On Thursday, January 15, 2015, the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Milford held a Legislative Luncheon, allowing members to ask questions of state legislators and city officials regarding issues facing the Milford area. Panel members included Senator Gary Simpson, Representatives Bobby Outten, Dave Wilson and Harvey Kenton as well as Mayor of Milford Bryna Shupe.
“For the last two years, we have dealt with social issues in the General Assembly rather than economic issues,” Representative Harvey Kenton explained. “We are expecting bills designed to repeal the death penalty and legalizing marijuana, but we aren’t dealing with our flat revenues, increases in taxes and the need for more jobs in Delaware.” Representative Kenton said that taxpayers are being asked to contribute more and more in taxes, with school districts seeking referendums, Sussex Tech requesting more funding and the state looking at additional taxes in order to balance the budget.
Representative Kenton said that he felt his job as a legislator was to protect the innocent and to punish those who prey on their neighbors. He said that the state had a responsibility to promote job growth, noting that the legislators do not make jobs, but that the private sector does. Kenton believes that the State continues to implement regulations and requirements that “make no sense but make it difficult for a new business to build in the state.”
“If you travel on Route 1, look at the Mills Brothers gas station,” he said. “I call them ‘Sidewalks to Nowhere’ and this is a prime example. There is a sidewalk that starts at the Mills Brothers property and ends at a culvert just north of the gas station. It serves no purpose, but the state required that it be installed. These are ridiculous, petty requirements that discourage new businesses in our state.”
Representative Outten, who represents the Harrington area, said that jobs are a major focus for him as well, noting that two large companies had closed their Harrington facilities, costing the area many jobs. “Our biggest industry right now is the slots,” Representative Outten said. “They are creating jobs, but not as many as they could because the state takes a large portion of their income. If we reduced the taxes, even more jobs could be created.”
Representative Wilson agreed with Representative Outten that the taxes levied against the slots were significant and that the state was not addressing some of the problems that developed as a result of gambling.“We balanced the budget on the backs of the casinos,” Representative Wilson said. “I agree that they create a large number of jobs, but it seems as if the people going there the most are the ones that can least afford it. If they have $50 and a $150 electric bill, they head to the slots, thinking they can win what they need to pay the bill. They lose it and are now in worse shape. Some of the high Medicaid and food stamp costs in this state may be related to gambling problems that we need to address.”
Senator Simpson pointed out that one-third of the state budget was to pay for Medicaid, which is not the same as Medicare. “Medicaid provides help to those who cannot afford medical care, it is based on income,” said Senator Simpson. “I am hearing about a lot of fraud in our Medicaid system. Recently, the CATO Institute reported that cash benefits from Medicaid in Delaware were the equivalent of $35,000 per year in benefits. How does this encourage someone to get a job? If they can stay home and get better benefits than if they went out and got a job, why wouldn’t they simply stay home?”
Representative Kenton said that another third of the state budget was for education, and although he fully supported funding education for children, there were ways that the Department of Education could reduce costs. “There are over 500 people working at the Department of Education making more than $100,000 per year,” Representative Kenton said. “I find that ludicrous that so many people in one department are making salaries that high, yet they continue to beg for more money.”
When asked about converting the old Middle School building into a useable state, Mayor Shupe explained that the State would not provide funding to renovate the building for use as a school. He explained that the district was planning a referendum in March and that an announcement would be forthcoming regarding what the referendum would entail.
“It is possible that a business, such as Caulk, could renovate the building for use as additional office space,” Mayor Shupe said. “Right now it is costing the district $200,000 per year for the building to sit their vacant. If they sold it to someone else for $1, they would still come out ahead. I think the building might be more conducive to the private sector than it would be as a public building.”
Senator Simpson said that Milford was a very special place and that a lot of good things were going on in the community. He noted that the city has not required any significant tax increases, that they balanced the budget and were still able to keep their reserves intact and that the services provided to residents were superior to many towns. “They are doing it,” Senator Simpson said. “But, for some reason, the state is not. We need to figure out what the state is doing wrong and adjust. Colin Bonini, who has announced he is running for Governor, says that the state does not have a revenue problem, they have a spending problem.”
Mayor Shupe said that much of Milford’s success is due to the assistance they receive from state legislators. He said that it was the local legislators who helped the city purchase the Milford Armory for $1, which the city is considering repurposing for a new police station.
“Perdue has added 350 more jobs and several new businesses have opened in downtown Milford,” Mayor Shupe said. “Bayhealth has just announced that they will be building a new health campus and we believe this will attract new jobs to Milford. The new hospital will attract entertainment, medical facilities and other businesses to our town and help it grow.”
Senator Simpson also addressed the Route 1 overpass at Woods Haven, a project that has been the focus of much attention since DelDOT revised their priority list and downgraded the priority of that project. Senator Simpson said that DelDOT officials would be meeting with city and state officials over the next few weeks to develop an interim plan that would make the intersection safer.
“We don’t want to wait until something like what happened at the Route 30 intersection to move this intersection back up on the priority list where it was,” Senator Simpson said.