Wilmington City Council passes $151 million budget in narrow vote

By Tom Lehman 12:22am, May 22, 2015 - Updated 3:30pm, May 22, 2015
VIDEO: WDEL's Tom Lehman reports.
Wilmington's City Council on Thursday narrowly passed a $151 million operating budget with no property tax increase following fierce debate with many members criticizing Mayor Dennis Williams and his administration.

The council passed the budget with by a one-vote margin in a 7-6 decision. The administration has projected the plan, which represents a 1-percent increase in spending, will result in a $2 million surplus for the fiscal year starting July 1.

Dissenting council members said Williams (D) has been uncooperative and unwilling to take major steps to cut costs. Council President Theo Gregory (D) acknowledged the debate showed there is a "gross vote of no confidence" in the mayor, but said the legislative body could not overstep its boundaries and supported the budget.

"We are not going to go over and micro-manage the programs of the City of Wilmington," he said.

Nevertheless, the six council members who voted against the budget said they felt the mayor's office would not support it because it contained wasteful spending.

Councilman Bud Freel (D-District 8), who chairs the council's finance committee, said administration staff have overspent during the past two budget years. He said the lack of accountability led to a $500,000 budget deficit in Fiscal Year 2014, the mayor's first year in office.

"There is no effort to hold a (departmental) director responsible," he said.

Others said they were urged by constituents to not vote for the spending plan.

"Supporting this budget is just a slap in the face to residents," said Councilman Ernest "Trippi" Congo (D-District 2). "I haven't heard one resident say to support the budget."

Councilwoman Hanifa Shabazz (D-District 4) voted for the budget and said she had serious concerns about how the mayor's office conducted its business, but didn't feel that defeating the spending plan was the right course of action.

"I believe holding things up right now would put even more drag into the progress that we're trying to make in the city," she said.

In what Gregory considered a symbolic gesture, council members also voted down a bill that would keep the sewer and storm water utility rates at their current levels.

Unlike a budget, which council is required by law to pass before the end of the month, Gregory said council is not mandated to approve a bill setting the utility rates.

Freel, who sought a slight raise of approximately four percent to help stabilize the city's water fund, said he will ask the city's law department for a ruling on the issue.

Williams thanked council members in a statement, saying the budget resulted in a collaborative process.

"This represents collaborative efforts by both council and my administration to produce a budget that does not increase taxes is fiscally responsible, and allows the city to continue providing high quality services to our citizens," he said.

Councilwoman Lorretta Walsh (D-At Large), one of the six members who voted against the bill, didn't agree with the mayor's assessment.

"I don't see a light at the end of the road," she said. "I see the administration doing exactly what they want, without a whole lot of input from the residents of this city."


You can contact Tom Lehman at tlehman@wdel.com. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook

Gas hits 5-year lows for Memorial Day weekend prices

By DJ McAneny 4:01pm, May 22, 2015 - Updated 4:13pm, May 22, 2015
Memorial Day is going to be at least a little cheaper when it comes to filling up your tank, AAA Mid-Atlantic officials announced Friday, hitting five-year lows of gas prices.

Delaware fuel prices dropped on average a whole cent this week, to $2.60 per gallon, while nationwide, the average actually gained 5 cents, rising to $2.74.

More than 103,000 Delawareans are anticipated to benefit from the cost savings as they set out on Memorial Day trips.

"Despite recent increases, Delaware drivers will pay the lowest gas prices for Memorial Day since 2010," said Jim Lardear, director of public and government affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic. "U.S. households have spent about $400 less on gasoline from January through April this year compared to the same timeframe in 2014."

Plans for a data center in Middletown move forward

By Shana O'Malley 9:35am, May 22, 2015 - Updated 3:30pm, May 22, 2015
VIDEO: Consultant Steven Lewandowski explains the plan for the technology center.
Plans for a data center and power generation facility are moving forward in Middletown.

The town Development and Zoning Commission approved preliminary plans for a 220,000-square-foot technology center and a stand-alone, 52-megawatt power generation facility.

The newest plan is slightly larger than what was outlined at the conceptual hearing in April, which called for a 180,000-square-foot building and 40-megawatt power generator.

The technology center would be constructed on a 49-acre parcel of land within the Middletown Autopark on the west side of town. Businesses would rent space inside the building to host computer systems and data servers. The center would need about 100 employees.

Consulting Engineer Steven Lewandowski said power is critical to the facility and would come from both the gas-fueled power generation facility and the electrical grid.

"The power for the site will be drawn a couple different ways," he says. "During periods of high-demand on the grid, we will generate electricity with the power generation facility. During periods of low-grid-demand, we would purchase electricity from the grid and during periods peak demand, the facility would potentially sell electricity to the grid."

The ownership group of the facility has not been disclosed, but Lewandowski said they are not involved with the developers of the proposed Newark data center that was terminated last year.

The development plans now head to the mayor and town council.

Lewandowski said they hope to break ground on the project this fall.

The town initially estimated that the $300 million project could create about 1,000 jobs during construction.


Contact Shana O'Malley at somalley@dbcmedia.com or follow her on Twitter at @shanaomalley

Dual-language school in Wilmington receives national award

By Shana O'Malley 11:47pm, May 21, 2015
VIDEO: WDEL's Shana O'Malley reports.
A school in Wilmington received national recognition for its dual language program.

The William C. Lewis Dual Language Immersion Elementary School in Wilmington received an Academic Excellence Award from the Embassy of Spain.

The national award is given to one elementary school, one middle school, and one high school each year.

Lewis was one of the first schools in Delaware to participate in the state's World Language Immersion program three years ago.

Beginning in Kindergarten, students are taught in Spanish at least 50 percent of the time.

"The success of Lewis Elementary reflects the tremendous value of high quality immersion programs and shows what's possible when a community comes together around a common vision for the education of their children," said Gov. Jack Markell. "I am thrilled that the school's students, teachers, and leaders are receiving this national recognition."

Maria Alvarato, a Spanish teacher for Lewis, said dual-language programs prepare students to compete in the global economy.

"Learning a second language opens a lot of things in your brain and probably will give them some job opportunities in the future," she said.

The World Language Immersion program continues to expand in Delaware with a dozen schools teaching Spanish and Chinese this year.


Contact Shana O'Malley at somalley@dbcmedia.com or follow her on Twitter at @shanaomalley

Handmade wares on display at Biggs Museum of Art show in Lewes

By Amy Cherry 8:49am, May 22, 2015 - Updated 3:30pm, May 22, 2015
The Biggs Museum's Delaware By Hand fine arts and craft show offers a variety of homemade items from jewelry to furniture. (Photo/Biggs Museum of American Art)
Delawareans on their way to the beach this Memorial Day weekend are urged to stop by the Delaware By Hand fine arts and craft show in the park at the Zwaanendael Park in Lewes.

Ryan Grover, the curator of the Biggs Museum of American Art that's putting on the show, said the wares of 50 vendors will be on display.

"This show attracts a lot of jewelers," he said. "There are a number of textile artists, some furniture makers, glass blowers, sculptors, lawn art, quite a bit of photography--that's very popular."

The free event will run, rain or shine, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

"What's fun also is the Lewes Historical Society, just down the road basically, also opens their farmers' market that weekend," he said. "So it's just this pair of really just great cultural attractions in downtown Lewes at the same time."


Contact Amy Cherry at acherry@wdel.com or follow her on Twitter at @acherry13.

DART kicks off summer transit routes to resort points

By Andrew Sgroi 2:22pm, May 21, 2015 - Updated 3:30pm, May 22, 2015
Courtesy DART
Memorial Day doesn't just act as the kickoff for summer driving season--it's also the start of DART's resort service.

Julie Theyerl of DART, said area residents have lots of public transit options for making their way to the beach at any time of day. Even upstate residents looking to trade in their car keys for hassle-free transport can take advantage of weekend service.

"We're operating seven routes in the resort area, everyday, from 7 a.m. to as late as 2 a.m.," Theyerl said. "(The Route 305 Beach Connection) service operates on weekends and holidays and it comes from points north--Wilmington, Smyrna, Dover and Milford to Rehoboth."

DART is able to remove the wraps on their resort transit service every summer thanks to strong ridership. The low-cost transportation solution for residents and visitors of Delaware's beach communities is entering its 26th year.

"Our most popular route is the 201, which serves the Rehoboth boardwalk," Theyerl said. "Last year, we transported over 200,000 riders on that route alone."

The resort area service operates transit routes between Lewes, Dewey, Rehoboth, Fenwick, and Ocean City, Maryland--along the coast--as well as Long Neck and Georgetown, which are further inland.

Visitors and residents are encouraged to use DART's Park & Ride lot located off of Coastal Highway, on Shuttle Road - just north of the entrance to Rehoboth Avenue. The park rate there is $8 daily and up to four occupants of the vehicle receive free unlimited ride daily bus passes. For customers not using the Park & Ride option, the cost per ride is $1.75 or $3.70 for a daily pass.

For DART's Route 305 Beach Connection, stops include the Wilmington Train Station, Christiana Mall, Smyrna Rest Stop, Scarborough Park & Ride in Dover, Milford Walmart Supercenter on DuPont Boulevard, and the Rehoboth Park & Ride. The one-way cash fares are $11.50 from Wilmington, $6.90 from Dover. An option allowing for unlimited rides on the resort transit routes, once the Beach Connection transports you, is available for a total fare of $19.20.

Uber drives into Ocean City, MD

By Associated Press 1:24pm, May 22, 2015 - Updated 3:30pm, May 22, 2015
Uber has announced that it will begin offering rides beachgoers and vacationers in Ocean City and St. Michaels, just in time for Memorial Day weekend.

The Baltimore Sun reported that the popular rideshare company announced Thursday in a statement that it will start servicing people in those areas beginning Friday.

The company also announced service in more than 20 other beach towns along the East Coast.

Uber said rides will start with a base fare of $2.76, with 19 cents per minute and $1.52 per mile added after that. The company already operates in Baltimore and Annapolis, as well as certain suburbs around the Baltimore-Washington area.

An Uber spokesman said the company would be "constantly evaluating" demand to determine whether its services this summer would just be seasonal.

Obama nominates former New Castle County police chief to be Delaware US Marshal

By Frank Gerace 9:43pm, May 21, 2015 - Updated 11:47pm, May 21, 2015
A former New Castle County police chief has been nominated by President Obama to be a U.S. Marshal for Delaware.

Michael McGowan now works for Senator Coons.

McGowan was a member of the New Castle County Police force for 22 years, retiring as chief in 2011 to take his current job.

Senator Carper released a statement Thursday praising McGowan's nomination, which will now be taken up by the Senate.

Gold Alert issued for elderly missing Willow Run man

By Frank Gerace 11:27pm, May 21, 2015 - Updated 11:43pm, May 21, 2015
Lamar Lumpkin Junior
New Castle County Police have issued a Gold Alert for an 82-year-old man officers believe may be heading back to his original home.

Police said Lamar Lumpkin Junior left his home on Harrow Place in Willow Run during the day Thursday and hadn't come back by Thursday night, so family members called authorities.

Lumpkin, who police said suffers from several medical conditions, is black, 5'5" and 155 lbs. with brown hair, brown eyes and a gray beard, and was wearing a black shirt and blue jeans.

Police believe he may be heading back to his hometown, Coatesville, Pennsylvania, in a gray 2006 Dodge Stratus with Pennsylvania license number GGS 3048.

Anyone who may know where he is can call County Police at 302.573.2800. Tipsters may also call Crime Stoppers at (800) TIP-3333.

24-hour headlight use becomes mandatory on US 50 in Maryland

By Associated Press 3:30pm, May 22, 2015 - Updated 3:30pm, May 22, 2015
The State Highway Administration (SHA) is requiring that drivers have their vehicles' headlights on 24 hours a day while traveling on Route 50 between Route 13 in Wicomico County and MD 90 in Worcester County.

Mandatory headlight use went into effect Thursday and signs have been installed along the road to alert drivers.

The SHA said in an email that there have been crashes along the corridor and mandatory headlight use on MD 90 has made a difference.

Between 28,000 to 36,000 motorists travel on that part of Route 50 every day.

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