Dover Councilman Lindell wants rules for discretionary funding

 

DOVER — There haven’t been any reported cases of Dover City Council members inappropriately using Community Enhancement Fund Expenditures since the discretionary program began on July 1, 2016.

However, Councilman Matthew Lindell, who represents the 1st District, is hoping to be proactive and draft formal guidelines regarding councilmen’s use of the discretionary funds over the next couple of weeks while he is recovering from an upcoming medical procedure.

He said he wants to set guidelines in order for council members to be both transparent and consistent in their use of the discretionary funding, which could put Dover in line with other towns and cities in the state.

In most of those places, use of discretionary funds by a council member requires the consensus of the full council.

At last Tuesday night’s Council Committee of the Whole meeting — during the Legislative, Finance and Administrative segment — Councilman Lindell said he has received concerns from several constituents regarding council’s uses of Community Enhancement Funds.

“Some people (I spoke with) felt that ‘it’s our money’ and that the big checks and things like that, as far as donating money, you do that with your own money rather than with people’s money and such,” he said. “Overall, it’s just basically checks and balances as far as how it’s being used.”

How the funding works

Council President Tim Slavin requested and received $25,000 toward Community Enhancement Fund Expenditures during the city’s FY 2016 budget hearings. The program continued into the current fiscal year.

Matthew J. Lindell

Basically, each of the city’s four districts receives $5,000, with each of the two council members who represent each district receiving an even split of $2,500 apiece, while President Slavin, as the at-large councilman, receives $5,000.

The funds are meant to be used to support community projects and to make improvements within the city’s limits.

“As a matter of context, these funds were created to provide council the ability to spend within the districts in which they live for improvements, whether it (is) a park or a roadway, whatever it may be,” President Slavin said.

“We knew when we kind of opened it up we’re going to have to see what the traffic bears and now I think we probably should wrap some procedures around this and call out what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable.

“I don’t think anything’s been out-of-bounds to date, but it’s better to be proactive about it.”

Donna Mitchell, acting city manager, said under the current unwritten guidelines that all she asks council members for regarding their use of the funds for a straight donation is a receipt for reimbursement.

“My understanding is that (the funding) is for community organizations or helping a district, so that’s (the guidelines) that we’ve tried to follow,” said Mrs. Mitchell, who added she hasn’t seen anything that has raised her eyebrows regarding the funds.

Seeing the need for formal rules

During its first year in FY2016, council chose to reduce its Community Enhancement Fund Expenditures by $3,000 in order to make up for reductions that were previously made to the African American Festival.

Council members distributed $20,463.55 out of the remaining $22,000, with the $1,536.45 balance returned to the city’s funds.

Fred Neil, councilman for the 3rd District, said he believes strongly that the funds should be used wisely — and sparingly.

“I’m kind of stingy with this money and it’s because it’s the taxpayer’s money and I’m not going to be lavish with anybody,” Councilman Neil said. “I did make a contribution to the organization within Dover Air Force Base for the Open House because I thought that was seed money to help people come here and have it grow. I have donated money from this source to a scholarship program — it’s $100.

“But I don’t think I have to spend all of that money — and I didn’t last year — just because it’s there. I think we have to keep that in mind, it’s not our money. We’re using this to enhance something or somebody that is going to be beneficial for the city to protect a group of people.”

Biggest barrier to overcome

While most of the Community Enhancement Fund donations thus far have been made to charitable organizations, infrastructure improvements and community projects, there was some concern expressed by council members regarding the funds.

Mrs. Mitchell said it was her understanding that when the discretionary funds were made available two years ago that she thought they were meant to be spent in the council members’ respective district.

Some council members did express concern with that at Tuesday night’s meeting and hoped the new policy would reflect their feelings.

“My concern is the restriction of limiting the discretionary funds to one district,” said Councilman Roy Sudler Jr., of the 4th District. “The first thing I think about is Mayor (Robin) Christiansen’s comments to me when I first became a councilperson and that was, ‘We all serve the city of Dover. It doesn’t matter what district we represent, we all represent the city of Dover.’

“My only concern is in regards to limiting the discretionary fund usage to one district. I do believe there does need to be guidelines, but I would like to see that if a councilperson wants to spend discretionary funds in the guidelines of the usage or ordinance for the city of Dover that it would be OK to assist someone else in another district within a project.”

Mayor Christiansen agreed with Councilman Sudler.

“I concur with the intent of Councilman Lindell’s efforts to formulate policies that are site-specific for these funds,” the mayor said. “However, I do kind of concur with Councilman Sudler’s thoughts.

“I don’t know if that’s something you’d want to massage (in the draft) to see because there are many, many, many worthy causes throughout the entire city that may be beneficial to some funding from any or all of the members of council.”

President Slavin also expressed his reservations for limiting the usage of the funds to a council members’ specific district.

“I think the district’s themselves are kind of artificial boundaries for this purpose,” he said. “They’re good boundaries for election purposes, but once we get on as a council, districts (should be able) to help each other out.”

Now, it is up to Councilman Lindell to put the rules down on paper as to exactly how Community Enhancement Fund Expenditures should be governed.

“I know that Mrs. Mitchell has a standard that’s she was using, but I’m interested in actually drafting something that can apply to council where we can have set rules,” Councilman Lindell said. “I haven’t spent one cent of my Community Enhancement Funds because I want to make sure that there’s a set of guidelines that are set forth for each of us and it’s consistent.

“My common sense might be different than somebody else’s common sense.”

 

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

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