County talking change to law enforcement grants

Sussex County officials discussed on Tuesday reconsidering the way they allocate annual local law enforcement grants. The county provides identical $25,000 to each municipal law enforcement agency in Sussex for capital purchases each year but this week discussed basing grants on levels of development outside of town limits, building permit statistics or tax numbers.

Emergency call statistics, which garnered the most support, are not reliable enough to compare situations town-by-town, officials said. Others, who appeared to be in the majority Tuesday, argued that growth outside certain towns is stressing local law enforcement agencies, which are called on to respond to adjacent areas when Delaware State Police officers are not nearby and immediately available.

“I think that may be the most equitable way,” Councilman Vance Phillips (R-5th) said of basing the grants on development just outside of county towns that are known to be stressing those local agencies. “As growth occurs outside town limits, such as Delmar and Laurel, their police (departments) are going to be called on (more),” he added, with the council on Tuesday also approving the 1,179-home Blackwater community outside Delmar, complete with a business center and a golf course.

With developments such as the 1,060 lot The Estuary, approved outside of Ocean View and South Bethany town limits, and the 3,100 home Millville by the Sea being constructed in a town that does not yet have a police department, the same could perhaps be said for local town departments.

Officials also said Tuesday that they do not want to reduce the amount of grant money available annually to other towns, despite their possibly less stressful growth situations.

Both ideas enacted simultaneously, however, could cause an economic problem in a rough time for governmental revenues. Revenue comparisons were not immediately available, but an almost flat real estate market — which has been that way at least since December of 2005 — has reduced available transfer tax revenues, which are collected through the sale and resale of properties in the county or in towns.

Phillips said the decision to add more money into the fund to help agencies stressed by growth will eventually come down to a “budget decision.”

Council President Dale Dukes (D-1st) said that adding money to the now $525,000 strong, two-year-old law-enforcement grant fund might not be a necessity. He is content with what is there and said that its beneficiaries are, as well.

“Everybody I have talked to is happy with $25,000,” Dukes said. “There could be a different way. But that $25,000 is more than they were getting three years ago. Until we know what our incomes are going to be, we’d better be more careful.”