Seaford Council election set for April 15
By Lynn R. Parks
The city of Seaford will hold its annual election Saturday, April 15. At stake are two seats on the city council, for which three men are running. Candidates are incumbents William Mulvaney and Dan Henderson and challenger Dan Cannon. The top two vote-getters will take the seats. Council terms are for three years. Mulvaney and Henderson were both first elected to the city council in 2014. This is the first time that they have faced re-election. Mulvaney, 68, graduated from Seaford High School in 1966. He attended Northeastern University, Boston, for two years, studying pharmacology, then served in the Army for three years. He returned to Seaford in 1971 and worked for a while as a paralegal in Georgetown before being appointed Justice of the Peace in 1983. He served in Court 4 in Seaford until September, when he retired. He and his wife, Darlene, have one adult son, Ryan. Henderson, 54, is general manager of Best Price Heating Cooling Plumbing in downtown Seaford. A native of Seaford, he graduated from Seaford High School in 1980. He and his wife, Karen, have one daughter, Hannah, who is 17. Cannon is also a graduate of Seaford High (1966), where he was captain of the football team in 1965. He has a bachelors degree in biology from Wake Forest University (1970) and a masters degree, also in biology, from Northern Arizona University (1973). He taught biology in the Seaford School District from 1976 to 2007, when he retired. His wife, Charlotte Carter Cannon, died in 2002. He has two adult children, Sara Carter Robinson and Frank Daniel III, Storm, and two grandchildren. The Seaford Star asked the candidates the same nine questions. Following are their answers.
1. Do you feel that electricity rates in the city are fairly set? If so, what would you say to people who say that they are among the highest in the state? If not, what do you feel needs to be done to make them lower? Mulvaney In conjunction with the city engineering consultants, Downes and Associates, council sets the electric rates as fairly as possible considering the city does not generate and sell power; the city purchases power at a fluctuating wholesale rate. In fact, the last power rate comparison chart of 11 power suppliers [showed that] Seaford was in the middle of the list, nowhere near being the highest in the state. Henderson - It is a fact that the City of Seafords electric rates are traditionally above the mean average across the state, and electric rates for Delaware are higher than average across the nation. To the casual observer one might say this is unjustified; however, as a comparison, Delmarva Power and Light rates track very closely to the citys rates. They return profits as dividends to their shareholders. Profits from sales of city electricity are transferred to the General Fund which assists in the funding of Police, Fire, and other essential services our city government furnishes. Milford (which is the closest in distance and size as compared to other municipal utility operators) transfers somewhat smaller amounts to their General Fund yet they have almost a 50-percent higher real estate property tax rate than Seaford property owners. Electric rates could be lowered; however, real estate property taxes would have to be raised in order to pay for essential city services. Moreover, nearly 60 percent of Seafords residents, users of city services, do not own the property in which they live. Lowering electric rates to the most competitive in the state and relying on a model to pay for city services strictly by real estate property taxes to subsidize the majority of residents is fundamentally unjust. Since most city residents use electricity this is a fair way to level the playing field for all residents and businesses. That way everyone, property owner or not, pays their fair share to support the services they use. Cannon - For a true picture of actual consumer costs for electricity, all the charges in order to be hooked to the grid including the rates/rate structures, customer charges, minimum bills, green energy charges, power cost adjustments, etc., need to be taken into account. A fair comparison of [all those charges] has Seaford at/near the highest in the state, a level Seaford establishes as a monopoly on electricity supply in Seaford. As prices for purchased power dropped 5 percent in 2017, the Delaware Co-op lowered electric rates 5 percent while Seaford actually increased nominal rates 1.9 percent patently unfair to Seaford customers. Moreover, [households with] low usage (less than 750kwh/month) actually pay more for their units of electricity than do higher usage customers due to an unfair and regressive rate structure. Our City needs to take a smaller bite out of the millions of dollars in profit it makes on resale of electricity and lower the cost of power for customers.
2. Are you happy with the pace of redevelopment in downtown Seaford? Do you feel that the plans for the Seaford Towne Center, given preliminary approval by the city council in 2015, are achievable? Do you feel that theres anything else that the city could do to spur redevelopment? Mulvaney Our economic director, Trish Newcomer, successfully obtained the Downtown Development grant, later expanded, which spurred the progress seen thus far downtown. Redevelopment projects of this scale are envisioned to take place over a period of years due to long term financing, demolition of buildings and new construction. Yes, I am content with the pace as I am aware of critical issues which will be involved with demolition downtown. Henderson As the manager of a business located downtown, I am accustomed to a faster pace of decision making and measured results. So an honest answer would be that I am not happy with the pace of redevelopment. That being said I am pleased that the developer is moving at a steady pace with an aim to complete their projects in phases that do not completely disrupt the downtown area. The investments made by the developer, and others, in downtown make it clear they have a long term commitment to significant redevelopment in the downtown area. I am eager to see the redevelopment move westward. Completion of The Residences at Riverplace will provide the momentum needed to move in that direction. We as a city should continue to invest in infrastructure (water, sewer, and electric) in key commercial areas of the city to make these locations completely ready to develop. Such investments made by other communities such as Middletown and Milford are paying dividends by bringing primary and secondary employment opportunities to the community. Development like this also helps reduce the burden taxpayers and stakeholders share by bringing more revenue thereby lowering our shared costs. Cannon - One new 36-unit apartment complex does not a redevelopment make. Our City continues to spend tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars on infrastructure changes along the river to benefit developers without compensation or signs of significant progress toward downtown redevelopment. At the same time, City focus seems to be shifting to the Rt. 13 corridor with hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars being spent on both electrical and water/sewer infrastructure. More focus on Mom and Pop type businesses for downtown is needed to make us unique.
3. Do you feel that city government is open to its citizens? There have been complaints that the city council makes decisions without adequately informing the public. On the other hand, the city has made changes in how it posts meetings and gives out information. Do you feel that a good balance has been set? Or does the city need to be pushed to go farther? Mulvaney This question obviously addresses the unfounded allegations by my opponent of alleged secret meetings held by city council. Rest assured, the citizens of Seaford need to know there are no agent 99s or shoe phones at work on city council. This is a city with 85 employees, a mayor, five council members, 66 miles of water mains, 40 miles of sewer, and a wastewater treatment plant processing 1.1 millions gallons of waste per day. The city maintains both a web page and a Facebook page and publishes a monthly newsletter to keep the public informed. Each council member is a liaison to one of the city departments [and meets] bi-weekly with the respective department heads to keep current with projects ongoing or planned; subsequent reports are read at council meetings. One idea I have been thinking about is posting the highlights of these liaison reports either on the web page or Facebook after each council meeting to better inform the public of the activities affecting their daily lives. Henderson The vast majority of complaints come from a very vocal few. Does the city not get a broad level of complaints because of indifference, or is it because most of us are confident in the performance of our city government? Our city government is open yet there is always room for improvement. Sometimes errors are made, but that shouldnt be mistaken for deliberately obscuring city business. In the past 3 years that I have had the privilege to serve the stakeholders of this city I have seen huge improvements in the way city government communicates with the community. Improvement and innovation are, and will be, continuing processes that we should all push, pull, and drive toward. Cannon For years, the City of Seaford has operated below the radar, confining information about and intentions concerning major decisions to only a few. I would characterize the overall behaviors as secretive. Beginning in 2012, I have continuously asked our City to embrace the principles of government transparency, responsiveness to citizen concerns, encouraging citizen participation, etc. Hitting a stone wall with my requests is not too strong a term. With no ethics and comp-laint policies in place to resolve the resulting problems, I have turned to the Delaware Dept. of Justice (DOJ) for rulings on some of our Citys questionable practices related to legal requirements for open government as part of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Even after DOJ rulings against it, Seaford continues to skirt if not flaunt both the letter and spirit of the FOIA and open government. Seaford has been forced to make some changes, but has a long way to go.
4. Do you believe that the city should institute a landlord licensing system? Why or why not? Mulvaney There is an ongoing committee appointed by Mayor Genshaw addressing this very issue and they are seriously considering different options. As a justice of the peace, I handled many landlord/tenant cases with living conditions so deplorable it would shock your conscience. Something definitely needs to be done as there are many rentals in Seaford requiring massive restoration.
However, I feel the landlords and real estate firms need to be the peers to develop a system they can all live with and enforce within the industry. I am sure our citizens would not want the city [to] add personnel, budget expenses and a rental license fee for enforcement. Henderson Yes, but I am not a fan of increased growth in government. The Seaford community is fortunate to have a core group of conscientious landlords, real estate managers and investors. There are those that are less scrupulous, and that creates problems for everyone. A growing body of evidence leads me to believe that a rental license and registration system with enforcement would ultimately be a benefit to landlords, tenants, neighbors and other stakeholders as well. A well-designed system will assure protections to both the tenant and the landlord. It will help to stabilize property values for everyone, improve public safety, reduce litter, and improve the general appearance and quality of life in our neighborhoods. Whatever system ensues must be self-funded, and operate without a subsidy from resident and business property owners. Cannon Seaford does have a problem with rental properties not meeting expected building code and other standards definitely a bad PR image for the Perfect Place to Start. Current efforts at remediation have met with little success. However, I have seen no data that suggests requiring landlords to secure permits/licenses in order to do business will provide the impetus for desired change(s). However, this might reduce the number of rental properties that do not meet requirements.
5. Would you like to see a city-wide property reassessment? Why or why not? Mulvaney The reassessment decision is due for council consideration in 2018 as the last one was in 2008, which as most of us know was just before the crashing of the banks in the mortgage industry. My own home, like many others, is assessed at a figure that does not remotely compare to a 2017 sales price. One must realize, whether there is a new assessment or not, the tax rate does not change. Council must also consider the expense a new assessment will cost and if the city can afford to have it done at all or have it delayed a year or several years. Without knowledge of those options, I cannot say which way I would ultimately vote. Henderson Yes. Some sort of reassessment should be done at regular intervals in order that the assessed value is as close to market value as practical. Whether it is a reassessment the city does independently or in conjunction with Sussex County is a matter of timing. I personally would feel better knowing the assessment on my home mirrored or closely tracked its market value. Ultimately a reassessment would trigger a recalculation of the real estate property tax rate in order to be revenue neutral. Cannon Property reassessment in Seaford has a checkered past. A 2004 partial reassessment (called an audit by the city) was a disaster. Four years and a lawsuit later, the city refunded more than $217,000 to property owners who were overcharged. A new property assessment would likely cost at least $150,000 to implement. Property owners were last reassessed in 2008, at/near the peak of the housing values bubble that would soon burst. So it is likely [that] assessment values will decrease from the inflated 2008 values. But the real issue will be the new tax rates that will be established after reassessment. Given their track record, its a good bet that City Council would set new tax rates that generate more revenue from property taxes to support more fiscally unwise Cadillac spending.
6. Do you feel that the city spends its money wisely? Or should it do more to curb spending? Mulvaney Beginning with the six department heads, city administration and the mayor and council, the budget preparation process is extensive and I feel it is as lean as it can realistically be. Every budget encounters unexpected and unplanned expenditures and at times unexpected savings when a budgeted equipment amount comes in with a much lower bid. When projects or equipment need financing the most advantageous rates are sought. Henderson First of all, it is not the citys money as it belongs to the people of Seaford; but yes, city staff and leadership are exceptional stewards of the funds we as taxpayers and ratepayers entrust to them. They are also effective at obtaining sources of funding that we as state and federal taxpayers pay into. City government should always be searching for, and utilizing, ways to curb spending without reducing the level of service we stakeholders have come to expect. Cannon Seaford has Cadillac spending habits on a Chevrolet budget. Such spending requires more and more revenues every year which Seaford mainly gets from siphoning off millions of dollars from the resale of electricity, increasing electric rates even as the cost of wholesale power has declined 7.5 percent over the last two years. Cadillac spending supports super-premium employee health benefits; electrical upgrades 40 percent over real costs; five to seven new City vehicles per year; etc. With the rate of inflation less than 1 percent, FY17 City spending increased more than 8 percent.
7. How do you feel about Mayor Genshaws assertion that Seaford has got to be seen as a town that will do whatever it takes to get businesses to come here? Do you believe that in order to remain healthy, a municipality has to grow? Mulvaney I wholeheartedly agree with Mayor Genshaws vision. Cities that do not grow and provide business-ready infrastructure do not remain healthy they die. There is a reason why Middletown has Amazon and Smyrna has a Walmart distribution center; those cities had infrastructure in place [and were] ready to build. Seaford must do the same as much is economically possible. The entity that purchased the Ayers property did not spend millions of dollars without a business plan and the city must be ready to accommodate their needs, whatever they may be. Henderson Seaford can survive without growth, but growth is essential in order to thrive. This community benefits from growth in the professional services, health and manufacturing sectors especially. Businesses of this type require highly skilled and trained people who are compensated with above average wages and benefits. The economic impact these businesses make is greater because more money is retained and circulated within the community. Business growth of this type helps support other growth in housing, retail, general services, hospitality, and tourism. City government should get out of the way where possible, be creative, and be flexible in order to retain existing businesses for growth here. Attracting new business to our community is also an essential part of that strategy. Cannon If you build it, they will come, is Mayor Genshaws defacto philosophy for attracting new business to Seaford. This worked well in Field of Dreams, but we are not in a movie and current plans to put in place infrastructure (electrical, water, wastewater treatment, etc.) are costing or will cost Seaford residents MILLIONS of dollars. I repeatedly hear, We were so close on Amazon (distribution center) as a justification for this approach. I do not see Seaford as a Middletown-south/Amazon distribution center clone.
8. Please comment on some things that you feel are going right in the city. Mulvaney A lot of good things are going on out on U.S. 13. I expect to see a lot of activity there over the next 12 months. And Royal Farms in downtown is planning to build a whole new store there, that will take up the whole block back to King Street. As for the plans for renovation of downtown, sooner or later all that is going to happen. I believe that the catalyst will be the completion of the new apartment building and having more people living in downtown. Henderson I am especially thankful to the Seaford Police Department for stepping up its efforts in heroin and illicit drug interdiction. Their efforts are showing results in reducing the supply of this poison in Seaford. At the same time I am overwhelmed by the actions of our faith community and other organizations that deal with the root cause of substance abuse and the human cost of homelessness, physical, mental and spiritual illness in its aftermath. We truly are a community that cares, and these organizations are making a positive impact on problems that affects us all. Cannon With a state Department of Justice order, Seaford recognized its obligation for committees to publish agendas and minutes in a timely fashion. Seaford finally required employees contributions to their pensions, which has apparently stopped further increase in the unfunded pension liability ($4.7 million), but this large liability will require 30+ years for remedy. Proactive, but vastly (by 40 percent) overpriced, electrical infrastructure upgrade is in process.
9. Why do you want to be a city councilman? Mulvaney I believe becoming involved in your community is a calling. I am seeking re-election because I truly believe Seaford is on the verge of a revitalization which will energize western Sussex County. We have a mayor with a vision, a council willing to make decisions for the future of our city, an administrative staff second to none and employees who are dedicated team players ready to do whatever it takes to serve our residents and businesses. Henderson Serving in this way has been a high honor and a privilege. My goal as a resident has always been to help make Seaford a better place to live, work, pray, and play. My parents taught me that a place should always be left better than found, and that it is my intention here. The position of city councilman allows a platform for me to make a contribution toward that goal. I ask for your vote to continue this work. Cannon To be or not to be (a City Councilman). It comes down to personal principles. As I have rather closely examined the governance of the City of Seaford, I have found it severely lacking in several respects: 1) skirting or actually violating the law; 2) questionable ethical behaviors; and 3) continuing policies that are fiscally unsound and in some cases even repugnant. My personal code of ethics and principles virtually demanded that I attempt to change what I see as problems in our City and try to make the Perfect Place to Start much more than a slogan.
For your information Voting in the election for two seats on the Seaford City Council will be Saturday, April 15, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. in city hall, 414 High St. Residents must already be registered with the city in order to cast ballots. For details, call the city, 629-9173.
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