Dover councilman unveils contribution proposal

 

DOVER — Dover City Councilman David Anderson believes it is time to focus on generating local assistance for local problems.

Wary of a potential loss of Community Development Block Grant money from the state, Mr. Anderson is hoping to establish a mechanism for citizens to contribute to that will assist the most vulnerable of the city’s population.

Mr. Anderson, a 4th District representative, unveiled Council Resolution No. 2017-07 during a special Parks, Recreation and Community Enhancement committee meeting at Dover’s City Hall on Tuesday night.

Despite citing a creative concept by Mr. Anderson, City Council President Tim Slavin made a motion to table the proposed resolution for further discussion. The motion was seconded by Councilman Fred Neil.

Mr. Anderson’s proposed resolution states that “Dover City Council shall establish a $1 a month negative checkoff on the utility bill which will be solely for the Dover Community Sustainment and Enhancement Grant Fund.”

The contribution would be voluntary for any taxpayer, renter of property or entity which makes payment in lieu of taxes. It would be mandatory for non-taxpaying entities under the resolution’s original format.

Dover Councilman David Anderson

No person or business would be denied utility service and non-payment of the contribution would not be submitted to collections.

The contribution would be listed as a line item on the bill, and included, unless a person affirmatively opts out.

Help for those in need

Community Development Block Grant money provides funds for organizations such as the Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing, Connections Community Support Programs Inc., first-time homebuyers, housing rehabilitation and repair for very low income homeowners, as well as other needs.

“I believe that people in this community, if they understand what is being supported, would be willing to support it and their community,” Mr. Anderson said. “There’s many good projects going on with the rebuilding of downtown, encouraging (home) ownership, helping seniors repair houses, helping the homeless shelter, helping others, all very worthy projects.

“Those wouldn’t happen without this particular pool of money.”

He added the resolution would be a pro-active measure and would serve as a safety net for these types of programs in the city.

“We know the state is having some challenges and the federal government has been claiming tight budgets for 30-something years,” Mr. Anderson said. “There’s a reason that we have to look and say, ‘Hey, local people need to take care of local problems.’”

He said similar negative checkoff items seeking contributions have shown a success rate of around 80 percent.

He said it’s way too early to speculate how successful such a program could be, noting the contributions “will probably be somewhere between $24,000 and $300,000.”

“Nobody knows how much it would be, but even if you had 10 percent (compliance) that would be enough to make up for if we had approximately 10 to 15 percent cuts in the CDBG money,” Mr. Anderson said. “So it would be worth doing even if it had a relatively low participation, because it would offset cuts.”

Skeptical of the resolution

Mr. Slavin was skeptical about the proposal and said there would be costs involving programming fees on utility bills, accounting fees and a customer service impact for people who opt-in and opt-out.

“I think charity is a matter of the heart and it should be left to individuals to direct where they want to donate their money,” said Mr. Slavin. “I for one, just as a personal preference, have never checked off a box for money to give $1 to any (contributions) because I simply don’t believe they go to solve the problem that they say they solve.

“I think there are high overhead fees for a government to run something like that and I think there are better places for my money to go.”

Mr. Slavin, who said the issue could be discussed in more detail at next week’s city budget discussions, believes it is a more complex matter than what it might appear to be at first sight.

“Behind it all is a philosophical question, and it’s one that state government is facing and now we’re facing and county government is facing,” he said, “and that is are we willing to say we’re going to absorb the cuts that are being passed on by the federal government?

“The president just released a budget that has steep and very deep cuts to many programs. I don’t believe it’s going to be the place of the city of Dover to say therefore we’ll take on those (issues) and we’ll come up with new financing schemes where people donate their money to city government to do this.”

Mr. Neil agreed with Mr. Slavin, though he did also tip his hat to Mr. Anderson for his creativity.

“I want to congratulate Councilman Anderson for a brilliant idea and I think it shows heart and it shows out-of-the-box thinking to make something happen if other things are failing around it,” Mr. Neil said. “But I do think it needs further discussion and, as Council President Slavin said, ‘Let’s see what the mechanics are when we start talking about the budget going into a new fiscal year.’”

Faith in the community

Mr. Anderson said he has faith in the community’s generosity and that he believes people value supporting programs that give assistance to the needy.

He thinks the contribution program would need to run for at least six months before the city could see how it’s accepted by the community.

“There’s nothing to lose. It’s a win-win proposal,” Mr. Anderson said.

He then reiterated that local issues need to be solved by local people.

“I’ve personally always believed that the best way to solve a problem is by the people who are closest to that problem,” said Mr. Anderson. “I believe that localism is the new answer to globalism.

“We’re starting to understand that the only way to tackle problems most efficiently is not by some international movement, not by one-size-fits-all, but by local people evaluating and keeping eyes on solving local problems.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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