Q&A: Kent County Levy Court 2nd District candidates address issues

Name: Jim Hosfelt
Party: Republican
Office Sought: 2nd District Levy Court commissioner
Age: 57
Occupation: Director Public Safety & Track Operations, Dover International Speedway and (retired) Chief of Police, Dover Police Department
Family: Married 36 years to Sherry Hosfelt. Daughter: Jenna (Hosfelt) Starke and son-in-law Dale Starke. Son: Jake Hosfelt and daughter-in-law Michelle (Kimmick) Hosfelt
Elective Experience: Dover City Council, first district 2015 – 2017, Kent Levy Court, second district 2017 – Present

Name: Jeffrey Hall
Party: Democrat
Office Sought: 2nd District Levy Court commissioner
Age: 55
Occupation: Department Chair/Faculty Engineering Technologies, Del Tech Terry Campus; Lieutenant Commander, USCG, retired.
Family: Wife Alyssa Middleton-Hall, Daughters: Delia and Emily. Son: Christopher.
Elective experience: None

Why are you running for this office?

J. Hosfelt: I enjoy advocating for the residents of the second district. The residents bring issues that concern them and I work to bring a resolution that is in the best interest of my constituents and the county as a whole. Residents have contacted me regarding the welfare of their loved ones in local cemeteries, speed limit signs near their neighborhoods, abandoned or foreclosed homes affecting their communities, etc. and I have worked to help resolve these issues since my election in 2017.

My life has been devoted to public service and it is what I know and what I do best. I possess the ability to work with all facets of local, county and state government and can do so in a non-partisan manner.

Ultimately, it is the resident who is most important and I believe this is forgotten at many levels of government. Contacting me is very easy, my home address, telephone numbers and social media outlets are readily available. While I won’t always be able to provide the answer that you may want, you can always expect to receive an answer or solution to any concerns you may have.

J. Hall: I was born in Kent County and joined the US Coast Guard after graduating high school in 1981 because I didn’t see many opportunities in this area. I returned to Dover in 1996, attending Delaware Tech as part of a Coast Guard education program.

Again, I watched my classmates worry about where they were going to work after graduation. I was thankful that I would be returning to wearing the uniform and continuing a career, but I’ve never forgotten my classmates’ anxiety caused by the disconnect between the college and the local labor market.

When I was hired by Delaware Tech as the Department Chair for Engineering Technologies in 2012, my first action was to visit every manufacturer in the county – the start of a program alignment effort that ensured our graduates could find work. That served our graduates well and it served industry by providing a reliable source of talent. In that same way, I want to take action as a Levy Court commissioner to steer Kent County into better economic waters and address long-standing issues facing the county.

What about your background qualifies you for this office?

Jim Hosfelt

J. Hosfelt: I pride myself on my work ethic, the ability to work with others and my management experience. No matter what positions I have held with the military, the Dover Police Department and now with Dover International Speedway, there has been a simple philosophy when it comes to work: show up, work hard while you are there and treat others as you would like to be treated. I choose to treat others with respect even when we disagree and I believe this serves me well as a Levy Court commissioner. I understand the concept of doing more with less and did so as Chief of Police during the years of the recession. In that capacity, I managed a multi-million dollar budget under constant scrutiny and reduced crime across the board throughout all areas of the city. In my current role as chairman of the county’s Finance Committee and as commissioner representing the second district, I am well versed in the complexities of the county’s $59 million dollar budget and the need to work within the confines of the budget.

A commissioner has to be responsible to the r esidents they represent; they need to be available and willing to help when necessary. A commissioner also has to develop professional relationships with staff and other members of the court to help find common ground and solutions that will ultimately present themselves during the coming years. I have this experience.

Jeffrey Hall

J.Hall: I understand this county and its history. My family has lived in Delaware for generations. My Coast Guard experience provided me with expertise in engineering, IT, contracting, program management, incident management, personnel and budget administration. I’ve managed large budgets and solved complex problems. I’ve attended Levy Court meetings and workshops for more than 18 months, toured the 911 Call Center, the Regional Resource Recovery Facility and rode along with the paramedic Power Unit. I’ve met with county directors of Public Works, Finance and Public Safety to better understand their issues and priorities. I’ve met with downtown Dover business owners and non-profit agencies to see what support they need from the county. I enrolled in UD’s Institute for Public Administration and taken courses in planning, land-use, ethics and freedom of information. I’ve also researched best practices for local governments to plan and prepare for aging populations. Perhaps most importantly, I have a long history of bringing together right groups of people to solve problems and Kent County seems to have many issues that simply go unresolved. There are many studies, working groups, task forces and more studies, but rarely results. Our residents deserve results.

What would be your top priority if elected?

J. Hosfelt: One of the core responsibilities of county government is to keep our residents safe. Kent County Department of Public Safety is charged with protecting the welfare of its citizens from disaster. To do this, Levy Court must maintain a state-of-the-art communications system for police, fire and emergency medical services.

We must also provide adequate Advanced Life Support (ALS) services to all residents of Kent County and this is why continued support of a new paramedic sub-station in West Dover is a must. After careful thought and consideration the Public Safety Chair and his committee have developed a plan to do just that. The county has entered into an agreement to purchase a parcel of land west of Dover’s city limits. Using this location the Kent County Department of Public Safety will be able to deliver adequate emergency medical services to the west Dover, Hartly and the Marydel areas of Kent County.

J. Hall: To bring a sense of urgency and transparency to the economic development efforts supported by county taxpayer dollars. The only action I’ve seen taken by the Kent Economic Partnership (KEP) so far is to disestablish the Plant Managers’ Meetings. Those meetings were a good forum for those from the manufacturing industries to network with local government and potential suppliers and support service businesses. The commitment was small — an hour and a half every two months — but it was the first thing on the chopping block without an in-kind replacement. Why? This past year saw ACME, Sears, PPG, and Toys-R-Us close their doors. We’re moving in the wrong direction and I’m concerned that the KEP public-private partnership model is untested and lacks transparency: its meeting times and locations are not published, nor are meeting agendas, nor are meeting minutes. These items should be available on the website along with all of the other county public business meetings. Additionally, I would jump start broadband expansion, leveraging the state’s efforts to make sure we have the infrastructure that businesses are looking for when site selecting. The other priority has to be funding the capital improvements needed in the wastewater system.

If you could change one county policy or law, what would it be?

J. Hosfelt: I believe there is a need for the establishment of a preferred vendor purchasing policy which would provide preference to Kent County businesses. If we are serious about economic development in Kent County, there is no easier place to start. County government needs to take the lead with this issue and do what we can, within reason, to help keep our workforce employed and promote Kent County businesses.

J. Hall: I would actually prefer to see the county — especially the commissioners — adhere to the current, approved personnel policy regarding step increases for county personnel. The county policy manual states that “each full-time and part-time employee in the classified or unclassified service shall receive a base pay rate step increase equal to 2 percent each year…” Instead, the Levy Court commissioners vote whether or how much of the 2 percent increase will be authorized. I believe the 2 percent needs to simply be built into the baseline budget each year. Kent County staff members already begin their careers with lower pay when compared to similar counties in the region. The practice of using the step increases as a budget variable is a disincentive for retaining quality employees.

What are the biggest issues presently facing county government?

J. Hosfelt: I believe the number one issue facing Kent County is economic development and there is a three step process which the county should take in support of this issue. First, we must work to retain the businesses we have in Kent County. Second, we need to help grow these businesses. Third, we need to find ways to attract new businesses to our region. I believe Kent County can accomplish this through partnerships with the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce (CDCC), Kent Economic Partnership (KEP) and the Greater Kent Committee (GKC).

Another top issue facing Kent County is the public works infrastructure. As we go forward, Levy Court will need to ensure it is supportive of sewer line replacement projects, similar to the one planned for the Route 13 main transmission line. The county as a whole has hundreds of miles of old and deteriorating sewer transmission lines and Levy Court realizes the need to begin a replacement program. At this point, the county is in the process of a pipeline assessment project. Once complete, commissioners working with the Public Works director will be able to establish a path forward for sewer line replacement and in doing so establish budget guidelines to make sure adequate funding is available to support these projects.

J. Hall: I’ve written about economic development, but Kent County is also facing a housing affordability issue. The county’s comprehensive plan has a sound range of strategies including mixed-use, inclusionary zoning (offering density bonuses and exempting smaller projects), affordable housing trust fund and land banks. Additionally, the county should be supporting the Restoring Central Dover initiative. There’s a lot of focus on the Frederica area right now, but there’s the equivalent of 25 football fields of vacant land in Dover waiting for economic development — we just need to follow the recommendations to remove regulatory and property acquisition barriers. Also, the comprehensive plan recommends a number of improvements and projects related to the wastewater system — these need to be prioritized into the next budget. Among these projects, we need to assess the condition of our underground pipelines — either acoustically or pneumatically — to spot structural weakness before it becomes a problem. Lastly, we have a growing population of seniors who are aging in place in a county that isn’t necessarily prepared to meet their needs. There are many best practices available to the county; we just need to make this a priority.

What are the biggest opportunities presently on the county’s horizons?

J. Hosfelt: Self-promotion. Kent County is a wonderful place to call home. Our central location in the Mid-Atlantic region provides many advantages including an attractive cost of living, a vibrant and diverse business community, excellent public schools and an outstanding small town atmosphere. We are very proud to be the home of Dover Air Force Base and the historic City of Dover, the Capital of the First State. Thousands of visitors flock to Kent County each year to enjoy NASCAR Racing at Dover Downs International Speedway, to participate in competitive sports tournaments at DE Turf Regional Sports Complex and to take in all the great performances and excitement at the Firefly Music Festival. With a new direction set regarding economic development, let’s be sure to self-promote all the positives about Kent County.

J. Hall: We must ensure we don’t lose focus on our strengths: farms, factories, festivals and flight (Delaware AirPark and Dover AFB). At the same time, the study commissioned by the Greater Kent Committee (GKC) (Rockport Analytics) found Kent County imports more than $1.2 billion in business activity that could be done by businesses here — resulting in 8,000 new jobs that pay between $50-80K per year. This was the impetus to reconstitute the Kent Economic Partnership this past spring and hire a new Executive Director in June. That’s an enormous amount of opportunity for growth in business sectors that will pay well. The planning staff carved out a new type of zoning district for Employment Centers — areas to promote larger economic activity other than retail or service sector jobs.

What, if anything, should be done to increase revenue for the county or cut spending?

J. Hosfelt: The lives of my constituents have been enhanced by the work that I did with the other commissioners to keep our taxes low and unchanged. County services continue to operate effectively and efficiently. The citizens of Kent County benefit from a commissioner who is fiscally responsible.

J. Hall: One of the biggest financial stresses for Kent County is the risk of revenue disruptions from unpredictable state budgets. The more economic development we can generate in the county, the healthier the state budget will be (since gross receipt taxes, personal income tax and lodging taxes fill state coffers rather than county coffers) and we reduce the likelihood that the state will unexpectedly change the reimbursement ratio for paramedic services or mandate some new requirement for the county to fund.

Surveys conducted during the drafting of the county’s new 2018 Comprehensive Plan indicated that residents were most concerned about future economic development. What role should the county take in this?

J. Hosfelt: County government should take a very active role. In the spring of 2018, working proactively, Kent County Levy Court changed its strategy regarding economic development. Staffing positions within county government were eliminated and/or realigned as we entered into a new agreement with the Kent Economic Partnership (KEP). In addition to current grant funding of $100,000, the county also provides additional support of $110,000 with in kind services to support the Economic Development office and the recent hire of Linda Parkowski, Executive Director of the Kent Economic Partnership.

J. Hall: First, developing infrastructure — especially broadband; this is critical to improving connectivity for existing businesses and attracting new businesses to the county. Second, push for a more aggressive development of the business services described in the Rockport Analytics study. We need a greater sense of urgency. Third, we should work with the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce, Delmarva Central Railroad and its parent company Carload Express, Inc. to modernize and expand rail service in the county. Expanding rail service, in addition to the completion of the $33M improvement project for the Airpark in Cheswold would improve our transportation profile. Fourth, the Rockport Analytics study that I referenced earlier cited permitting and inspections delays as part of an overall poor business climate. Where we need regulation, it needs to be fast and responsive — respecting that we have business owners who are trying to improve their operations. I’ve met with many business owners over the past 18 months — there’s a lot of frustration out there. We can do better.

 

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