The Sussex County Council this week received an annual report from the Sussex Economic Development Action Committee (SEDAC), whose representatives spoke about their statewide broadband initiative and also requested that the County again approve a blanket extension for approvals for subdivisions, conditional-use applications and residential planned communities (RPCs) approved in recent years.
The extensions — which the County granted in prior years, though not without controversy — have been designed as a way to aid developers, and the local economy, in recovering from the recession, during which the pace of development and sales slowed dramatically, due both to reduced demand and difficulty in obtaining loans, among other factors.
Joe Conaway, a SEDAC board member, explained that they would like at least another one-year extension for the approvals and, if possible, would like the County to consider two-year extensions. He said a number of projects continue to move forward, and many — even though developers are “doing all that they can do,” he said — will not make the January 2013 end mark for the original extensions.
“Approving another extension for a year or two years would continue to provide opportunities for work in Sussex County,” said Conaway.
He said he understood the concerns of some over projects that have done nothing with the extension but that he believes “those projects are already dead” and have either gone back to the farmers who originally owned the land or to the banks that made loans for the projects.
“We are not looking for immediate action,” he said, “but you have helped your people in the past, and we would like to see you help them again.”
The council also heard on Dec. 4 from Michael Shone of Peirce Park Group, the County’s pension investment consultant, this week about recommendations for the County’s pension funds and OPEB (Other Post-Employment Benefits — health insurance for county retirees) funds. Shone explained that the County’s portfolio had a gain of more than $2 million during the last quarter and a year-to-date gain of $3.5 million, or 9.4 percent.
“Your fund consistently outperforms benchmarks in down markets and under-performs in up markets,” said Shone, explaining that that was about what was expected with the County’s conservative investment philosophy.
The county council voted to make a 2013 budgeted contribution of $2,106,808 and invest in short-term cash for the OPEB funds, and to reallocate $1.5 million from the Vanguard Mid Cap Index Fund, with $500,000 from Ridgeworth and $1 million from the Vanguard Russell 100 Index Fund.
For their pension fund, they made the 2013 budgeted contribution of $3,198,312 and invested an additional $1.3 million in cash to DuPont Capital ($120,000), Fidelity Low Priced Stock Fund ($30,000) and Wilmington Trust bonds ($1,150,000). Shone’s presentation in its entirety is available online in the county council packet for this week’s meeting.
The council this week also awarded its dog-control contract for the calendar year 2013 to the Kent County SPCA, in the amount of $669,230. The SPCA, which has performed the County’s dog-control duties since the County took over the dog-control responsibilities from the State several years ago, was the lowest of two bidders for the contract. The other bidder was Georgetown’s Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary. Dog license fees are to remain the same in 2013, with new licenses being issued starting in January and required by March 1 for dogs 6 months or older.
In other news, the county council heard from Andy Wright, chief of building code enforcement for the County, about possibly revising the building code to match the 2012 International Building Code. He said some area towns, including Millsboro, have already adopted the code, and the county adopting it would be a step forward and also would be advantageous to homeowners in respect to insurance premiums.
The county discussed the recommendation, and Councilman Vance Phillips asked if they could send a letter out to local builders, seeking their opinions. The council also discussed several things in the 2012 International Building Code that they could opt out of, including requiring use of automatic fire sprinkler systems for one- and two-family dwellings. Those are areas of the code that local municipalities have also opted out of, according to Wright. The County will discuss the issue again in future weeks.
Also on Tuesday, Sussex County held a public hearing on the annexation of land into the Oak Orchard Sanitary Sewer District system. The area being considered is located on the easterly side of Mount Joy Road, west of the intersection with John Williams Highway (Route 24).
A Royal Farms store, the Nanticoke Indian Museum and Mary, Mother of Peace, Catholic Church are at the southeast of the proposed annexation area, and the Indiantown Farms subdivision is to the north. The parcel already adjoins the Oak Orchard Sanitary Sewer District and is approximately 75.48 acres in size. The proposed development there, Baylis Estates, will consist of 99 single-family home lots, a clubhouse and a pool.
The county council packets, which include in-depth attachments and articles pertaining to the presentations and discussions made at the Dec. 4 county council meeting, can be viewed online at sussexcountyde.gov. Click on the “online services” tab, then the agendas and minutes link, then click on the date on the calendar (Dec. 4) and then click “packet.”