County awarded federal energy grant

Sussex County this week became one of the first 20 government entities in the nation to be awarded a U.S. Department of Energy grant for energy strategies.

The $40,000 grant will be used to hire a consultant to help develop an energy efficiency and conservation strategy, with up to $648,000 in additional grant funding available to implement that strategy.

County Administrator David B. Baker announced the award Tuesday, Aug. 18, during County Council’s weekly meeting. The grant comes by way of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009, also known as the “stimulus” package.

The completed strategy must be submitted by Nov. 30.

If approved, the federal government would release a second block of funding, totaling approximately $648,000, to the county to carry out the strategy’s goals, including recommendations for improving energy efficiency, as well as reducing emissions.

That could include the installation of higher efficiency lighting fixtures in county buildings to evaluating and upgrading heating and cooling systems, as well as encouraging the use of renewable energy and “green” technology.

“Energy consumption and conservation are hot topics right now, but they’re always a concern for businesses and government because both affect your budget,” Baker said. “We hope to learn, through this process, how we’re using energy and what we can do better to manage our usage. The ultimate goal is to improve the bottom line for the taxpayers of Sussex County.”

County offers $50,000 for tax ditches

Also on Aug. 18, the council voted unanimously to grant $50,000 to the Sussex Conservation District, to go toward maintenance of the county’s tax ditches.

Previously, the state government had provided a $100,000 grant, and during the last four or five years, that grant came contingent on a matching grant from the county. In 2009, the state approved $100,000 in funding again, but this time it was not contingent on a matching grant from the county.

Baker noted that the grant had not been budgeted, since the state hadn’t approved its budget when the county budget was adopted. The county is required by state law to provide $75,000 to help fund the district. The grant funding comes as separate assistance, over and above that amount.

Baker said he had been told that Kent County was not providing additional funding this year, while no decision had been made in New Castle County.

“I’m getting a lot of calls about stormwater retention ponds. I hope they’re on the ball and think we should fund them,” said Councilwoman Joan Deaver.

Conservation District representative Wendy Baker noted that the district had spent between $327,000 and $454,000 per year on tax ditches since 2006. The ditches cover 390 square miles – 42 percent of the county’s total area – and drain about 20,000 parcels.

She said the aim of the work was to fix problems before they became major problems, resulting in flooding and property damage.

“I’m a big supporter of what they do,” said Councilman George Cole, adding that, years ago, a big storm had resulted in “a lot of havoc, because the tax ditches weren’t cleaned up.”

Cole suggested the council fund $50,000 and revisit the issue of additional funding later, when the county’s budget picture becomes clearer. The council voted unanimously to do so.

County to farm out dog control

With the responsibility for dog control coming into county hands on Jan. 1, 2010, the council on Aug. 18 considered its options for handling those duties.

David Baker said that, due to the short timeframe involved, it was important to decide what direction the county was going to go in terms of those services – to proceed with performing the work in-house or out-source it for one to three years.

He recommended the county request proposals for a year of service with the county council able to extend that service for two additional one-year periods.

Baker said the consensus was to handle dog licensing in-house, but the issue of the dog control function being handled in-house or outsourced was still open.

The county’s dog-control service is currently provided by the Kent SPCA through the state, at a cost of $600,000 per year from county coffers and any difference made up by state funding. The county will have sole responsibility for the service, and its costs, as of Jan. 1.

Baker noted that there is “a lot of work to be done” for the county to take over dog control, including the building of kennels, purchase of vehicles and hiring of trained staff.

“We will eventually have full control and may be able to create a system that’s more efficient,” said Council President Vance Phillips. “It is an unfunded mandate now.”

Cole recommended the council continue the level of service already being provided, while Baker noted that one employee in the constable’s office would be dedicating “considerable time” to answering related calls and forwarding them to the appropriate person, as well as handling licensing issues. He added that county officials had been discussing possibly selling low-number tags for additional revenue.

The council voted unanimously to approve issuing a request for proposals for the service to be out-sourced. “Unenthusiastically,” Phillips noted.

Also on Aug. 18, the council voted 5-0 to disburse the county’s annual municipal police grant to Fenwick Island. It will be a full disbursement of $15,000, to go toward operational costs and some equipment, such as safety equipment for a new vehicle, Tasers and fuel.