We all know government moves at a snail’s pace, but some recent inaction by Sussex County makes snails look like rabbits.
County council has yet to hire a county planner, although the job has been posted. Insiders tell me the amount budgeted for the position, about $42,000, is not enough to attract a registered planner. In the meantime, the county is relying on a consultant from Urban Research and Development Corp. in Bethlehem, Pa. The county has been without a full-time planner since the retirement of Rick Kautz in May 2009.
Neighboring Kent County, which is smaller than Sussex County, has five certified planners with one vacant position. Sussex has nearly 40,000 more people and 300 square miles more than its northern neighbor.
Here’s another telling statistic from the U.S. Census: In 2009 Sussex issued 1,555 building permits, compared with 806 issued in Kent County. In addition, Sussex has more than 118,000 housing units, compared with 64,000 in Kent County.
Council President Vance Phillips is on the record saying hiring a planner is not a high priority under current economic conditions. Not everyone agrees with that opinion, including council members Joan Deaver and George Cole.
Council has also been dragging its feet on the appointment, or reappointment, of two members of the county board of adjustment. The terms of Dale Callaway of Milton and John Mills of Laurel ended June 30. Ironically, Callaway remains as chairman of the board.
Councilwoman Deaver has made it clear she will not renominate Callaway for the position, one he has held since 1992 (Mills was appointed the same year). Council shot down her first nominee, John Walsh of Rehoboth Beach, and a vote has never come up on her second nominee, former Lewes Police Chief Beau Gooch of Milton. The appointments have until now been low key and made without any discussion, but I don’t think that will be the case anymore.
Some residents are upset the board has an approval rate of more than 80 percent, and they want some new faces. These same residents want the board to follow its own rules and regulations and grant variances only when all criteria can be met. Board members admit that is not always the case.
One can only wonder why council is dragging its feet on these decisions, which are deemed critical in many circles. Could it have something to do with what happens the first Tuesday in November?