Wilmington News Journal Candidate Forum Response
NCCO Council District 2 Q&A: Robert Weiner
What should the county do to make people feel safer in their homes, businesses and communities?
We must work to put more officers on the street by increasing the authorized strength of the force and moving officers out of more administrative roles and into patrol. We need to continue seeking assistance from the state and federal governments to support public safety staffing and equipment. We must also build on the cooperative efforts between the New Castle County Police Department and state and local police departments through programs like Operation Safe Streets. Citizens must always feel that County government works for all of us.
What steps should the county government take to improve the housing choices available to people, and how well do you think the county enforces rental housing regulations?
Affordable rental housing is a growing concern for New Castle County. Most of the rental housing stock in the unincorporated areas of the county is decades old and concentrated in independent complexes. The county’s rental housing registration and code are relatively young, but are developing quickly. The rental housing registration program went well, with tens of thousands of rental units in the unincorporated areas of the county registering. Now our attention must shift to the enforcement of the rental code through random inspections and responses to complaints from tenants. Compact mixed use development patterns located at transit oriented locations such as in Claymont can best facilitate housing choices.
How do you assess the current level of county spending and taxation, as well as the priorities reflected in the budget? What, if any, changes would you make in spending, taxes or services?
The county’s financial position is strong, having recently received a AAA bond rating from all three premier ratings agencies and having accumulated some savings during the housing surge of the last 10 years. Our spending must fall into line with our revenues over the next several years in order to avoid major changes in the way our county government operates or the services we provide to residents.
How do you assess the county’s personnel practices and record, in terms of fairness, effectiveness in acquiring top talent and in meeting diversity objectives? What improvements would you suggest?
I have been a strong advocate of benchmarking: i.e. comparing and structuring our employees’ salaries and benefits relative to other governments’ employees. Once the County Task Force that has been established has completed its benchmarking analysis and achieved its other objectives, New Castle County will be able to empirically address all aspects of this issue in detail. Our ability and commitment to attract the most talented employees will best serve our customers: the citizens of New Castle County. I believe that by attracting the best employees, we will also meet our diversity goals and objectives.
How do you assess the county’s record in the provision of recreation facilities and programs? What, if any, adjustments need to be made?
New Castle County provides excellent recreational opportunities to our residents, but we face a growing challenge as our county population expands and continues to spread south. We must work to address the growth issues through construction of planned features in the Glasgow Regional Park and in the development of Wiggins Mill Park. We need to continue to maintain and support our more established park lands, including neighborhood parks.
We must work to provide children and adults with places to participate in sports. I worked hard with Representative Wayne Smith to secure additional athletic fields in our community for our children to play organized sports. However, we need to balance the push to expand recreational and sports facilities and programs with our on-going budgetary constraints.
How do you assess the county’s sewage collection and treatment systems and do you think plans for the future are adequate, properly funded and well-designed?
Wastewater treatment and disposal are key to the patterns for growth, development and redevelopment in New Castle County. In Brandywine Hundred, we have undertaken necessary and overdue repairs to the aging sewer system. Those repairs will vastly improve the quality of the service provided and increase available capacity in the northern tier of the county. The lack of capacity to date limits our ability to redevelop brownfields and other properties in Claymont in ways that meet the needs of businesses looking to move into the area. Additionally, we are now moving forward with the development of sewer service in the southern area of the county, which is vital to our ability to allow for density in building compact mixed use transit oriented villages and to market the area for business and employment centers.
Are current county laws governing land development adequate and appropriate? What changes, if any, would you propose?
Consistent with the modifications recommended in the County Comprehensive Plan update process, recently completed, we must adopt code changes which allow us to identify appropriate transit oriented locations (i.e. economic incentive zones) to incentivize compact mixed use villages, where residents have the option of not always having to use their car. In these pedestrian friendly villages, residents will have the option to walk from their homes to where they shop, work, play, pray and school their children. We must also provide for work force housing for our teachers, first responders and other work force members of more modest incomes as this strategy makes sense from an economic development, transportation management and social equity perspective.
Do you support any expansion of gambling in the state, either by allowing new games at existing casinos or allowing additional casino sites? Are there other steps the state should take to meet gambling competition from other states?
I am undecided on this issue.
How do you assess the state of the county’s preparedness to meet emergencies caused by violence, natural disaster or public health crises?
Planning for emergencies, whether natural or man-made, involves anticipating which situations are most likely to occur and deciding how prepared is prepared enough. The Office of Emergency Management recently updated the Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan for New Castle County. It is the “playbook” for county officials in the event of a crisis of any nature. I have great confidence in our Office of Emergency Management and in our adopted plan. I do have concerns about the speed with which DelDOT is moving on its evacuation planning; especially it’s plans for New Castle County.
How do you assess the rate of job growth and economic development in New Castle County? What more can be done to recruit new jobs and attract, retain or grow existing businesses?
While many expected 2006 to be a distressing year for the New Castle County economy, with the potential of thousands of layoffs by Bank of America and by construction companies that staffed up for the housing boom, this year our local economy has grown stronger. Honeywell Inc. announced plans to locate one of two regional data centers for the United States here in New Castle County, bringing more than 100 anticipated high wage, high tech jobs to the area. Air Liquide, an international science and technology company, announced that it will be expanding in the county, moving numerous high wage, high tech jobs to this area. In both cases, New Castle County’s Office of Redevelopment played key roles, working in partnership with the Delaware Economic Development Office and federal officials to market our area to the companies and assist with redevelopment plans for the new locations. We need to do more to build on these successes, going out nationally to market New Castle County as a center for science, technology and financial services businesses. We also need to expand business opportunities in growing areas of the county and to support entrepreneurs that start companies here.
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