County codifies 911 addressing

Emergency responders turned out in force for the Oct. 25 Sussex County Council meeting, voicing strong support for an ordinance that will require county residents to post their new 911 addresses within the next year and a half.

Council members voted unanimously to approve the ordinance, albeit with a minor change or two. As originally written, the ordinance would have required house numbers be at least 4 inches tall. (Businesses will need to post larger numbers, at least 10 inches in height, although that will vary depending on the size of the building and how far the buildings are from the road.)

However, Council Member Dale Dukes suggested that might be excessive if homeowners planned to post the numbers on a mailbox.

Council Member Vance Phillips introduced an amendment to permit slightly smaller numbers, 3 inches in height on mailboxes, and only in residential districts.

Anywhere else, the county would require property owners post the larger numbers. In all cases, they would have to be made of reflective material, and posted where clearly visible.

The amendment passed 3-2, over opposition from Council Members Lynn Rogers and George Cole.

Dukes also suggested the fines for noncompliance were excessive. After the 18-month grace period (the clock started ticking on Oct. 25), if people still hadn’t posted the new numbers they’d receive a certified warning letter and then a $50 fine.

No arguments there — but if they still didn’t post the new 911 addressing, they’d receive another certified letter and another 30 days to comply. After that, the county would impose a $100 fine every day they remained noncompliant.

Dukes suggested a $25-a-day fine would be enough of a deterrent, but the proposed amendment failed 3-2, lacking support from Rogers, Cole or Council President Finley Jones.

Bob Stewart, director at the Sussex County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) commended county Mapping and Addressing Director Matthew Laick for his effectiveness in pushing the project through to completion, and state 911 Administrator Terry Whitham echoed that sentiment.

He called it long overdue, and relayed the frustration 911 dispatchers faced when they could hear someone screaming on the other end of the line, but had no way to locate them. “This will give us a way to map, pinpoint and locate folks,” Whitham said.

Roxana Fire Chief Jeff Lynch cast an “aye” vote on behalf of the Sussex County Chiefs’ Association. Rich Toulson represented the Sussex County Volunteer Firemen’s Association and Daniel Magee offered support on behalf of the Delaware State Fire Commission.

Dukes asked Magee how far along they were in tying addresses and phone numbers to Global Positioning System (GPS) locators.

Magee said they were currently working on a system to locate people from their cell phones, which are increasingly replacing hardwired phone lines.

Again, the new 911 addressing doesn’t go into effect for 18 months, but even if residents didn’t plan to change over until then, Laick reminded everyone how important it was to coordinate either new — or current — addresses with phone numbers.

Laick said Mapping and Addressing was hoping for at least some updated information, until people posted their new addresses. The county sent out response forms to people who’d received the new 911 addressing, but had seen only a 20 percent response.

The response could be better, but some people might be calling their phone companies directly, Laick said.

County residents in existing subdivisions might not actually receive new addresses, if the system their neighborhood already has in place conforms to accepted standards, he pointed out. They’ll still need to go with the other standards (3 inches in mailboxes, 4 inches anywhere else, visible from the street, reflective) eventually.

Town residents will not be affected by the ordinance, unless individual town governments approach the county and request 911 addressing, Laick added.

In other business, council received a recap on this year’s Senior League Softball World Series, held in Roxana. Martin Donovan, district administrator for Little League Delaware District 3, called it a huge success, despite the high heat. He thanked the Roxana Volunteer Fire Company for bringing out a cooling unit after the heat index topped 100 degrees and Phillips for supplying the watermelons for the welcoming party.

Donovan said between 12,000 and 15,000 people attended the World Series this year.

Council accepted a $4,000 check from First State Manufactured Housing’s Ruth Briggs King and Andy Strine, part of a continuing partnership to demolish and remove dilapidated manufactured homes around the county. The Oct. 25 check brought the organization’s share in the program to $20,000.

Going the other way, council presented a check for $19,000 to Sussex County Habitat for Humanity, for infrastructure at what will be a 19-unit subdivision in Seaford, and $2,000 to the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Department of Delaware, for Operation UpLink.

UpLink purchases phone cards for military personnel, either on duty overseas or laid up in Veterans Hospitals.