Dukes reflects on 20 years of service

By Tony E. Windsor

After 20 years as a county legislator, Dale Dukes is ready to dedicate his time more fully to his family and business. "We just got back from Cancun, Mexico where my wife and I spent our anniversary with our entire family. It was great and I am looking forward to more opportunities to travel with family," he said. The anniversary getaway Dukes refers to is he and wife, Dottie's, 50th wedding anniversary. They went to Cancun for a week with their children's and grandchildren's families, all 24 members, including one great-grandchild. "My wife and I have at least a trip a month scheduled for the next few months," he said. Dukes said he did not take his decision to not seek re-election lightly and he has certainly had second thoughts since making the decision. "I have had fabulous years on the council and I have enjoyed everything that I have done," he said. "I am not sorry at all that I made this decision and I truly feel it the best thing. I prayed about this and the Lord gave me direction.." Dukes is not shy about sharing some of the frustrations that have come about in recent years; one in particular. "There are people who have located to Sussex County from other places and it seems once they get here they all of a sudden want to change the way we do things," he said. "They have more demands and want more services. I think one of the things that caused me to consider very seriously stepping down is how I find myself reacting to these people. I find myself saying, 'if you don't like it here, then go back where you came from,' a little too often and more easily. I think that may be a sign that it is time to go." Dukes said he receives e-mails and phone calls daily from those people in the county, both in and out of his council district, "begging" him to run again. "I had two Republicans from Seaford urge me to reconsider my decision to step down. One Republican lady heard me speak on the subject of private property rights and called saying she would help me raise campaign funds and actually go door-to-door to campaign for me if I would change my mind about running. She pleaded with me to reconsider, saying 'we need somebody to stay strong on property rights and stand up for the local farmers'." Dukes said he will put his support behind County Council candidate Eddie Justice, a local farmer who is also a member of the Laurel School Board and president of the Delaware State Farm Bureau. "He is a family man, a farmer and someone who is well respected. He is also well known by the state legislature and shares my views on the importance of protecting the rights of private property owners," he said. Dukes graduated from Laurel High School in 1958 and after marrying, took a job with Southern States in Seaford at a rate of $1.38 an hour, good money at the time he says. He was then told he would start having to do shift work. He was disappointed to learn that he would not be paid anything additional. His father, Silas Dukes, offered him a job working for him at his Laurel construction business and said he would pay him $1.50 an hour, an offer he could not refuse. His father was a farmer, but during the winter months took on carpentry and construction work as a contractor. In order to store the needed lumber for the family carpentry and construction business, Silas Dukes built a small lumber storage building. In 1962 he told his sons that it would probably be wise to obtain a retailer license from the county to assure they were operating in compliance with any regulations. It was almost 10 years before the Dukes Lumber Company became a bona fide retailer, but the family also continued in the construction business as well. Ross Dukes, Dale's brother, worked with their father in the construction business. Dale Dukes left the construction side of the business in the mid-1970s and went to work in the retail operation. Silas Dukes retired from the business in 1978 and Ross Dukes maintained the construction business until 1997. After that, Dukes Lumber Company went solely retail as it operates today. It was in 1987 as longtime Sussex County Councilman Oliver Hill decided to retire that someone called Dale Dukes and asked if he would consider running for Hill's seat on the county council. "I told them that I wasn't even sure what the county council did," he said. "So, I started attending council meetings and went to meetings for a year. Watching the council discussing the issues and then voting, I was confident this was something I could definitely do." Dukes said he recalls the first day as newly elected county councilman he approached the intersection of Delaware 9 and U.S. 113 on his way to a council meeting. He started asking himself, "What have I gotten myself into." He admits now that sitting on the other side of the council table is a lot harder than it appears to be from a seat in the chamber audience. Dukes says one of the most significant things that he feels the Sussex County Council has done over the last two decades is proper planning. He said there is no doubt that if the county will follow the Comprehensive Land Use Plan as it has been doing, development in the county will occur in a well managed manner.

"Those people who are out there saying that the county has not planned properly for the future are just talking political garbage," he said. "Anybody who knows Sussex County knows we have been extremely fiscally responsible. When we know there is a capital project that needs to be done we begin to put money into escrow and don't touch it. In most cases we have the money to do a project before it is built." He said a number of years ago the county had a financial surplus and it was decided it would be used to pay off all of the county's General Fund debt, which was dependent on property tax revenue. "We foresaw the approach of a downturn in the economy and knew the benefits of being debt-free. All of the county's land and buildings are debt free," he said. "Tell me a county or any other government entity for that matter that can say that." He pointed out that the county's planning allowed the new $13 million Emergency Operations Center which just opened in Georgetown, to open debt free. Dukes said the county has already earmarked $70 million in escrowed funds which will be used to pay for capital projects that are already planned for the future, including $14 million which is earmarked for a new county administration complex. Dukes said when he came to the county in the 1980s there was no money in the employee's pension fund. By 1990, the pension fund grew to $2.2 million. Today there is $44 million in the fund. "In the last 20 years our retirement accounts have grown from nothing to $68 million." Other issues that he said the Sussex County Council has accomplished in his tenure include: Earmarking 3,100 acres of land to be maintained as "open space" and managed by the Sussex County Land Trust. Closing negotiations with the state of Delaware which will trade county-owned land for state-owned land which is targeted be used for a spoil site to begin the dredging of the Nanticoke River. Appropriating a total of $1.6 million a year for Sussex fire departments. Appropriating $25,000 annually to each of the county's 21 municipalities. Enhancing paramedic service from no EMS personnel in the 1980s, to seven EMS stations serving the county. Contracted with the State Police to pay for state police officers. A project that started with four officers has grown to 40. Invested $280 million for sewer and waste water infrastructure upgrades. Enhancing the county's workforce from 180 employees and a budget of $12.8 million to 600 and a budget of $142 million. No property tax increase to county residents for 19 years. "I am proud of what the county has done in the time I have served on the council," he said. "I definitely feel I am going out on a high note," Dukes said.

Hughes reschedules visit DNREC Secretary John Hughes will be addressing the concerns of the citizens of Concord. A newly formed group known as CHOPPER (Concord Historical Organization for Property Preservation and Environmental Restoration), asked the secretary to meet with them at the Concord boat ramp on July 17. The secretary was forced to cancel this meeting at the last minute and has rescheduled to meet with the group on Monday, Aug. 11 at 4:30 p.m. The topics to be discussed are the restoration of Concord Pond to a wildlife refuge and the maintenance and control of the Concord spillway. This meeting is open to the public. Information about the pond can be found at www.Concordpond.com. A petition to restore the pond to a wildlife refuge has been drafted and is available at the Seaford Museum. "You do not have to be a land owner on the pond to participate, come to the meeting or sign the petition, as that Concord Pond belongs to all Delawareans," said Kurt Brown.

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