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July 3, 1998     Cape Gazette
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July 3, 1998
 

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CAPE GAZETTE, Friday, July 3 - July 9, 1998 - 9 Last minute vote breaks transfer tax deadlock; Sussex gels $1.5 million By Rosanne Pack and Michael Short Revenue sharing by any other name still smells sweet to the lo- cal governments. Call it an agreement on the real estate transfer tax, call it a transfer of the transfer tax, whatever; what it means is that counties and local city governments have the option of taking a portion of a real estate transfer tax previously collected by the state. And that measure offi- cially and finally received an affir- mative vote in the waning session of the 139th General Assembly. The 3 percent tax was previous- ly divided, with the state receiving 2 percent and local governments 1 percent. The new system will al- low local governments the option of taking half the tax, 1.5 percent; counties and incorporated towns that have not done so already must pass the measure at the local level, The plan was initiated as a means of spreading around some of the revenue surplus that the state will enjoy this year, more than $200 million, and is projected to enjoy for years to come. It means that $13 million in transfer taxes that would go to the state will be shared among those counties and towns that vote to take the option of collecting the 0.5 percent. Sussex County was ready and wailing for the vote. County coun- cil members had discussed the po- the bill was approved, and they conducted public hearings on Tuesday as the General Assembly spent a last, long day in session. Council members suspended fur- ther action until after the antici- pated Senate vote; then quickly convened Wednesday and voted to take the extra 0.5 percent al- though County Councilman George Cole was absent from Wednesday's vote. "We want to make sure that it has long-term benefits..:We do not want to just go out and spend it," said Sussex County Administrator Bob Stickels. The county can spend the mon- ey on "capital and operating costs of public safety services, econom- ic development programs, public works services, capital projects and improvements, infrastructure projects and improvements and debt reduction. County Councilman George Cole argued that the money ought to be used for infrastructure, espe- cially to pay for the high cost of sewer districts established by the county. Cole said he gets no telephone calls over jobs, but "I do get calls from people about the sewer...I don't think we should be tapping into this money for economic de- velopment." County Council Pregident Dale Dukes said he thinks the county does a good job of allocating about the unemployment rate, ar- guing that the county's economy is already doing quite well. Stickels said the unemployment rate is around 3 percent, but "what about underemployment ?... [What about] The people who are flip- ping hamburgers for $6 an hour who would like to have jobs pay- ing $10 or $11 per hour." Stickels said the county has not yet determined how the money will he spent, although he expects to develop some recommenda- tions by late next week. He said that the county wants to proceed carefully, but said two ar- eas that may see some funding are the sewer costs for the North Bethany Sewer District and the Blades Sewer District, the most expensive and the poorest sewer districts, respectively, in the coun- ty. Dukes said that he stayed in Legislative Hall until 5 a.m. Wednesday, but couldn't stay for a transfer tax signing ceremony around dawn. He said the tax bill, approved at 3 a.m., and the bond bill both were kind to Sussex County this year. "It came home well. It didn't look good about 11 p.m...but we stayed and waited them out." The third time was the charm for the move that was defeated twice in the Senate as it bounced around as a political football. Af- ter passing the House unanimous- twice by angry Senate Republi- cans before it was passed in the wee hours of Wednesday morn- ing. Sen. George Bunting, D- Bethany Beach, predicted all along that the real estate transfer tax maneuver would pass, even though it was kicked around in the Senate. There was dissension over the composition of the eight- member committee that was to ne- gotiate money matters resulting from the state's surpluses; Bunting said that the Senate Re- publicans used the issue to make their dissatisfaction known with how that chamber conducts busi- ness. "It is an equitable thing to do," Bunting said, "The City of Re- hoboth will probably collect well over $100,000 and Lewes, Dewey Continued on page 17 This Winter . In Fabulous Australia! Escape the winter blues this year... Have An "Outback" Experience with personal, individualized service. Prices as low as $2,700 per person. -- Includes -- Condo for 30 days and airfare. For more details, call 227-1728 tentialcapefOr gainingRegion$1.5 million if spending.cleansCOle askedupStickelSilqlY bondWeeks ago, it wasbill;turned down West Rehoboth sewer gets funds By Michael Short The bond bill was very, very good to the Cape Region. The bill, passed in the waning hours as the Legislature finished its work near dawn on Wednes- day, contains funding for sewer districts, libraries, museums and other such "bricks and mortar" projects. This year's bond bill funding was extraordinarily kind to the Cape Region. It contains at least $1.5 million to be used to help low-income residents of the West Rehoboth Sewer District pay their sewer bills. It also contains $200,000 for the Rehoboth. Beach Library, $600,000 to stop a con- troversial sewer plant discharge into Indian River Inlet, $.210,000 for a crabbing pier at Holts Land- ing State Park and $125,000 for the Center for the Inland Bays (CIB). There is money for Sussex Tech, Del Tech and the Delaware Seashore State Park Marina in this year's bond bill. But perhaps the biggest item in this year's bond bill is the deci- sion to provide at least $1.5 mil- lion and as much as $2 million to help West Rehoboth Sewer Dis- trict residents pay sewer bills. The cost of the sewer district has long been a political hot potato and the source of much criticism. Rep. John Schroeder, D-Lewes, said "It's been a struggle to con- vince colleagues we needed to do something. I think it's a good first step." "We want to do what we can to help low and moderate income people," said Sussex County Ad- ministrator Bob Stickels. Schroeder said the state hopes to be able to invest the money and the use the interest to provide grants to residents who need help paying sewer bills. The money will only be available to low in- come residents, but income guide- lines have yet to he set. Sussex County recently set aside $50,000 to help low-income residents pay their sewer bills. But that money will only be available to residents who own their own homes, meaning most mobile home residents are not eligible. The bond bill money has no such restrictions placed upon it. A second major element of the bond bill is the $600,000 set aside to eliminate the discharge from Delaware Seashore State Park's sewage treatment plant into Indian River Inlet. That is one of several direct dis- charges into the inland bays. All are legal discharges, but critics have said that a state sewage dis- charge near one of the most crowded swimming, boating and fishing areas in Delaware is outra- geous. Those critics have included Schroeder; Sen. George Bunting Jr., D-Bethany Beach; and Rep. Shirley Price, D-Millville. The discharge is only done on an out- going tide and the water quality at Indian River Inlet is among the best, if not the best, in the inland bays. That has prompted critics to say that money could better be spent to remove other, more critical dis- charges. But supporters say the state needs to set an example and remove its discharge before it can ask others to stop polluting the area waters. The $600,000 is considered enough to get the state to hook up the sewer plant to the South Coastal Sewage Treatment Plant. That is considered more sound en- vironmentally, even though the county-operated plant still dis- charges into the Atlantic Ocean, although well offshore. 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