by Terry Rogers
The Chamber of Commerce for Greater Milford held its annual Legislative Luncheon on Wednesday, July 17th. Mayor Archie Campbell along with State Representatives Charles Postles and Bryan Shupe were on hand to discuss legislative actions and answer questions.
“Milford is doing well,” Mayor Campbell said. “We recently approved a budget with no tax increase. Many of you may have noticed that the sign is up for the new movie theater coming to town. A lot of people thought this would not happen but I have been talking to the owner just about every week. It will have nine theaters and they will serve beer and wine with a two drink maximum.”
Mayor Campbell hopes that Milford will see more young families coming to town with the new hospital and Nationwide Health Services taking over their former Clarke Avenue location. He explained that Nationwide is planning a wellness village complete with daycare centers and other organizations, bringing hundreds of jobs to Milford. He was also pleased that there were as many as 2,500 new homes planned to be built over the next ten years.
“Milford is in the papers all the time now,” Mayor Campbell said. “With the Downtown Development District where investors can get 20 percent back. We also have Opportunity Zones which offers capital gains deferments. Milford is growing, Milford is happening. We have a great council who all works together to get things done and make Milford a great place to be. We want people to move here because it is safe and affordable.”
State Representative Postles was pleased that the legislative session ended earlier and more peacefully than in previous years. However, he pointed out that this was the first leg of session and that many controversial items had been pushed to the second session.
“You can expect to hear more about minimum wage,” Representative Postles said. “Last session, we were able to get a few concessions into the bill including a lower wage during training periods and for kids under a certain age. Other members of the legislature want to repeal those concessions and are pushing for a minimum wage of at least $15 an hour by January 2024. It would then be raised automatically based on the Consumer Price Index.”
By 2021, one-time use plastic bags cannot be used in stores with a minimum of 7,000 square-feet or chains with multiple stores, Representative Postles said. Only plastic bags used for produce, meat, potted plants and dry cleaning were excluded. Another bill has been introduced to ban single-use paper bags as well.
“Littering bills were also passed,” Representative Postles said. “Penalties for first offenses of dumping, which is more than just tossing a piece of paper out the window, were increased to $500 and eight hours of community service. A second offense will carry a fine of $2,000 and 16 hours of community service. In parks and wildlife protected areas, the fine increases by $500.”
Other bills that will be discussed in the second session have to do with criminal justice. Representative Postles explained that recidivism in the state is very high with 70 percent of those released, returning back in the system within three years. In the next session, there will be discussion regarding how to lower that rate and help those who have committed crimes become productive members of society after they have paid their debt to society. Other bills will discuss legalization of recreational marijuana, making Community Transportation Funds more transparent, extreme crimes protection and assisted suicide.
“In the next session, I hope we continue to ensure fiscal responsibility,” Representative Shupe said. “[The General Assembly] put $125 million in a reserve account and I am pleased that the Governor joined the effort to put away money in good years as protection for bad years. We would like to take that farther and limit spending so the government does not grow more than the economy. In other words, if the economy grows three percent, government does not grow more than three percent. We also addressed what entities receive payments first when delinquent taxes are received. Before, the top of the list included non-local entities like the State of New York and Maryland before our local school districts and local towns. The Tax Intercept Bill placed our local schools and municipalities at the top of that list.”
In an effort to promote job growth, Shupe advocated for the FAST Act that would provide funding for residents who seek vocational education such as certificates necessary to work as electricians, masons and other trades.
“I would like to recognize our private partners that have done great things to grow our economy,” Representative Shupe said. “The Bayhealth Sussex Campus and Bayhealth’s focus on selling the Clark Avenue facility to another job-creating business was critical. Nationwide is a great partner and the Clarke Avenue location will only continue to grow with LaRed joining as partners. One thing I hear, however, when I am talking to businesses is that they struggle to find skilled labor. This is where the FAST Act can help. It will provide funding for residents to earn certificates in trades like auto mechanics, electrical or plumbing work and others. This will allow families to get training and an opportunity to become independent”
Representative Shupe also pointed out that when it came to healthcare, there was no question that this area has a shortage of primary care physicians. He was excited when Bayhealth announced they were creating a teaching hospital as research indicates that 81 percent of students stay in the area where they do their residency. Shupe was a prime sponsor on House Bill 257, which he describes as a public, private partnership that allows for loan forgiveness to physicians that start a practice in Delaware. Funding includes $1 million from the General Assembly, $1 million from insurance companies and a dollar-for-dollar match from hospitals that join the program. The General Assembly also provided funding for mental health professionals in every Delaware elementary schools in order to identify mental health challenges early in an effort to build healthier communities, schools and families.
David Moore, President and CEO of Milford Housing Development Corporation, told the panel that he was disappointed in how Grant-in-Aid was awarded in the state.
“We are the number one housing group, yet we see no increase in funding while other agencies do,” Moore said. “It seems like this continues to be a “good ol boy” system with no rhyme or reason for application. I plan to be very outspoken about this over the next year. This needs to be changed and non-profits here can make this change happen.”
Representative Postles agreed that the process for awarding Grant-in-Aid needed review and that the Republicans Caucus pushed to form a separate committee to review the requests. Currently, the Joint Finance Committee determines how Grant-in-Aid is handled.
“This is a lot of money that affects a lot of people,” Representative Postles said. “It leverages what our communities are doing and it needs to be looked at. We need a committee to review the requests and then visit the non-profits to be sure they are using the money as they should be. The current system is not efficient. However, as much as I hate to use the party excuse, the majority party has more people on the Joint Finance Committee than the minority party and they are not interested in changing the process.”
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