Sussex County Council Discuss Coronavirus, Budget and Reopening the County

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The Sussex County Council met Tuesday morning – virtually. County Administrator Todd Lawson gave an update on the coronavirus situation in Sussex County – and spoke of the increase in infection at the area poultry plants and among the Hispanic community and what is being done to bring down the number of positive cases.

All three counties’ public safety officials and leadership met with Senator Carper by teleconference for an update on the stimulus bills coming from Washington. Legislation was passed last week that will replenish the funds that helped the Paycheck Protection Program and CAREs Act, which benefits small business – but it will not provide funding to local governments. The next measure may but the details on the next bill are still unknown.

The County Council has reaffirmed the continued suspension of the Accommodations Tax, County Tenants Lease Payment deferral and the DSHA Rental Assistance Contribution – the County contribution will be up to $250,000 and earmarked for renters in Sussex County only. This was initially approved during the Council’s April 7th meeting.

County Finance Director, Gina Jennings, gave an update on the County’s FY 2021 budget. A meeting scheduled for last Tuesday was canceled. She has received budget requests from each department and has told everyone to look again at their requests – after they prioritize and trim their budgets for the next fiscal year. She told the council that this will be a real no-frills budget – it will be introduced on Tuesday May 19 and the public hearing is set for June 23. The budget must be passed by June 30.

The County’s Economic Development office is working on a marketing ad campaign focused on Sussex Countians helping Sussex County businesses – buy now – buy local.

While Sussex County is the current hot spot for coronavirus, County officials are looking towards the other side of the pandemic and an eventual gradual reopening. The County government plans to begin holding public hearings for Planning & Zoning applications. The first will be set for May 14th – with a public hearing before the County Council on June 9th. They are looking a applications to start that will NOT fill the council chambers to capacity.

The County is also getting ready for the reopening of the County offices – to some extent. Partitions are on order for several locations throughout the administration building to protect employees, visitors and create the required separation. Many employees may still wear protective masks, gloves and some may still work from home. Others may only be available by appointment. There will be changes at the County Libraries and meetings of the County Council and Planning and Zoning Commission to create separation by way of seating restrictions. Lawson says not to expect everything to happen instantly – openings will be staggered over time until its felt that the staff is safe and the public can be served efficiently and effectively.

The Council also heard from EMS Manager of Logistics, Bobby Schoonover on a lease renewal for the Blades EMS Station. The lease includes a modest increase of $25 to $925 per month. This station serves Seaford and back up to Bridgeville and Laurel. This is a three year lease with a 60-day opt out clause. They hope within this time to have the new station north of Seaford built and occupied. The Council approved the lease agreement with a unanimous vote.

The scheduled Sussex County Council meeting for May 5th has been canceled – the Council meeting will be held on Tuesday, May 12.