By Terry Rogers
On Wednesday, January 4, the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Milford held their annual Legislative Luncheon at the Rookery North. Senator Gary Simpson, Representatives Harvey Kenton and Dave Wilson, Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson, Kent County Economic Development Director James Waddington and Mayor Bryan Shupe discussed issues the area would face in the upcoming year and answered questions from the public.
“We are truly blessed to live in an area where our legislators are accessible,” Cheryl Doucette, President of CCGM, said. “They are always available by phone and gracious enough to have given up time in their busy schedule to speak to us today and to answer any questions you may have today.”
Senator Gary Simpson said that topics he expected to take the forefront in Delaware included prevailing wage as well as right to work zones. Senator Simpson explained that right to work zones allow employees to refuse membership in a union and allow them to decline payment of dues.
“In areas without right to work zones, there is better economic growth,” Senator Simpson said. “We believe that this is incentive for us to look at implementing such practices here in Delaware.” Senator Simpson also said that the minimum wage structure would be reviewed over the next year. He pointed out that minimum wage was not meant to be a living wage, but was designed to be a starting salary. He believes that if programs are put in place to help employees move up in an organization that also allow companies to make money in order to hire more employees and pay them more, significantly raising the minimum wage will be unnecessary.
Representative Harvey Kenton, the only member from Sussex County on the Joint Finance Committee, said he expected the current budget deficit to be a major issue in the upcoming General Assembly. Currently, he said Delaware is facing a $300 million deficit.
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“Currently, one-third of the budget is for education, one-third is for Medicaid and everything else comes out of the final third,” Representative Kenton said. “I know that on June 30, we will pass a balanced budget. We have to remember that we are facing many unknowns, a new President, a new Governor, a new finance director. Most exciting, there is a chance that we could take control of the Senate, creating a better system of checks and balances in our legislature.”
Representative Dave Wilson agreed that the budget deficit was going to be difficult to manage. He said that the only way to get the budget balanced was compromise and that state agencies were going to have to learn to manage on a “smaller piece of the pie.” Wilson stated that he is very pleased at the growth in Milford due to the Downtown Development District program that the program is a way to grow downtown areas.
The newest legislator from Milford, Representative Charles Postles, said that he also thought the DDD was an excellent benefit to downtown Milford. He stated that he is looking forward to the opportunity of getting control of the predicted budget shortfall. “Although it seems frightening, I am excited about the possibilities we will face when we try to balance the budget,” Representative Postles said. “It gives us a chance to look at things differently. Maybe we can figure out some ways to do things differently. I don’t have a crystal ball, so I can’t predict the future, but I do think that this huge budget shortfall could be a way for the state to make some positive changes.”
There is significant momentum in Milford, Mr. Lawson said, especially with the new Bayhealth campus locating in southern Milford. Lawson said that Bayhealth’s investment would make it the largest single investment in Sussex County history and will provide services to residents throughout the County for generations. Mr. Lawson and Mr. Waddington pointed out that Sussex and Kent County offers a matching fund grant to those who are approved for DDD funds as well.
Both county representatives said that they were currently in the middle of updating their Comprehensive Plan which must be updated every ten years. Both Kent and Sussex County must have the updated plans on the desk of Governor John Carney next year. They are both working to determine how to protect the lifestyle of county residents while still promoting economic growth. All of those factors will be included in the updated plan.
City of Milford’s Mayor Bryan Shupe stated that this is is an exciting year for Milford. “I am thrilled to have been involved in the Bayhealth project from the beginning. They have done a great job communicating about the progression of the project and I was just told that the steel structure will begin this month. I believe that when people see that part of the construction, the new hospital will become a reality. They are also working with a repurposing firm to find a new use for the current Clarke Avenue structure and have conducted 19 tours of the building. They hope to have a plan in place for that location soon.”
Mayor Shupe pointed out that there has been significant expansion in the manufacturing section of the City as well with First State Manufacturing and Perdue both adding jobs. He also said that many of the downtown improvements discussed in the Riverwalk Rebirth proposal were becoming a reality with the DDD, including the opening of Touch of Italy in the old M&T Bank Building before April and the rehabilitation of the Lou’s Bootery building by Dan Bond, who intends to refurbish the building with retail on the first floor and apartments on the top floors. He stated that there will be several other buildings in downtown that will see changes as well.
“Although the closing of the Milford Skating Rink was an unfortunate private situation, the building is being completely refurbished by Davis, Bowen and Friedel in order to move some of their offices into that space,” Mayor Shupe said. “They plan to open the building, adding windows and creating a different look for the building.”
“We are also looking at more recreation downtown,” Mayor Shupe said. “Parks and Recreation Director Brad Dennehy not only wants to see more recreation by the river, he hopes to see more in the river. We will be adding a floating kayak dock behind Arena’s. We hope to see more people in kayaks, canoes and other watercraft enjoying the river.”
Mayor Shupe said that prevailing wage was a concern for the City of Milford. In June 2016, money was placed in the budget to repave Airport Road, a project that has been necessary for some time. However, a recent decision by Delaware’s Attorney General could increase the cost of the project by as much as $300,000 if the City is required to use prevailing wage. State legislators are working to fix the problem, but if they cannot, it could put the project in jeopardy. Mayor Shupe also said that the City was working on repairing Front Street, doing sidewalk repairs and implementing a citywide SmartMeter program that would allow users to monitor their own consumption.
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