County considers emergency housing request

With budget time fast approaching, petitioners have begun to position their causes on Sussex County Council’s radar screen. The First State Resource Conservation and Development Council (RC&D) explained their mission at the May 3 council meeting.

RC&D’s Christine Stillson (housing programs director) and Gary Smith (president) requested $25,000 for their emergency home repair project.

Applicants have to own their homes, and meet low income criteria ($19,300 for one person, $22,050 for two people, and so on). RC&D came on the scene in 1991, and has disbursed $978,000 for emergency repairs throughout Sussex County over the past five years, according to Stillson.

RC&D moves through a quick evaluation process and can send someone out within a day of the initial call, she said – which is important, because 50 percent of the calls come in from heads of household who are either elderly or disabled.

Sometimes the repairs are simple — a broken window, or wheelchair ramp. However, Stillson said they’d repaired or replaced 67 heating units last winter, and those repairs were costly — on average, a minimum $1,500 expense.

“That eats up money tremendously,” Stillson pointed out — and the program administers to many people well below the income threshold, who are already pressed to pay for food and medicine, she added.

She said they did receive state money (but not federal), and private donations, and approached various banks and charitable foundations, but had never before approached council. However, as Stillson said, “I believe local people need to own this problem.”

In other business, council welcomed the arrival of $400,000 in new Sussex County Emergency Medical Services (SCEMS) equipment

• A $157,000 rescue truck, the “Decon 2,” will roll-up side panels for equipment deployment, and designed to tow emergency trailers.

• An outfitted Ford Excursion, the Hazmed 1 ($27,000 plus $80,000 worth of equipment).

• A Hazmat support trailer, $88,000.

• A Medical Resource Unit (MRU) trailer designed for response to mass casualty incidents. It’s loaded with medical supplies, and will be stored at the Frankford Volunteer Fire Company (Chief Robbie Murray is also an SCEMS paramedic). Trailer plus supplies, $77,000.

• An ATV with trailer, $21,000.

SCEMS Deputy Director Robert Stuart described the humble origins of the Hazardous Materials Medical Response Team (HazMed).

“We started out 10 years ago with a handful of members, and hand-me-down pickup truck with a cap,” he said.” They are 24 paramedics now, each specially trained to deal with all hazards, including chemical, biological and radiological.

According to County Administrator Bob Stickels, the entire county budget back in 1988 (his first year on the job) was $9.18 million. He estimated the proposed 2006 budget, for SCEMS alone, at over $10 million.

In other business, Stickels reported on the ribbon-cutting at the Sussex County Airpark, for PATS Aircraft. The business should be a great contributor to the local economy, he said, with the workforce having expanded to 45 employees — 35 of them new hires – and they’re far from minimum wage jobs.

PATS workers assemble and install auxiliary fuel systems.

In old business, council approved a conditional use application for John Gavrilenkowsky’s used car lot north of Greenwood — but only for 10 cars.

The county Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission had unanimously recommended denial of that application, but four council members said a list of conditions (no mechanical or auto body work on premises, limited hours) and the limited number of cars should answer concerns. And, as Council Member Dale Dukes pointed out, there was a service station right next to the proposed car lot.

Nonetheless, Council Member George Cole voted in opposition, saying such a use served no public good in an agricultural-residential district, and didn’t comply with the land use plan.