County to use surplus to fund libraries, housing repairs, police

Sussex County Council voted this week to distribute part of the County’s $854,000 budget surplus for the 2013 fiscal year year among 11 independent libraries and to help low-income county residents with funding for home repairs through the County’s Community Development Block Grant program.

The council had already committed about $320,000 of the surplus to pay for four additional Delaware State Police troopers that were added to the County’s contract for extra policing beyond the county’s normal allocation of troopers.

“I know people need help with leaking roofs, heaters that don’t work, etc., and maybe some of that could go to reducing the number of people on that list,” said County Council President Michael Vincent at their Jan. 22 meeting, referring to the waiting list the County’s housing department has for home repairs under the CDBG program. About $150,000 of the surplus will go to help diminish the 1,250-person waiting list.

Of the remaining funds, about $350,000 will go to 11 libraries operated independently of County government in various locations throughout Sussex. It will be distributed as follows: 3.5 percent will go to each of the Lewes and Milford public libraries; 7 percent each to the Selbyville, Rehoboth Beach, Millsboro, Georgetown and Bridgeville public libraries; 11 percent each to the Frankford and Delmar public libraries; and 17 percent each to the Seaford and Laurel public libraries.

County Administrator Todd Lawson explained that the County’s library advisory board had come up with that distribution based on the needs of each library.

Any remaining surplus funds — anticipated to be around $34,000 — will be returned to the county’s general fund.

In addition, County Finance Director Susan Webb said that, in the six-month period ending Dec. 31, 2012, the county was starting to see signs of economic recovery, based on a rise in building permits and inspections over the same period last year. She said building permit revenues were 17 percent over budgeted amounts, and building inspections were 10 percent over the budgeted amounts. In addition, the Recorder of Deeds’ revenues were up 29 percent over the budgeted amount.

“It’s the first time I have seen a positive in a numbers of years,” she said.

In the area of constitutional services — the Sheriff’s Office — Webb said that, while they still had positive revenue, that revenue was 43 percent less, because of the mandated program from the State that is slowing the process of foreclosures, which are handled by the Sheriff’s Office.

Also at this week’s council meeting, council members heard an overview of DelDOT projects that are happening in the county.

Natalie Barnhart, chief engineer with DelDOT, discussed the progress of some of the projects. She said DelDOT is forming a working group to discuss bicycle safety in the Rehoboth Beach/Five Points area and is completing signal upgrades that were started last year in Fenwick Island. She also noted continued progress on the Route 26 detours project and said they are scheduled to start construction on the Route 26 Mainline Improvements Project later this year.

Councilman George Cole asked if the signs along Route 1 near the beaches couldn’t be clearer. He also asked about sidewalks in Fenwick Island. Barnhart said they were aware of an issue but that it was “not an active project.”

Asked to elaborate how projects or problem areas would get priority, Barnhart said the County gives DelDOT a list of priorities for roadways in the county each year, which is prioritized over other needs in the state, and “that would be the avenue to get that heard.”

Cole asked Barnhart if it is required by law to stop for pedestrians on a road such as Route 1, where cars generally are going more than 55 mph and people — many of them vacationers — cross from bayside communities to the ocean side. He said it was confusing for both drivers and pedestrians who might not be from the area as to who has the right-of-way and what the signs really mean.

“You have these signs, and it gives people the idea that they may have the right-of-way and a false sense of security... and I don’t know whether to stop or run them over or what,” Cole said.

Branhart said the state law is to yield to pedestrians once they are in a crosswalk but that pedestrians also have the responsibility to not walk in front of cars. She then said she would have to refer to DelDOT’s legal staff for the exact law.

“Somebody’s going to get smashed. It’s confusing,” said Cole. “I don’t need a lawyer to tell me that. Those signs don’t need to be on a road where people are going 55 mph. I would highly recommend looking at it before some family gets wiped out. It’s dumb...”

Barnhart said they would look at it and get back to the council, adding that they have a tough job when it comes to looking at all sides of traffic issues.

“Everywhere we don’t think there is a need for a crosswalk, there is 150 people that will swear it’s needed” she said.

The council on Tuesday also gave $2,500 in grant funding to Lower Sussex Little League and $500 to the City of Seaford for its Nanticoke Riverfest.