Lot maintenance, 'Clean Hands' to hearing

The Sussex County Council moved forward on two pieces of proposed legislation this week, at their Tuesday, Sept. 25, meeting. Council President Dale Dukes introduced final drafts of the county’s new proposed lot maintenance ordinance and on a new “clean hands” policy requiring those applying for county permits to first pay up on amounts owed to the county.

The lot maintenance ordinance was changed slightly from discussion at the council meeting last week, reducing the number of inoperable or unregistered cars and watercraft permitted to be stored on a residential property from a maximum of two boats and/or two cars to simply two such vehicles total.

Council members clarified that those owning vacant lots adjacent to their residential properties and paying taxes on a single combined parcel are not permitted to store additional boats or vehicles on those vacant lots. Exceptions for boats or cars stored in a building specify that the vehicles must be enclosed so as not to be visible from the street.

Vehicles that do not require registration by the state, such as canoes or kayaks, are not included in the restriction; but Councilman George Cole (R-5th) said he was concerned that owners of new boats that were not yet being used would choose not to register them to avoid the restriction. However, county staffers said that any boat or vehicle that the state would normally register, used or no, would be included.

Resident Helene Guilfoy thanked council members on Tuesday for having pursued the ordinance, after she had complained to them earlier this year about properties with derelict vehicles and trash accumulating on them. She also thanked them for changing the cap from two cars and/or two boats to two maximum of either.

But Guilfoy said she was concerned that allowing even two such vehicles was in conflict with the spirit of the ordinance, which was to remove unsightly and derelict items from the county’s residential lots.

It was a concern Cole had voiced on Sept. 18; but as with Cole, county staffers advised Guilfoy to hold her concerns for the planned public hearing, as no changes can be made to the ordinance prior to the public hearing without have to reintroduce and re-advertise the ordinance.

With its formal introduction this week, the ordinance will move forward to that public hearing phase.

Dukes also formally introduced Tuesday the county’s new proposed “Clean Hands” ordinance, with no changes made from discussion on Sept. 18.

The ordinance would require those applying for building permits with the county to be current in all of their financial obligations to the county, such as fees, fines and sewer charges. There would be an appeals process so that those feeling they should not be blocked from obtaining permits could potentially find relief.

Councilman Lynn Rogers questioned Tuesday whether the ordinance should be worded to say the applications of those in arrears with the county would be “denied” until their obligations were resolved. Instead, he suggested the county say it would not consider or would not accept such applications until the issues were resolved.

County Solicitor David Griffin again advised the council members to wait until a public hearing to make minor changes to the ordinance, so the legislative process can proceed.

County moves forward on wastewater agreements

Council members on Sept. 25 also unanimously adopted a wastewater agreement with Gary McCray of Lewes, for the Long Neck Shores development on Road 299 near Long Neck, comprising 85 single-family and age-restricted dwellings. Approvals from the county engineering department and DNREC have been granted. The construction is expected to take 30 days.

The council also unanimously adopted the Piney Neck expansion of the Dagsboro Sanitary Sewer District, which had been deferred last week. County engineers said they had since met with representatives of several developers in that proposed expansion area to address concerns that had left the developers asking for a week or more of delay to consider their financial options in a difficult real estate market.

Director of Utility Planning John Ashman reported, “In the last week, we’ve met with them and talked with them on the phone, and I believe we have resolved our differences and are ready to move forward.”

Ashman said most of the developers’ issues were with how they would get “oversizing costs” refunded. “I think we have plan to move forward,” he reiterated. “I think we’re headed in the right direction.”

The apparent resolution of those issues solves concerns about much of the property along the south side of Piney Neck, which is mostly large developments. Ashman said the county officials had needed to be “a little more innovative” in resolving the developers’ concerns but did not elaborate further on how the compromise had been reached.

County Engineer Mike Izzo said they had been looking at the capital costs of putting in extra lines, and were examining ways to get reimbursed or to get credits. He said that, in the past, developers had been able to get credit on their connection fees, but that the county officials had been trying to find some other ways to make the situation work for everyone, such as the waiver of inspection fees, which would bring their numbers closer.

Cole questioned whether the negotiations were “a one-shot deal” that would not be used elsewhere in county, suggesting that the county was caving in to developers in this particular case “because they’re whining.” But Izzo assured him that the accommodations to the developers were a trend in the county.

Mark Chura of Ocean Atlantic, representing affected developers HKS LLC, thanked the council for the week of delay and efforts to work through the details of the arrangements.

“We continue to be very supportive of this sewer district, as we have been all along,” he said. “We’re anxious to see it occur, to get the engineering and design work done, and to get our units hooked up.”

Cole said, “Good planning requires the county to move forward in this expansion. This is an environmentally sensitive area and small packet septic systems will not benefit it. The county also needs the EDUs associated with this future growth to make the Dagsboro sewer district affordable and keep costs down."

Taxes due, federal funds disbursed to schools

County Administrator David Baker reminded county taxpayers Tuesday that county property taxes are due on Oct. 1. Those postmarked after that day will be assessed a 1.5 percent fee per month. The tax payments can be made in person at county offices or online on the county’s Web site.

Baker also noted the county’s successful participation in another Dover race weekend this past weekend, with NASCAR racing teams flying into the Sussex County Airport and remarking on the facility’s hospitality.

Finance Director Susan Webb reported on Tuesday the receipt of a $62,000 check from federal Fish and Wildlife officials related to Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge. It’s a payment the county gets annually, as part of the Refuge Revenue Sharing Act. It can be used by the county for any governmental purpose.

Webb recommended Tuesday that the amount be split among several areas, with the Milford School District getting about $12,000; Cape Henlopen School District, $38,879; Sussex Technical High School, $3,000; Sussex County Libraries getting $766 and roughly $6,000 going into the county’s general fund.

Councilman Lynn Rogers made his usual annual objection to the allotment, saying, “The (Millsboro) fire department never gets a dime of it. We spend hours and hours and hours down there. Every year we should have it, but we don’t.”

Rogers recommended the council take 10 percent of the figure and make a grant to the Millsboro Volunteer Fire Company, but he was outvoted on that idea. Webb offered that local fire companies do get some of the funds, if indirectly, because a portion of it goes into the county’s general funds and the fire company grants are paid from there.

The council voted 4-1 to make Webb’s recommended distribution, with Rogers again opposed.

The council also made additional grants on Sept. 25, to:

• The Northeast Rally Club, as a fund-raiser for the Millsboro Volunteer Fire Company, of $500.

• Delmarva Christian High School, of $400 for a physical fitness program. Webb noted that the program benefits the entire community (of Georgetown) as the facility is open to the public; but resident Dan Cramer criticized the council providing funding to a Christian organization.

• Sussex Central High School, $100 for a student’s travel to a softball tournament in Hawaii.

• The 4H Sussex County Order of Lynx, $250 for fall youth activities; $250.

• The new Eastern Shore American Youth Football League, of Seaford, $200 for uniforms and equipment.

• Laurel Intermediate School, $250 for a new reading program.

• Boys Scouts of America, Delmarva Council, $3,000 for the Friends of Scouting campaign.

• The Teen Challenge Program, $600 for a building project.