Sheriff’s Office could serve state legal documents

The Sussex County Council on Oct. 27 endorsed the Sheriff’s Office’s tentative agreement with the State of Delaware to serve as a legal document delivery service for the State of Delaware for the Family Court and Child Support Enforcement Agency. The delivery service has previously been contracted with a private process server based in Wilmington, Del.

The State currently disseminates 400 legal documents per month in Sussex County. The Sheriff’s Office was said to be able to handle the additional work by promoting a current employee.

Prices charged to the State for the service, according to a price schedule agreed upon by both entities, are generally less than the State currently pays to the existing contractor.

The Sheriff’s Office’s work could begin as early as November, on a month-to-month trial basis. If successful, the Sheriff’s Office could take on the assignment full-time in 2010, based on the tentative agreement with the State.

“We believe we can offer the same service more efficiently and cheaper than what is presently offered for the Family Court system,” Sheriff Eric Swanson said prior to the council’s Oct. 27 meeting. “We’re already here in Sussex County. We know the terrain, and we perform this very duty for the Superior Court, Court of Common Pleas and the Court of Chancery. It just makes sense for us to handle it, and we can keep those tax dollars right here in Sussex.”

The plan and proposed rates will be submitted to the Delaware Office of Management and Budget for review. If a formal bid is required and the Sheriff’s Office is selected, the County could earn an additional $80,000 per year in net income.

Also at the Oct. 27 Sussex County Council meeting:

• During discussion of the proposed holiday schedule for Sussex County for 2010, Deaver proposed a change in nomenclature for the Easter-time holiday from Easter to “Spring” or something similar.

“There’s Passover as well, and I have many constituents who are Jewish,” she noted.

Deaver’s motion died for lack of a second on the council.

“Are there any other traditions you’d like to trample on?” Phillips then inquired with a chuckle. The comment was met with sounds of disapproval from some in attendance at the meeting.

The proposed schedule was approved by the council as initially proposed, with an Easter holiday.

“Next year,” Deaver pledged.

• Deaver read a letter from constituent Francis L. Hayes questioning Chapter 26-8 – the county’s pension ordinance – which she said deters retired county employees from seeking elected office by requiring that they take no salary if they serve in such a capacity while receiving a county pension.

• Deaver also reported a response from the Delaware Department of Transportation officials after she had passed along complaints from residents of Briarwood, located off Route 24, who said they were having a difficult time getting out onto Route 24.

DelDOT officials noted that a project is in the pipeline to make improvements to Route 24 between Love Creek and Route 1, with dualization planned due to recent growth of the area. However, they said, that project is funded for design only, not for right-of-way acquisition or construction, due to DelDOT funding cutbacks.

“I don’t think anything’s going to be done,” Deaver concluded.

In other recent council news:

• County Administrator David Baker on Oct. 20 provided the council with a dog control update and memorandum of understanding (MOU) regarding the upcoming county responsibility for dog control, which will begin Jan. 1, 2010.

The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) requested the county approve the MOU, as legislation approved in May and June to transfer responsibility to the county was incomplete in that did not authorize county employees or contracted dog wardens to enforce dog-control rules in January. The MOU specifies that county-designated employees or contractors will enforce dog-control rules until legislation is accomplished that would do same thing. That legislation is expected to be introduced in the legislature’s January session.

The county will introduce a new county ordinance regarding dog license fees at the council’s Nov. 3 meeting. Dog license tags have already been ordered leading up to the January change, and application forms are nearly done, with an informational brochure in process. A Web site is also being worked on to provide licensing online.

• The council also cleared the way Oct. 20 for introduction of a proposed ordinance that is designed to facilitate the improvement of streets and roadways owned and controlled by homeowners associations, property owners associations and condominium associations in the county.

Under the ordinance, if those associations approved such projects in a referendum, the county would make the roadway improvement and property owners would pay for the cost of the improvements over time.

The proposed ordinance previously included costs based on front footage, with a minimum charge at 40 feet and a maximum charge at 100 feet. A revised version would change the charges to a unit pricing, with a single price per buildable lot.

County officials said no new projects have been considered in the intervening time between the decision to consider such a program and a pending vote to adopt it, so as to avoid confusion with projects operating under two sets of rules. Previous projects were done under state law.

The ordinance will go to a public hearing before the council before any vote.