Is Bridgeville moving forward or backward?
In Saturday's election, voters will decide on who knows best way to step into 21st century
By Lynn R. Parks
In Saturday's election for Bridgeville town commissioners, voters will decide whether or not to allow Jack Dalton to keep the seat he has held for five years. Dalton, who is president of the commission, is running against William Jefferson and Joseph Conaway in a race for two open two-year seats. Pat Correll is running unopposed for one one-year seat. Incumbents Glenn Miles and Charles Singman are not seeking reelection.
But voters will decide more than just who will fill chairs around the commission table. They will vote on whether the town should continue on the course Dalton has set or whether Conaway is right when he describes that course as leading to financial disaster.
"Last year, the town finished with an $18,000 deficit," Conaway said. "I predict that if things don't change, this year we will have a deficit of $30,000 to $40,000. We have got to control spending."
At the end of its last fiscal year, the town was facing a
deficit of $18,439.
That was changed to a $9 surplus when the council voted on steps that included eliminating salary raises as well as a budgeted five-percent boost for the police department, changing the employee insurance program and not paying the principal on loans.
Dalton said that the town was in financial trouble five years ago. "That was one of the reasons I got on the commission," he said. "That year, the commission had voted to take out a $200,000 loan just to pay bills. You don't take out a loan to pay bills."
Dalton said that in his time on the commission, the town has paid that loan down to $60,000. "We are working every day to find as much as we can to lessen the town's burden. It is not an easy fix. But working together, we can do it."
Conaway, Jefferson and Correll have said that they are running as a team. "People don't know all that is going on," said Conaway. "They have a right to know what is going on. We want to take our town back, to correct the problems that we face."
"I want to get the town back to its citizens," said Jefferson.
"Mr. Conaway keeps saying that he wants to take the town back," said Dalton. "But who does he want to take the town back from? I don't understand what his agenda is. He doesn't have any ideas for Bridgeville."
Dalton quotes Alexander Hamilton in describing Conaway: "Hamilton said, 'Crisis is the rallying call of the tyrant.' Conaway brings up everything as a crisis. He doesn't have any ideas for Bridgeville. All he is doing is raising a crisis."
"If I'm a tyrant, at least I know the difference between telling the truth and not telling the truth," Conaway said.
"I'll go with Harry Truman: 'If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.' "
Lease to doctor debated
Conaway, Jefferson and Correll say that one problem with the current town government is a lack of openness. "They spend money based on decisions they have made not in the public eye," Conaway said. He presents a recent commission decision - to rent out the back part of town hall to a doctor - as an example of that lack of openness.
"The town council voted to grant a lease that they didn't see," he said. "They needed to discuss the lease in detail and look at options."
He added that he got the sense that the commissioners "had decided privately" to agree to the lease.
"That's wrong," Dalton said. "We have been discussing that lease since September, in open meetings."
Dalton also responded to criticism that the back part of town hall, which has been vacant since the alderman's court was disbanded four years ago, should not be rented to a commercial enterprise. "A bad decision," Conaway called it.
"This is a chance for the town to get revenue from its unused space," Dalton said. He added that the Bowie Town Medical Practice, Greenbelt, Md., will pay $650 per month rent, which will "more than cover" the cost of installation of heating and air conditioning in the back portion of the building, including the upstairs meeting room.
"We have been heating the meeting room with portable heaters for 10 years," he said. "We have been cooling with a window air conditioner, and people complain that they can't hear over it."
But Conaway, who said if he is elected he will "look long and hard" at the lease, said that new heating and air conditioning systems will cost $15,000; additional renovations to the building, including a ramp to make the office accessible to the handicapped, will boost the town's cost over the $15,600 that it will get from the doctor over the period of the two-year lease.
In addition, he said, renting out space to a commercial enterprise could endanger the town's tax exempt status.
The Bowie Town Medical Practice also rents space from the towns of Ridgely, Md., and Rock Hall, Md. Payments to the town of Rock Hall are only $1. "We're not doing this to raise money," said a Rock Hall town spokeswoman.
No one with the town of Ridgely was available for comment on its rental agreement. The Bowie Town Medical Practice did not return a request for information.
Conaway: Town could do plan
Conaway also criticized Dalton's decision to arrange for the University of Delaware to complete a land-use plan for the town. To have the university do the plan, which is required by the state, will cost the town $10,000. Conaway, Correll and Jefferson argued that the town's planning and zoning commission is capable of designing the plan. "You can't do something like this just so you look sophisticated," Conaway said.
"We have seven of the town's leading people on planning and zoning and if we had had the resources, we would have done it," Dalton said. "But planning and zoning decided they couldn't do it. I didn't decide that."
John Shockley, a member of the planning and zoning commission, verified that the commission voted to have the university write the plan. "We did not know how to word it," he said.
Dalton planning for regs
Dalton's most vigorous defense was in response to accusations by Conaway that the town is doing nothing to plan for federal regulations that require that by 2002, the town cut nutrients in its wastewater by 50 percent. "The town is talking about planning, but they don't plan for it," Conaway said.
Dalton said that in response to the regulations, which will affect all municipalities and businesses that dump wastewater into the Nanticoke River watershed, he spearheaded the formation of the Western Sussex Wastewater Coalition with Bridgeville, Greenwood, Seaford, Delmar, Laurel, the DuPont Company and Johnson Wax. Dalton is also working with Seaford mayor Dan Short and Rehoboth Beach mayor Sam Cooper on finding state and federal funding for sewer plant upgrades.
Dalton said that the Bridgeville town commission applied for and received a grant for an engineering study of its wastewater treatment plant, which concluded that the plant is not capable of complying with the new regulations.
A new plant, which would feature spray irrigation of wastewater, will cost $6 million.
"We are going to the state and to the federal government to find the money," Dalton said.
"This is not the town's fault and we should not have to pay for it. Mr. Conaway's interests are not with the town of Bridgeville. If they were, he would be fighting the state instead of fighting me."
Dalton is also adamant that he and the current commission are working to bring development to town, in order to solve its financial problems.
"We must broaden the tax base, so our tax burden is lessened," he said. The Delaware Department of Transportation has recently formulated a plan of access roads that would permit development along US 13 on the east edge of town; "when that development comes, we will have tax revenue and we will have [revenue from sewer charges]," Dalton said.
"Those service roads are in the very preliminary stages," Conaway said. In addition, "all development along US 13 has been done by the landowners. I know of no [new] place on 13 that the town has been involved in."
Dalton said that he is not worried about the possibility that both he and Conaway could be elected to the commission.
"I'd work with him like I would work with anybody else, and I would expect him to be the same with me," Dalton said. "Once the election is over, it is time to work for the public."
Likewise, Jefferson said that "it would not be a problem" if he and Dalton were elected. "The commission would still continue to function," he said.
As for Conaway, "I can work with anybody," he said.
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