Election 2020: Sussex County Council District 1

Michael Vincent

Name: Michael Vincent

Party: Republican

Age: 75

Family: Wife, Elaine; daughter, Michelle Middleton (married to Keith); and three grandchildren residing in Richmond, Virginia

Residence: Seaford

Relevant experience: I have spent my adult life serving my community. I am a lifetime member of the Seaford Volunteer Fire Department. I have served on committees of my church and on the board of the Western Sussex Boys & Girls Club. I served three years on the Seaford City Council and the last 12 years on Sussex County Council. I have always been able to bring together all types of views to reach an agreement on what is best for the issue.

Hunter Hastings

Name: Hunter Hastings

Party: Democrat

Age: 26

Family: Wife, two corgis, a lionhead bunny and a quaker parrot

Residence: Seaford

Relevant experience: Health care professional, addiction counselor, private business consultant, served on private and public committees

Why are you running for this seat?
MV: I am seeking reelection to continue serving western Sussex County. I feel my experience gained during my time on council has prepared me to continue to do all I can to help the county move forward and help our residents. It is all about serving and being available to address issues and concerns. I will always return phone calls or emails and work to resolve the issue or put people in touch with someone who can assist them.

HH: I’m running because some on the council, who’ve served for two to three terms, are promising that if we’re a bit more patient, so many good things will come in the next four to eight years. The eight to 12 years they’ve already served is a long time. Why have not more initiatives been implemented? Why is someone (my incumbent) mostly pointing to changes with zoning and planning as the centerpiece of his economic development accomplishments? If improved (consistent) property tax assessment was implemented, we may have fewer tax increases because we’d all be more accurately taxed. This can lead to greater discretionary income and more trust in government. I have concerns about the patchwork manner in which emergency medical services are provided. For example, county paramedics use SUVs and rely upon private ambulance services. The paramedics are dependent on the private ambulance, too many vehicles are on-scene, and care can be delayed. The county should pursue a pilot program where paramedics respond to calls using county ambulances instead of SUVs. If the private ambulance is late or care is transferred to the private crews, that is another delay. It’s like a do-over or what may occur at the end of one’s shift: The task is handed off to another person. This is not a critique on private ambulance crews, although that is something to consider going forward. This is to say that having both county paramedics and private crews operate in this fashion is segmented and less efficient.

What do you see as the major issues for this district?
MV: One major issue is not being able to visit door to door as in the past elections. I realize that there are differing views on COVID-19, but I am trying to respect everyone’s view and everyone’s safety. I also feel that a great many are tired of all the negativity in how we treat each other. We need to come together and try to do what is right for the public and not based on politics.

HH: As I alluded to above, a government that serves all people. The county just recently experimented with providing an information and referral service to link residents to state and federal benefits programs. This can be improved to focus on veterans and those eligible for SNAP, Medicaid and Social Security disability. If people have earned these benefits and it would help them keep their homes, the county has a responsibility to be a small part of linking them to those benefits. Even if the county cannot or doesn’t directly provide a service, they can provide a clearinghouse of best practices — for example, advisory committees on child care facility operations, school enrichment programs, vocational skills programs, etc. I am not stating the county should directly offer these services. Though, it can involve residents/stakeholders in the exchange of what’s worked and what doesn’t work. Regarding quality of life: decreasing traffic congestion and designating certain roads as primary or arterial, which would be prioritized for maintenance, snowplowing and expansion for school buses, emergency vehicles and evacuation in case of a natural disaster. Another issue is continuing to improve access to reliable broadband. This can be done in part by using government sites for hot spots, a broader public-private partnership that involves more than one carrier and encouraging carriers to offer lower rates. Additionally, consider a membership model for some constituencies. For example, some chambers of commerce offer discounts on office supplies, affordable dental and vision, etc. There’s no reason why the chamber, trade groups and unions couldn’t pursue volume pricing for residential and commercial broadband. Furthermore, we need to support public safety, as I alluded to above. Related to this, it seems that the transfer of dispatch services from Seaford to the county is resulting in delays, possible miscommunications and worse outcomes for residents. Hence, any changes must be well-thought-out and not rushed.

What should government do to help both businesses and workers right now?
MV: Most people are aware that most of the available funding to assist businesses and workers comes from the federal or state government. What the county has done is to make sure that businesses are aware of available funding sources in low-interest loans or grants. We have helped with everything from where to potentially get help to how to apply and helping with the applications. One thing we should also be doing is making sure there are no unnecessary regulations placed on the businesses.

HH: As I alluded to above, provide information and referral for benefit programs and vital services like child care and possibly adult day care (without necessarily directly providing those services). Advocate for assistance from the state and federal government, as well as encourage a more united populace. Divisiveness is at record levels. This can lead to acts of disdain if not hate, some degree of violence and a failure to consider the worth of others. The county must use every and all opportunities to promote unity and respect. (This doesn’t mean one faith, one perspective, etc. It means acceptance of others.)

What do you think of the current level of county spending?
MV: I feel the county spending is warranted but not excessive. We are a fiscally conservative County Council and are always aware that we are spending taxpayer dollars and are committed to spending your money wisely. We have received awards for our budget presentation and transparency, which is thanks to our excellent finance director and administration. We are excited to have received a AAA bond rating from both rating agencies. We just sold $100 million in bonds for our sewer upgrades and refinanced the sewer debt for our districts. This has saved our sewer users approximately $12 million in costs.

HH: While I understand that the county wanted to divide the budget by department, the current budget makes it challenging to see what total is spent on office supplies, public official expenses (i.e., expense accounts) and pet projects or purchases. It also doesn’t look like the county utilizes the state procurement program, which could save thousands of dollars per year. Even by looking at the vendors that were awarded state contracts can lead to lower spending on quality goods and services from reliable vendors. It’s likely the county could get the price-points the state negotiated. All it takes is deviating from the status quo. Additionally, it’s often said that the county doesn’t have much authority. Then, public official salaries should reflect that.

Should the county make any change to its development policies?
MV: We will be visiting this issue in reviewing our new comprehensive land use plan. We will also be reviewing our density requirements in certain zoning areas. This will come in play with the discussion on workforce housing.

HH: When it comes to development, as with all policies, there should be written guidelines to prevent the appearance of favoritism or more of an ad hoc or random. This speaks to zoning, variances, incentives, etc.

Looking to the immediate future, what are your thoughts on development — residential and commercial?
MV: We made a big change in our commercial zoning when we went from one commercial zone to many commercial zones. We heard the public’s concern about how many things were in the one commercial zone to making more zones with smaller numbers of types of businesses allowed in a particular zone and changed the code. Residential development is primarily in the AR-1 zone. Any discussion referencing any changes should be well-vented in a public process.

HH: I have been considering the possibility of mixed-use neighborhoods. Not from the standpoint of being gated communities, though, but from the standpoint of reducing the use of vehicles, having people live and work in the same area (possibly a storefront/condo arrangement) and really forming a sustainable community. Not a commune or similar but a sustainable environment. Also, often, when incentives for large corporations are considered, residents, especially seniors and longtime residents, feel shortchanged. They don’t get a rebate on their property or sales tax. So when we look at incentives, we use a carrot and stick. We offer sales tax rebates or property tax rebates. Though, the organization must commit to staying in the area five to 10 years. If not, if they leave or possibly change ownership, they owe a prorated portion of the rebate back to the community. We also hear of large organizations relocating and getting a lot of incentives, only to transfer 75% of their executives from another state. This does nothing for local unemployment. So require that “x” number of people be hired locally.

What do you believe makes you the better person for this job, rather than your opponent?
MV: I don’t think I am a better or worse person, but, rather, I am a more qualified person. I feel my experience in serving my community my entire adult life and serving on County Council is a good thing and helps me understand the issues. I have seen the change in our county firsthand over the years and realize we must all work together to keep Sussex a great place to live, work and raise a family. We work every day to carry this message to everyone, so we can truly all work together to reach the best result possible.

HH: I’m not sure I’d say I’m a better person. We’re all made in God’s image and have similar traits. I would say I’m a better fit for the job, which is a different concept. I’m not satisfied with an extremely gradual approach, modest achievement and uncertainty. I prefer and can bring about sustainable improvements in economic development, governance and maintaining the environment we all love.

Do you have any additional thoughts you wish to share?
I think additionally we are excited about our new memorandum of understanding with the Delaware Department of Transportation. This will now allow the county to be involved in the initial discussion with DelDOT and developers on any proposed projects. We will now have the ability to be in the entire process, get traffic numbers for the area, get level of service for the area and make comments before any decisions are made. We all realize that DelDOT is in charge of all public roads and that the county is in charge of land use. This will now make this a much better solution for the issue of transportation congestion and development. This is truly a big deal! The second issue is broadband availability for all of our residents and businesses. Everyone cannot get hard-wired service to their property due to the cost if you are not in an area that has wired service available. We have worked with the state and private providers to find options that are affordable for our residents. One option now is for a wireless service from vertical assets to your property. An issue is that we are very flat and have lots of trees, which wireless signals cannot always penetrate. The private providers have added over 500 customers with the wireless service in the last two years. We are now reviewing another potential option of the idea of using a cellular signal sent to a device that converts it to a broadband service. We are continually looking for options for our residents that are affordable and effective. It is not the charge of government to use your tax dollars to compete with the private sector. Our job is to try to bring as many options and private providers to Sussex to get all those that want broadband access to the service.

HH: Did not answer.