he is dealing with land-use issues gives me great, great satisfaction.”
A lifelong Sussex County resident and sixth-generation farmer, Phillips said he loves living in and serving District 5.
“It is a microcosm of Sussex County as a whole. About 13 or 14 years ago, it was reconfigured to not only include the western boundaries of the Mason-Dixon line, but also a large swath of the Atlantic coastal areas from South Bethany down to Fenwick. I have great residential communities like Millsboro, Delmar, Selbyville, but also those resort communities in South Bethany and Fenwick, and everything in between that makes up a large part of our agriculture base in Sussex County.
“That provides me, a farm boy, with unique challenges. But the good news is I have been very successful representing those areas that may not have been a part of my youth, such as the towns and the coast, as evident of the high voter support I have received over the last 10 years.”
Since filing for reelection, Phillips said, he has received overwhelming support, including a large unsolicited campaign donation.
“The phone calls, text messages, email and Facebook posts have reassured me that I am making the right decision in continuing to offer my service to the citizens of Sussex county, if they will have me,” he said. “I can pledge, if I am elected, I will continue to work very, very hard on their behalf — keeping their taxes low, maintaining a positive economic environment, and always, always being there when they call for assistance with anything related to the county, and may times with the state and federal governments, as well.”
He added that the district’s constituents have supported him repeatedly over his 16-year service on council.
“Excluding the initial campaign back in 1998, I have won my elections with greater than 60 percent of the vote, which I see as my report card. In the world of campaigns and elections, 60 percent is a very strong number,” he said. “I am not overconfident. I very humbly come to the voters of the Fifth District asking for their support.”
During his tenure, Phillips was among the Republican majority elected in 2008, with Phillips being elected council president by his Republican peers. Following an audit ordered by Phillips, the new council was told that they were facing an $8 million deficit in the current fiscal year.
“Our situation was much like governments all over the state and country,” said Phillips. “We had a choice. We could raise taxes or we could do the difficult job of looking at every penny being spent and try to find ways to save money without cutting critical services or laying off employees. We chose to do the hard work of cutting spending.”
He also credited the new council and a staff led by now-former county administrator Dave Baker. “I may have pointed the way, but others should be given a great deal of credit.”
According to Phillips, the County balanced its budget by trimming its workforce by more than 10 percent through attrition and cross-training of employees. The administration shifted those working in recession-affected development offices to those offices that may have had an uptick, such as the Sheriff’s Office, which was busy with foreclosures.
Additionally, Phillips and the council asked all departments to cut waste and set a first-year goal of 8 percent reductions in discretionary spending for grants-in-aid programs.
“The tough decisions we made a few years ago has led to our abundance of wealth today. We now enjoy consistent surpluses, significant merit raises for good employees, increased funding for libraries and fire companies, and all the while we never had to cut critical services to the citizens of Sussex County,” Phillips said.
He also noted that council never raised taxes and even approved a rebate to taxpayers once the financial crisis had passed.
“I have never forgotten that the people of Sussex County own this government and, when we began to realize surpluses again, I felt strongly that we should return some of that money back to the people.”
Phillips said that he has always enjoyed campaigns and elections, which allows those running the opportunity to reach more Sussex Countians.
“I see them as a great opportunity to educate the public on important issues of the day. Many times there is rhetoric thrown around in the media … that is not always accurate. We are given a unique opportunity during an election to cut through a lot of the rhetoric and get down to the facts. We are given the opportunity to communicate those facts through public forums, through interviews and paid outreach methods, such as direct mail.
“It’s an opportunity to sit down with fellow candidates and share my knowledge of our government and even to, hopefully, learn a few things. You’re never too old to learn.”
Serving the people of Sussex County, Phillips said, has instilled in him a good work ethic, and more.
“It has taught me the importance of personal responsibility. It has taught me patience and it has instilled in me an understanding that you simply never quit,” he said.
Phillips said he has experienced a renaissance in his spirit as a result of the near-fatal plane crash in the fall 2011 that left him paralyzed from the waist down.
“During my time alone in distant hospitals, I was comforted daily by the loving words of Sussex Countians sent to me in cards, text messages and emails. I was kept in the prayers of friends, as well as strangers, and gained great strength from a loving God. I believe that regaining the use of my legs and internal organs was nothing short of a miracle. I don’t intend to let all those people who prayed, encouraged and cared for me down.”
Phillips was initially confined to a wheelchair but started to use a walker in 2012 and today is often seen with a 6-foot staff or cane for support.
“I continue to get better every day. Only my right foot and ankle remain paralyzed. I continue to be able to fill my role as a public servant in spite of my disability,” Phillips said.
He added that, even though he has a permanent disability, he still plans to campaign for reelection.
“Since my accident and permanent disability, I won’t be able to knock on as many doors as I used to, but I still will be actively campaigning throughout this upcoming campaign season. For now, I have filed and made my intentions known. I will remain focused on my constituent work and the work of governance at the County Council.”
With the upcoming election in November, Phillips said he hopes to continue to serve the community to the best of his ability.
“I have a vision for this county — one that comes from growing up there, being a part of the traditional culture that makes Sussex County so unique. I’d like to continue to improve this wonderful place on earth for all of our children and grandchildren,” he said. “God bless America and God bless Sussex.”
Phillips is the third candidate to announce for the District 5 seat. Last month, Dagsboro Mayor Brad Connor announced his candidacy, and current county Planning Commission Chairman Bob Wheatley said he, too, would seek the Democratic Party nomination. The Democratic primary is scheduled to be held on Sept. 9. The general election for the county council seat is Nov. 4.