Ditches may overflow after 6 or 7 inches of rain, no matter how good a job the Sussex Conservation District is doing. But as of the Oct. 18 Sussex County Council meeting, the conservation staff has some bankroll to match contributions from the tax ditch associations.
Council President Finley Jones presented conservation district’s William Vanderwende (board chairman) and Debbie Absher (district coordinator) with a check for $175,000. The county funds provide a match toward monies already pledged by the state.
According to Absher, the state initially put up $75,000, and the county matched that (the typical arrangement). “But because the need is so great in Sussex County, we requested additional funds,” she said.
The state agreed to provide an additional $100,000. The county matched it, and as of Oct. 18, the Sussex Conservation District has $350,000 with which to work. Still, County Administrator Bob Stickels said he would continue to lobby on the district’s behalf, to change the state formula.
As it stands, he said, the state splits conservation district funding three ways, equally among the counties; but Sussex has much more to maintain. Absher confirmed his statement, noting the county’s nearly 1,400 miles of tax ditch out of roughly 2,400 miles statewide.
In other business, the council, in partnership with the Delaware Community Foundation, awarded a one-time $50,000 grant to West Side New Beginnings, for after-school programs in troubled West Rehoboth.
Council Member George Cole presented the check to West Side New Beginnings’ Brenda Kelley (program director). Classmates in the late 1960s, Kelley and Cole recognized the neighborhood had declined since then.
Cole remembered Rehoboth Beach when it was still a small town, and said there had always been a lot of friendly interaction between east and west in those days.
“It was a fun place to grow up,” he said.
But as some of the original families moved away, and with an increasingly changing population in east Rehoboth, much of that interaction had been lost, he said.
Kelley said she was finally driven to action after witnessing a young boy standing on a street corner at 5:30 a.m. Upon reflection, she realized he’d been out there to sell drugs.
She said they had a community center, but no funding to run programs. So Kelley approached the Lewes-Rehoboth Association of Churches (LRAC) for help, and West Side New Beginnings had started to take shape.
The organization has grown to provide a range of community and after-school activities, including meal programs and homework tutorials (with the game room providing a powerful incentive to complete assignments).
There is also “Mini Society,” in partnership with Delaware State University, that teaches young people fiscal responsibility, a healthy foods/cooking program in cooperation with the University of Delaware, and programs in partnership with the Rehoboth Art League and Rehoboth Library.
Kelley said the West Side New Beginnings organization also intends to support capital projects around West Rehoboth (streetlights, trash cleanup, improvements at the community playground).
Despite the neighborhood’s decline, Cole said West Rehoboth as a whole is still very attractive real estate, making it all the more difficult to preserve the community’s traditional character.
“There are still a handful of families holding on, trying to make a difference, primarily with some support from the local churches,” he said.
He admitted outside assistance couldn’t solve every problem, but said he hoped county assistance would at least put the West Side New Beginnings organization on more solid footing.
Finance Director David Baker discussed a pensioner drug subsidy program, wherein the county would receive a subsidy from Medicare for continuing to provide (to pensioners) prescription drug coverage after Jan. 1 (when Medicare’s new Part D program kicks in).
Baker said the county currently covered 59 retirees and another 20 of their dependents. Based on the amount of prescription drugs they were using, he anticipated a subsidy of between $30,000 and $36,000.
He suggested most pensioners would probably stick with the county, saying its drug coverage was better than what Medicare would be offering. According to Baker, the pending Medicare prescription drug benefit plan would likely prove most attractive to people with no prescription drug coverage at all.
Later in the afternoon, council held public hearings on three-land use applications, including, locally, Gregory and Patricia White’s application for conditional use near Clarksville (west of Route 26, north of St. George’s United Methodist Church).
Land Design’s Tom Ford detailed the project, for four “multi-family” housing units (detached, but proximal, single-family homes) on roughly 0.9 acre.
The county Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission had forwarded a unanimous recommendation for denial on Oct. 13, suggesting the four units would be out of character with the surrounding neighborhood.
However, Ford noted various other medium-density neighborhoods nearby, such Blackwater Village, Hidden Acres and Sherwood Acres. Council deferred action on the matter.