Increased cap on sheriff's sale fees dropped

Sussex County Sheriff Eric Swanson has dropped his request that the county council approve an increase in the cap on the fee charged for the sale of real estate through sheriff’s sales, such as those on foreclosed properties.

A revised ordinance proposed by Swanson that increases a number of fees charged by that office came back to the council on June 2, minus the proposed cap increase from $10,000 to $15,000 maximum on that fee.

The sheriff’s office charges 4 percent of the sale amount to help pay for its cost associated with running the sales, including serving legal notices and providing security for that service and the subsequent sales. The fee is limited to $10,000, at present, but Swanson argued that the increased need for security was one factor driving his office’s costs up.

After concern about the real basis for that potential increase in fees was expressed by some council members in recent weeks, Swanson dropped that particular request.

“The sheriff would be in favor of dropping that change,” reported County Administrator David Baker on June 2, noting that other parts of the proposed changes to the schedule of sheriff’s fees “don’t have a drastic impact in terms of fees.”

One such change, Baker said, would provide a $4,200 increase in income to the office over a year. Another change would increase fees for summonses that require extra work by the office, such as locating the person to be served, from $30 to $40, and for replevins – actions taken to recover personal property said or claimed to be unlawfully taken – from $30 to $50.

Increases on the fees charged for the sale of goods and chattels would increase from 3 percent to 4 percent, providing a $1,000 increase per year in revenue for the office. The fee for certified letters would increase from $5 to $7.50, to cover increased costs for certified mail. And the deposit for sheriff’s sales would increase from $500 to $1,000, to cover other increased costs. In that case, whatever portion of the deposit is not used would be reimbursed.

Councilwoman Joan Deaver said she would introduce the revised fee schedule in an ordinance in the near future.

Council gets update on state legislation

Also on June 2, Hal Godwin, deputy county administrator, presented council members with a legislative update, noting increasing legislative activity at the state’s General Assembly after two weeks spent working on the state’s budget.

Deemed of interest to the council were possible revisions to the state Freedom of Information Act, which would extend the law to cover the General Assembly itself, removing a prior exemption. (This bill has since passed both houses and was waiting this week to be signed into law by the governor.)

Godwin also reported on several legislative efforts that had not yet been introduced as bills, including work by Rep. Dave Wilson of Lincoln, who he said was working to address concerns about deterioration of properties around Sussex County, after complaints from constituents.

He said Wilson told his constituents that the state doesn’t control such issues but that they should address it with the county. “He really didn’t want to address this through state legislation,” Godwin said, but instead wanted to talk to the county council about it.

Also on the county’s radar:

• Dog licensing and control bills, as the county is set at the end of 2009 to take over dog licensing and control from the state. A bill on the subject has not yet been introduced but was expected soon.

• A previously introduced but not yet re-introduced bill that would give farmers the right to accept reclaimed water (treated wastewater) for spraying on their farms, without any review or consideration or permits from the county. In the past the county has issued conditional-use permits for such activity after holding public hearings, but a state task force recommended moving to blanket permission for the activity.

• A bill addressing transfer tax amounts for counties. Godwin said this was among “bills sitting there, like loaded weapons,” to be used if legislators want.

• HB 65, which would change the Sussex County Council from five to seven members. Godwin said there was “new energy in our favor,” as a bill had also been introduced to reduce the size of the New Castle County Council, due to the same kind of financial reasons Sussex council members have opposed HB65. One of the bill’s sponsors has pulled their sponsorship.

• HB 70, which would mandate that deed restrictions and HOA covenants can’t prohibit windmill installed for energy as long as they meet certain minimum requirements. “It would also circumvent your authority in restricting them from being installed,” Godwin told the council.

• HB 26, which gives county property liens the same authority as tax liens, allowing the properties to be taken to sheriff’s sales. The bill is in the Senate, and Godwin said he considered it something the council would likely be “friendly to.”

• HB 96, the so-called “puppy mill bill,” which would regulate the production and sale of puppies, has been pulled, in favor of the other dog bill, after resistance from caucuses.

• HB 106, which would change who would receive money for open space, from the Delaware Open Space Authority to Parks and Recreation Council.

• SB 59, the green building standards bill, has been passed in the Senate, and is under consideration in the House.

• SB 61, which classifies code enforcement officers as protected employees in certain crimes, with the same type of criminal charges being sought as there would be if they involved police or ambulance drivers, such as in cases where the officers would be shot at, etc., while serving notice of violations, etc.

Finally, the council approved the awarding of the entirety of the Ocean View Police Department’s annual municipal police grant from the county - $25,000. The department plans to use the money to purchase a speed-awareness trailer, binoculars, software, computers, ammunition and other small items. The municipal police grants are set to be cut to just $12,500 per year under the county’s proposed 2010 budget.