Here's a look at news and events from around southern Delaware this week.
County budget goes up, relying heavily on real estate taxes
Sussex County government is taking the same inflation hits as everyone else, and that’s reflected in a budget increase this year of more than $16 million over last year’s original budget.
County Council introduced its budget for the new fiscal year on Tuesday and said it plans to hold a public hearing June 21.
To pay for rising expenses, the county is dipping into its reserves instead of raising taxes, especially using realty transfer tax reserves (about $30 million of that). But the transfer tax income, collected when property is sold, depends on the sometimes wildly swinging housing and construction market, and county officials cautioned against depending on it too much.
The county pays a significant chunk of its yearly expenses using money from the realty transfer tax. That money has been pouring in as the housing market thrives, partly driven by loads of retirees moving into Sussex because of the low taxes.
“It is likely at some point in the future the county will need to seek additional revenue from the taxpayers,” County Administrator Todd Lawson said in introducing the budget.
That is to say, if fewer people come here for the low taxes, the taxes could go up.
In fact, the county is beginning to see a slowdown in building permits, and has budgeted for less income from that quarter accordingly. It should be noted they’re still expecting almost $33 million, which is about the same level as in 2018, just maybe not as bonkers as the past year or so. Lawson called the real estate market “very healthy.”
Other tax revenue makes up a quarter of the county’s expected revenue this coming fiscal year. They’re counting on the realty tax for almost 40 percent of their income, but that’s a shade less than last year.
But, Finance Director Gina Jennings noted, “This is not a revenue source we can rely on year after year.”
The total budget is about $294.1 million. The largest portion of county spending, a little over 30 percent, goes toward public safety costs like emergency medical services and dispatchers. That’s where most of the county’s new hiring is happening.
The state is weighing Route 404's future
As traffic increases, and Maryland continues to widen its portion of Route 404 to the beaches into a four-lane highway, Delaware planners are trying to figure out what to do with the road on this side of the line.
Delaware Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary Shante Hastings told a Georgetown Chamber gathering this week that the state is doing a study on whether to widen east-west routes including 404, Route 16, and Route 9. They’ll get the plan developed over the next couple years, she said.
Police identify Salisbury woman killed in crash
A Salisbury woman who died last week in a crash between Georgetown and Laurel has been identified as 23-year-old Brianna Wright.
Delaware State Police said Wright kept going through a stop sign on East Trap Pond Road at the intersection with Route 20, driving directly into the path of an oncoming car. The crash rolled Wright’s car into a nearby yard.
Both drivers were wearing seat belts. Wright was taken to the hospital, but died from her injuries. The driver of the other car, a 60-year-old Seaford woman, was treated for minor injuries at the hospital and released, police said.
As of Wednesday, traffic fatalities in Delaware were up to 56 this year. Last year, an unusually deadly one on state roads, had seen 38 deaths by this time.
“We are on a very awful track,” Department of Transportation Secretary Nicole Majeski said at an event this week.
“It is a heartbreaking and frustrating thing … it’s gotta stop.”
She said road deaths are up nationwide, too.
Crowds brave the heat for Thunder Over Dover
Deadline to decide party affiliation is now
If you’re planning to vote in September’s primary elections, your last chance to register with a party is today, May 27.
The nonprofit Common Cause Delaware, which advocates for fair voting and open government, reminded residents of the looming deadline in a press release this week.
“Summer hasn’t even started yet, so relatively few voters are likely to be thinking about this fall’s elections,” Director Claire Snyder-Hall said in a statement. “Even so, First State voters should be aware of Friday’s deadline and be able to make an informed choice about whether they will participate in – or sit out – the September primary elections.”
She noted that the past five primaries have seen less than 25 percent turnout, which means a very small number of residents are deciding who the rest of us get to vote for in November.
“That’s not how ‘government by the people’ is supposed to work,” Snyder-Hall said.
In some cases, one of the major parties doesn’t bother running a candidate in the November elections. That means the primaries end up being the de facto election.
Bag ban loophole closes
After Delaware passed its law banning single-use plastic bags at large retailers in 2019, stores adapted by offering very similar bags, but thicker. But those bags will also be going away after an update passed last year takes effect starting July 1. After that date, stores will no longer offer plastic bags at checkout, according to the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. The law also applies to more stores than before.
DNREC is holding events to publicize the change and hand out reusable bags. The first is 1 p.m. Friday at Shoprite of Christina Crossing in Wilmington. The second is 2:30 p.m. June 2 at Food Lion on Forest Avenue in Dover. The Sussex date and location have not yet been announced.
Longtime Planning and Zoning commissioner gets another term
Unless you follow development very closely in Sussex County, you may not know the names of the Planning and Zoning commissioners, but they make a lot of decisions on construction proposals that affect builders and residents alike.
Chairman Bob Wheatley was first appointed in 1995, and he’ll be back for another term lasting to 2025 after County Council approved President Mike Vincent’s nomination Tuesday. Commission members are nominated by the Council, not elected.
The second-longest serving commissioner, R. Keller Hopkins, was appointed in 2016. (Hopkins has filed to run for County Council this fall.)
Seaford hospital losing doctors
The TidalHealth Nanticoke hospital in Seaford is facing a mass exodus of doctors who deal with women’s health, according to reporting from Delaware Online’s Emily Lytle. (The story is for subscribers only – reward Emily and her colleague Shannon McNaught for their consistently good southern Delaware reporting and sign up. It’s not that expensive.)
Lytle writes that when Nanticoke Memorial Hospital joined Salisbury-based TidalHealth in 2020, a number of physicians resigned or retired. In particular, four of the five full time doctors in the obstetrics and gynecology department had resigned by January. That leaves one, who is expected to leave this summer. Lytle explores why this is happening in her article.
Flags lowered after Texas tragedy
Gov. John Carney has ordered flags in Delaware flown at half-staff until Saturday evening in mourning for the school shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas that took the lives of 21 people and injured another 17.
Dollar General reopens
The Dollar General in Greenwood has reopened after being closed for days. The retail chain said in an email that “maintenance concerns” caused the closure.
“We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause our Sussex County customers,” it said.
Woodbridge staffer spearheads literary magazine
Woodbridge High School library media specialist Harry Brake is leading an effort to start a student-run literary arts magazine. The goal of The Riff will be to feature art, photos and writing from people of all ages around the state, Brake said in a Facebook post calling for submissions. He told the Independent he started a similar magazine when he worked in Mexico City and it grew into a publication that often won awards from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association. He’s hoping to do the same here with a magazine representing Delaware.
The magazine’s theme for this issue is “sprout,” representing growth and change. The cover was designed by a student from Seaford High School and another from Mexico.
You can submit to the magazine here. Though it is student led, anyone can send in work.
Memorial Day observances
A number of groups are holding Memorial Day services in the area.
Sussex County’s Memorial Day service will be Sunday, May 29 at the Circle in Georgetown at 1:30 p.m. Attendees are encouraged to bring folding chairs and abide by CDC guidelines.
On Monday, Heritage Shores Military Club will hold a service at 10 a.m. at Union United Methodist Church in Bridgeville.
Harrington holds its Memorial Day parade Monday starting at 9 a.m. on Dorman Street.
Seaford will hold a ceremony at 11 a.m. at the Veterans Memorial in Kiwanis Park.
Milton VFW is holding a service at 11 a.m. at Milton Memorial Park.
Other upcoming events
Saturday, May 28
Blades Volunteer Fire Company car show at the firehouse. Antique, vintage and custom cars, along with craft and food vendors. 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Friday, June 3
Party Like It’s 793 Viking and heavy metal themed festival at Brimming Horn Meadery in Milton. Runs through Sunday. Pig roast, mead, vendors, Viking village and heavy metal music.
Saturday, June 4
Greenwood Mennonite School Spring Festival, with food, entertainment, kid zone with petting zoo, and auction.
Andy and Opie Kids Fishing Tournament. Free registration begins at 8 a.m. in Milton Memorial park. Winners announced by 1 p.m. For up to age 17. Bait and lunch provided (separately).