Dover nonprofits voice opposition to proposed public safety fee


DOVER — Leaders of Dover’s nonprofit organizations voiced such strong displeasure with a proposed “public safety fee” at Tuesday night’s city council meeting that officials agreed to put off action and wait six weeks to revisit the issue.

The proposed fee would be imposed on nonprofits in the city that own building structures.

Councilman Roy Sudler Jr. made a motion for council members to arrange to meet with the nonprofits and revisit the proposal in six weeks at the first Council Committee of the Whole meeting in May.

The motion was unanimously supported.

“Due to the majority of the sentiment of the individuals here, I move that we don’t move forward with Proposed Ordinance #2018-03 until further discussion with the stakeholders and the legality of the matter has been clarified in lieu of abating legal ramifications,” Councilman Sudler said.

If approved, the fee could generate an estimated $72,104 in annual revenue to help aid the capital expenditures of the police and fire departments, officials said. Capital expenditures of Dover’s police and fire departments were a combined $580,640 in Fiscal Year 2014 and have grown to an estimated $746,700 this year.

Mayor Robin R. Christiansen offered himself and City Manager Donna Mitchell’s services to meet with the nonprofits and bring back a report to city council members “in a timely fashion.”

The discussion about the proposed ordinance remained calm throughout the meeting, but there was obviously a strong concern by the leaders of the non-profit agencies.

“As we all know, last year a lot of our nonprofits took some hits down at Legislative Hall and I think that people are still anticipating some budget cuts,” said Judy Diogo, president of the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce. “What I would like to recommend on behalf of the nonprofits would be is there an opportunity for the city to meet with groups who this particular fee is going to impact in a huge way.

“If this absolutely has to be done we would like to at least request that they city council set a one cent per square foot (measure) and also pit a caveat on it that lasts for three to five years, at which time the city would be able to hold some public workshops to talk with the nonprofit organizations and find out what impact this has had on them.”

Jeanine Kleimo, who founded the Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing in 2008, spoke in front of the committee, as did Carolyn Fredericks, president and CEO of the Modern Maturity Center, among others.

Both defended their organizations, saying services they provide and fees they pay to the city for utilities and other services should be sufficient for a nonprofit organization.

“The Modern Maturity provided, just in the Dover area, 133,000 Meals on Wheels to shut-in residents in the Dover area at a value of $1.1 million,” Ms. Fredericks said. “If you think that was all paid for by the state or by the federal government, that is not correct.

“Modern Maturity had to supplement that funding by $100,000. Nonprofits did experience a 20 percent cut in state funds, and even with those cuts we worked diligently not to reduce the services that we provide our clients.”

Under the one-cent per square foot plan, Delaware State University would be made to pay the highest public safety fee in the city as it would be charged an estimated $19,544.77 per year, while Bayhealth Medical Center Inc. would pay the second-highest amount at $9,011.84.

Wesley College would pay $5,623.34 and the Capital School District would be charged $3,863.32 in public safety fees.

There are 135 properties and 95 total entities listed as nonprofits within the Dover’s limits.

Councilman William “Bill” Hare said he sees no problems with those figures when it comes to paying for a public safety fee.

“When you look at our fire department and our police department, they are among the best in the state,” Councilman Hare said. “When you figure up the cost for every time that (fire) alarm goes off and they go out the door, it’s a minimum of $500 to $1,000 when you figure time and apparatus … everything has to go. It’s the same for police.

“The past two years there’s been 123 fire and police calls to Wesley College and 277 fire and police calls to Delaware State University. There’s been 662 police and fire calls to Bayhealth, so now what’s that cost?”

Tax-exempt developed property owned by the federal government, state, Kent County and the city of Dover will be exempt from paying the public safety fee.

City officials had anticipated the proposed public safety fee ordinance would become effective April 9 and billing would begin on July 1, but that has now been delayed.

City Council President Timothy A. Slavin and Wesley College President Robert E. Clark both said it was important to take a step back and work together towards finding a solution.

“Where we are (Tuesday) and where we’ll be when this is eventually enacted are likely two different places, that’s the nature of creating legislation,” President Slavin said. “This, I consider to be a piece of organic legislation, this is not something that council necessarily drummed up, this came from below us and numerous meetings we all attend with homeowner’s associations and neighborhood associations.

“There was a call out there of people wondering why it is that their real estate state taxes offset the services for people who don’t pay taxes.”

President Clark said everyone needs to just get together and find some common ground.

“I think this is not so much a discussion of do or don’t we, but I think it’s a coming together of our community and finding out a partnership that works for moving this community forward,” he said.

“It’s not only finding something that is collaborative where you talk to the various stakeholders and find out the short-term and long-term implications, but also possible solutions that we can work together to find a better place.”

Mr. Slavin did admit that the issue of nonprofits being made to pay a public safety fee is not as cut-and-dried as it might seem.

“There is a fairness principal in play here that we’re going to need to address,” he said. “Part of this is exacerbated by the fact that while we have some very good, honest and ethical non-for-profits represented in the room (Tuesday), we also have not-for-profits who clearly operate outside of their stated mission.

“They operate bars, they operate campgrounds and RV parking lots and they sell cars on their property and that’s not what they’re chartered to do. I think that is something that we really do need to tighten up.

“I think we should have the city manager provide some analysis of some of the ideas that we heard (Tuesday), continue the dialogue and bring forward an amended ordinance based on these ideas.”

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