Blades Council updated on available funds

By Carol Kinsley

Although there were few in attendance, the Blades Town Council meeting on Dec. 14 ran long, with a great deal to be discussed.

The evening began with a public hearing in which Brad Whaley, director of Sussex County Community Development & Housing, discussed a Community Development Block Grant he is working on. Offered through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the program provides communities with resources to address a variety of needs, including infrastructure and housing rehabilitation.

Blades received no funding last year, Whaley said, but in recent years has received $278,000 which helped 19 households. A total of $2.2 million is offered this year for communities in Kent and Sussex counties.

Whaley is developing a list of qualified applicants before submitting an application for funds on Feb. 26, 2016. Blades has six names on its list; Seaford has 25; Laurel has 35.

To be eligible, homes must be owner-occupied for at least one year; insurance must be up-to-date. There are income restrictions, starting with $35,500 for a single person home. For more information, contact Whaley at 855-7777 or Town Administrator Vikki Prettyman at 629-7366.

In the council meeting which followed, B.J. Hardin announced that the Blades Economic Development Corp. (BEDCO), which operates the marina, has committed to do what is needed to fix up Hardin Hall. Built about 1929, the building has suffered damage from water and one of the doors will not open. Complete rehab of the building would involve jacking it up so as to install a new foundation.

Quotes for a "Band-aid" fix ranged up to $40,000; however, one bidder has offered to raise the corner, fix the door, replace damaged siding and install a tile inlay all without disrupting council meetings or rentals. Since BEDCO has offered to cover the cost, council voted to allow the repairs.

Progress is being made on new town vehicles. A truck for the water department is being fitted with a snow plow, and the new police car is en route from California.

The 2016 budget was presented, with total expenditures and revenue balanced at $657,300. Expenses include $253,525 for public works and $184,135 for public safety. Mayor Robert Atkinson said, "We did everything we could to keep everything where it is."

A goal of 12 new houses in 2015 was only partially met, he said, but the goal is being reinstituted in 2016, with a "new housing start-up discount" a reduction in fees associated with construction offered for one year, effective Dec. 15. Among the savings points are community impact fees, water impact fees and water permits.

The council resolved to raise rates for the town cemetery to $200 for grave opening and $100 for cremation opening. Rates were last raised in 2006.

In response to an appeal from Steve Katz, and the threat of a lawsuit, the council voted 4:1 to reduce the appraisal on his property next to IG Burton. It was noted the owner has waited seven years for water lines to be run to the property, and that council would have the option to re-assess once that is done.

A single bid was offered for two parcels owned by the town, one land-locked and the other non-conforming. Prettyman noted the bid of $18,000 "does not come near what was owed to the town" but the mayor said the amount is close to fair market value and he asked the council to consider it. The bid was accepted, with two councilmen abstaining.

Among several questions from attendees "for the good of the community" was the cost of public safety and whether the task might be turned over to the State Police.

The town has had up to six officers, but staffing is down from that at present. Lee Benningfield, police commissioner, said, "The town needs a police department. It needs more than we have. We are very much working to improve the department."

Town resident Ron Dejewski commented, "If you call 9-1-1, someone responds either way. Why spend $184,000 if they take care of us?"

John Reiss, housing commissioner, responded, "the state wants $100,000 per officer. We explored that four or five years ago. Seaford wanted $365,000."

Dejewski pressed the issue, and solicited a commitment from Benningfield to discuss the matter in a future workshop.

The Blades Town Hall will be closed Jan. 1. There will be a planning and zoning meeting Jan. 4, followed by a town council workshop Jan. 5. The next council meeting is Jan. 11 at 7 p.m.

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