Sussex County Delaware

Council Debates
Sewer Charges

Sussex County Council ...

Disagreements Arise Over
Use of Front Footage Fees

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GEORGETOWN -- A public hearing on proposed sewer rates for the Ocean View expansion of the Bethany Beach Sanitary Sewer District turned into a debate over how the county charges for its sewer services at Sussex County Council's regular meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2001.

Before unanimously approving a service of $195.10 per year and an annual front footage assessment of $3.68 per foot, Councilman George Cole and a part-time Ocean View resident engaged in a heated debate with County Administrator Robert L. Stickels and County Finance Director Dave Baker over how the county charges for its sewer projects.

Discussing an issue that County Solicitor Eugene Bayard said comes up every time a new sewer district is established, both Cole and Spencer Lampiers, an Ocean View property owner who lives in Gaithersburg, Md., objected to the county's continued use of a front footage assessment to cover capital costs>,?p>

Both argued that it is unfair to charge the same front footage tax for owners of vacant lots as for owners of improved properties who can avail themselves of the sewer services.

Councilman Cole said the county should investigate the feasability of using some type of flat rate structure for each Equivalent Dwelling Unit instead of the front footage assessment method.

Lampiers echoed Cole's sentiments, saying "It seems like you're taking advantage of myself certainly and other people who have a little more front footage. Why couldn't that (front footage charge) also be made an EDU charge?"

Baker said the county did calculate the rates on a per unit basis and that the average rate would rise from $563 per year based on the front footage system to $716 per year using an EDU system.

"I understand the concerns," Baker said. "But the front footage assessment is designed so lot owners can pay for construction of the sewer system. The other reason is the county has to install sewer pipe on those vacant lots and this is used to recover those capital costs."

Cole wasn't convinced, though, as he stuck to his belief that there should be one rate for owners of unimproved properties and another for owners of improved properties.

"Why could we not divide the cost by the number of buildable parcels?" Cole asked. "Most jurisdictions have gone to that. It would be more equitable. You add that up and it would be a lot less than $716, correct?"

Stickels answered, saying he seriously doubts the rates would be less than the $563 Ocean View property owners will pay. Baker added that such a change would require major changes to the county's billing system.

Reacting to a statement from Ocean View Town Manager Joseph Lobb that 75 percent of the lots in Ocean View are less than 100 feet in length, Council President Dale Dukes said, "If we did it by units as has been suggested this morning, then it would probably be more for those 75 percent."

Cole was not bowed, saying the county needs to thorougly investigate the issue considering that many other counties have devised different rate systems such as charging based on the number of bedrooms or fixtures in a home.

"Show us the numbers," said Cole. "I don't know why we won't do it here other than it would require some change."

Stickels bristled at the suggestion that the county hasn't studied the idea.

"We've done that for many years," he said. "We've broken it down by district for you. We've looked at this county-wide on your (Cole's) behalf and 65 percent of our users would have seen an increase. But, we'd be glad to change the system if council tells us that's what it wants."

Stickels added that there is an appeals process for property owners who want to dispute their assessments.

Before the debate, council unanimously approved an ordinance to amend the Fiscal Year 2002 budget to include projected revenues and expenses from the Ocean View expansion of the Bethany Beach Sanitary Sewer District. After the debate, council voted unanimously to accept the Ocean View rates and also approved adoption of the Ocean View Sewer Assessment Roll.

In Other Business ...
  • Council unanimously approved a motion to allow the Economic and Development Office to negotiate a lease agreement with Composite High Pressure Technologies Inc. of Lewes for a 2.5-acre plot in the Sussex Industrial Park in Georgetown. CHPT Inc. designs and manufactures pumps for sea water elevation systems used by several branches of the military in the United States and Canada. Frank Calio, director of the Economic and Development Office, said CHPT employs five people in its Lewes location. Calio said CHPT has been trying to move to the industrial park for three years but ran into problems with the Environmental Protection Agency and the state's preservation office. Calio said he hopes to bring a signed lease agreement for council's approval in November.

  • Council unanimously approved a motion to allow William LeCates, director of community development, to apply for Community Development Block Grants for 2002. LeCates told council that the county has received $11.2 million in the last 10 years to assist in renovating 1,344 sub-standard housing units in the county. LeCates said the county must continue to apply for these grants because there remain 12,000 sub-standard housing units in the state, with Sussex County containing a higher percentage of those units than either Kent or New Castle counties.

  • Council unanimously approved the purchase of an automated filing system for the county's Assessment department at a cost of $62,155.66 from the lone bidder, FAO Tool Office Systems Inc. Director of Assessment Eddy Parker told council that his department has outgrown its filing cabinet system and that it has reached a point where furniture will have to be moved to put in more filing cabinets. Instead, he said it would be better to install the automated filing systems, which he said will handle the department's storage needs for the next 15 to 20 years. The department's filing cabinets will be made available to other departments in the county.

  • Council heard the following proposed ordinances:
    1. An application for a conditional use in an AR-1 district for a fire station on 2.53 acres in Indian River Hundred from the Lewes Fire Department and the Rehoboth Beach Volunteer Fire Co.
    2. An application for a conditional use in an AR-1 district for 130 multi-family residential dwelling structures on 17 acres in Lewes-Rehoboth Hundred from Grady Inc.
    3. An application for a conditional use in an AR-1 district for retail flooring sales on a 13,500 square lot in the Indian River Hundred from Chris and Sherry Cheeseman.
    4. An application for a conditional use in an AR-1 district for a professional office building on 2.77 acres in the Lewes-Rehoboth Hundred from Blair A. Jones.
    5. An application to rezone 27.53 acres in an AR-1 district in the Baltimore Hundred to MR-RPC from Forest Reach LLC

  • Council unanimously approved a beneficial acceptance agreement for the construction of wastewater facilities in the West Rehoboth Sanitary Sewer District for the Villages of Old Landing, Section II.

  • Council uanimously approved the following grant requests:
    1. $300 from Councilman Lynn Rogers councilmanic funds towards the purchase of a sound system by the All Denominational Christian Fellowship Day.
    2. $250 from Councilman Vance Phillips' youth activity fund for the building expansion of Millsboro Hut Inc.
    3. $50 from each councilmanic fund for a total of $250 for a specialized transportation funding program by the Pioneer Club of Sussex County/Visually Impaired.
    4. $300 from Councilman Rogers' councilmanic funds for a fund-raiser for operations by the Ladies Auxiliary of the Millville Fire Department.
    5. $50 from each councilmanic fund for a total of $250 for the 10th annual Stamp Exhibition and Bourse of the Sussex County Stamp Club.
    6. $500 from Council President Dale Dukes' youth activity fund for the football program of the City of Seaford's Parks and Recreation Department.

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