New dog-control bills could add to county work


On Tuesday, Feb. 16, Sussex County Council members discussed two bills proposed in the Delaware General Assembly relating to the counties’ new dog-control responsibilities.

The first was described as a “housekeeping-type” proposal, to consolidate certain dog-control responsibilities that have already been transferred to the counties. The second bill is proposed by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) and would list county responsibilities in Title 9 of the Delaware Code, rather than Title 7. In addition to that, it would also transfer the responsibilities for “dangerous dogs” to the counties.

“Is there anything in here about noise?” asked Councilman George Cole. “We get more complaints about that than anything else.”

The legislation does not address noise, staff noted, rather it addresses the county’s responsibilities, including the responsibility of seizure and impoundment of “dangerous dogs, the definition of dangerous dog, a statewide dog panel, and a hearing and appeals process.”

The question before the council on Tuesday was whether they would support the proposed bills, either with or without the responsibility of dealing with dangerous dogs.

“The actual nut of the whole thing is dogs running at large,” explained Pat Emory of DNREC. “It looks more complicated than it is.”

He also added that, last year the state had a total of 21 dangerous dog appeals statewide and 17 hearings – three of which were cancelled – for a total of 14, with one being in Sussex County and the majority being in New Castle County and the City of Wilmington. He also explained that the county would be getting back $29,000 from the state to help with dog-control costs.

County Council President Vance Phillips offered that he wanted more time to go through the two proposed bills, as they didn’t seem to offer a lot of flexibility and had lots of “strings attached.”

“It seems as if it should say, ‘The county should create regulations for dog control, period,” he said.

Emory replied that it is a statutory issue and said DNREC wanted to maintain consistency in all counties.

“We call that an unfunded mandate,” offered Phillips.

“A partially funded mandate,” interjected Cole.

Emory added that when control is transferred to the local level, there is an uptick in compliance, adding, “Whether it ever [sustains] itself completely remains to be seen.”

Phillips asked if the only funding the county would be receiving would be what is collected from fines, and Emory said it would be. The council discussed posting the proposed bills online to solicit public opinion and also possibly having another meeting in which the public would be invited to participate.

Also on Feb. 16, County Deputy Administrator Hal Godwin gave an extensive report on the county’s fleet of vehicles. Godwin reported that, if the county changed the way they manage their 246 cars and trucks and their 55 trailers, there could be substantial cost savings. He reported that they have shortened the auction period to two per year and will do them in-house to be more efficient.

As it stands now, cars awaiting auction still have to be insured, and if that process can be expedited, there is potential cost savings there. He reported that the county paid a total of $161,000 for insurance from July 1, 2008, to June 30, 2009.

Godwin also recommended the purchase of several pieces of equipment to allow in-house employees to be trained in maintenance, so as to save money and be more efficient in respect to oil and tire changes, brake services and overall maintenance of the fleet. He noted further that the amounts they have been invoiced for parts are not consistent and vary from vendor to vendor, sometimes with staggering differences.

“If we spend $16,035 on a tire changer, a wheel balancer … we could save $25,000 in the first year. To me, it’s a no-brainer.” He added that the dollars are already available in the EMS budget and would not have to be a separate line item in the upcoming budget. He recommended possibly using the system the paramedics use fleetwide, so as to bring uniformity and efficiency to the fleet as one entity, rather than as several mini-departments.

Godwin said he had expected a software presentation but the company, FuelMan, had to reschedule. When they could come again and Godwin can get an overview presentation of how the software might work, he said he would be back with a formal recommendation. He thanked staff for their help in all the gathering of data and research on the issue.

County Councilman Sam Wilson questioned the discrepancies in the pricing of parts, outsourcing of the tire purchase, tire changes, etc., and the workload on county employees.

“If we are not busy, there is something wrong. I am not against contracting out,” Wilson said.

Cole offered that it is cheaper to change your oil at home, and the same would ring true for the county.

“By bringing it in-house, you have got to see savings,” he said.

Phillips noted that the presentation was “comprehensive” and said they would “take a couple of weeks to digest it.”

“There is opportunity for significant savings,” added Godwin.

The council on Feb. 16 also moved to approve a wastewater agreement with Bay Forest Club LLC for service to 39 single-family lots on the east side of Whites Neck Road and North Old Mill Road near Millville. It is part of the Millville Expansion of the Bethany Beach Sanitary Sewer District. They received their Sussex County Engineering Department Plan Approval in December of 2005 and their DNREC approval in March of 2006.

As part of an ongoing push to encourage the council to express opposition to the proposed DelPointe casino and racetrack, the council on Tuesday heard from several citizens who oppose the project.

The Rev. Rod Dufour of the First Baptist Church in Georgetown asserted that “gambling is exploitative and predatory.” He added that it is a “preventable burden” and said victims are often too embarrassed to come forward and talk about it. “Any possible financial gain or any other reason does not justify legalized gambling. It’s not a Christian thing. It’s a moral thing, between right and wrong.”

Thomas J. Uss also spoke of Del Pointe, saying it is “too ambitious. It is the wrong venue at the wrong place at the wrong time.” He also questioned what the jobs that have been talked about in conjunction with the project will pay well.

“We need well-paying jobs to inspire our children to stay in school and in Sussex County,” he said. On a personal note, he added that he was a child of a gambling father and said it affected their family unit in many ways.

Helen Cropper spoke less of the moral and familial implications and more of her concerns about the safety of the roadways if the project is built.

“In my packet there is a letter from DelDOT from the June 8 meeting, although the traffic study was not done until after school was out,” she said, speaking of Sussex Central High School, near where the proposed track/casino/convention center would be built.

She also said that the proposed Stage 1 of the project, which includes the casino, racetrack and convention center, will be built within the current roadway conditions.

“All the traffic will be deposited at Route 113 and Avenue of Honor at this moment,” she said, emphasizing that plans for an overpass are not proposed until Stage 2 of the project. “I am not worried about the kids losing their lunch money to the slots. I am worried about them losing their lives after the road is closed,” she added, noting that plans call for Rich Road to eventually be closed and moved to accommodate the park.

Wilson thanked the speakers for coming forward and questioned the road situation as well.

“What about the kids? It used to be about the kids, and now it’s all about the money,” he said.

Cole said he felt the social or moral implications of the proposed project were less the county council’s “jurisdiction,” as compared to land use, but he offered that the vacating of a county road could be a land-use issue that they might have some jurisdiction over.

Also on Feb. 16, the council held public hearing on a conditional use requested by Saddle Creek LLC and voted to approve the use in the AR-1 agricultural district for professional office space near the intersection of Route 9 and Route 30 at Gravel Hill Road. The Planning and Zoning Commission had also recommended approval of the use in January, with several conditions, including lighting and signage restrictions.

The council also held a public hearing Tuesday on a conditional-use request from Delmarva Power and Light Co., to grant a conditional use of land in the GR general residential district for an electrical substation west of Hudson Road (Road 258) and north of Route 9. The council voted to defer a decision, as had the Planning and Zoning Commission.

The land, approximately 8 acres in size, has been owned by Delmarva Power since 1977, and the expansion would allow them to go forward with what they call their “Cool Springs Reliability Project,” to “enhance and maintain our ability to provide reliable power to customers in Eastern and Central Sussex,” as well as to allow for growth, representatives said.

Jim Smith of Delmarva Power said they had a public meeting in December for area residents and had about four or five people attend. That project is near the Lazy Lake development and Hunter’s Mill.

Finally, the council had a public hearing on a change-of-zoning request for Wyoming Concrete LLC, to rezone from AR-1, agricultural, to HI-1, heavy industrial, district a parcel of land south of Road 380 and east of Route 113, south of Frankford.

The company operates a concrete batch plant and storage facility and has renewed its special-use exception once since 2000. That renewal would come up for renewal again in 2010, and the change-of-zone would allow for security in financing and conforms to adjacent properties, according to attorney James Fuqua, representing Wyoming Concrete. Adjacent and nearby properties are already zoned HI-1 and commercial. The council voted to approve the amendment, as did the Planning and Zoning Commission.

The council on Feb. 16 also granted the Georgetown Little League $500 for new equipment and uniforms.

Staff noted t hat the pending dog-control legislation is available on the county’s Web site. Click on the “Hot Topics” page to view the pending legislation. The direct Web address is: http://www.sussexcountyde.gov/e-service/index.cfm?resource=HotTopics. News releases can also be viewed via the county’s Twitter page. Follow them at www.twitter.com/sussex_pio.