Mayoral candidates take stage

By Lynn R. Parks

City Councilwoman Pat Jones did not hesitate when asked whether she would consider lowering taxes to help small businesses in the community. "Absolutely!" she replied.

But Councilman Bill Bennett, who like Jones is running for Seaford's mayor seat, was more circumspect. "Everybody wants a tax break," he said. At the same time, "no one wants to see services cut. And the city can't have an unbalanced budget. These are things that the city always struggles with."

Jones and Bennett were speaking at a mayoral candidate's forum arranged by freshman students at the Delaware New Tech Academy, part of Seaford High School. About 30 people attended the forum, which was held Monday night in the high school auditorium. Most of the forum focused on ways to boost economic development in Seaford.

The candidates' statements about taxes on small businesses were in response to a question from forum moderator Grant Pollack. Jones added that in addition to taxes, the impact fees that the city charges "need to be kept as low as possible."

Bennett said that the city has always been willing to work with small businesses that are struggling to stay afloat. "If a small business is struggling, its owners can come in and talk to us," he said. "We'll work with you to see if there's any help out there. We don't want to see a business close."

In answer to another question, Bennett reminded the audience that for three years, the city has had in place reductions in impact fees for new construction. Because of those reductions, he said, developers have saved $231,000. Both he and Jones pledged to carry the fee reductions over into next year.

Student Richard Lamontagne asked the candidates how they would attract new businesses to Seaford. Jones said that she plans to contact nonprofit organizations that might be interested in relocating to the downtown area. She would also like to bring workshops from organizations like the Small Business Administration and the YWCA to the area, "so people are educated about what it's like to run a business."

Bennett said that he would continue the city's practice of teaming up with the county and state economic development offices to attract businesses to the area. "We work well with them and can help businesses get any extra assistance that they qualify for," he said. "Any money that a business can save in starting up multiplies more than tenfold down the road."

He praised efforts being made in downtown to attract stores and other small businesses. "The first battle is to get people to want to be downtown, but then once people start crowding in, it will snowball," he said.

Lamontagne also asked how as mayor the candidates would encourage local businesses to hire teenagers. Bennett praised the New Tech model, which encourages mentors to go into the school and help teach the students. "That's already a good connection there," he said. Both he and Jones said that they would work with the Greater Seaford Chamber of Commerce to develop a list of teens who want to work and to get that list out to business owners.

Jones said that she would like to see businesses establish internships for students. She has worked with Seaford High students through her campaign, she said, and she was surprised at how knowledgeable they are. "They shouldn't keep all of that to themselves," she said. "They are eager and intelligent and they would be a great asset to the community."

Student Emmaly Salkowitz asked the candidates what they would do to reduce crime in Seaford. Both Jones and Bennett praised the Seaford Police Department and encouraged citizens to be vigilant in watching for and reporting crime. Jones praised the Neighborhood Watch that she spearheaded and that has helped to clean up the area in east Seaford that was once known as crack alley. "People in that community became the eyes and ears for the Seaford Police Department," she said.

Bennett added that it's important for the city to be proactive and to ensure that the police department has the equipment and personnel it needs to do its job.

Student Dwardly Edoards asked the candidates what place education would have in their role as mayor. Bennett said that it's important for the school system to be involved in the community as well as for people in the community to be involved in the school system. The Seaford School District "gets beaten up on a little bit" because people don't realize the good things that are going on there, he said. "I'm looking forward to working with the new superintendent [Dr. Shawn Joseph] and the school board to get the school back to where it was when I was in school and Seaford was the place where people wanted to come."

Jones also said that she would want to join forces with the school board and the superintendent. She said that a task force or focus group charged with finding ways the city could help the schools "would go a long way."

In addition to the students' questions, the candidates also fielded a couple of questions from the audience, including what their top three priorities are. Economic development, keeping the police department as a "top-notch organization" and coming up with a plan to improve the look of the community are Bennett's three top priorities. Jones said that she wants to focus on keeping electricity rates low, job creation and retention and providing affordable housing in the city.

For your information

Seaford city elections will be Saturday, April 21. Voting will take place from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. in Seaford City Hall. Two candidates, Councilman William Bennett and Councilwoman Pat Jones, are running for mayor. Current mayor, Ed Butler, is not seeking a third term.

Three candidates are running for two council seats. Councilwoman Grace Peterson and challengers David Genshaw and Douglass Lambert are running for seats currently held by Bennett and Peterson. Because he is running for mayor, Bennett cannot run for another term as councilman. For further information, call city hall, 629-1973.

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