Four of the five Dover City Council incumbents up for election this spring have filed papers to retain their seats in order to continue tackling the significant financial challenges the city faces an economy that has been slow to recover.
Dover City Councilmen David Anderson (4th District), William Hare (2nd District), James Hutchison (1st District) and Sean Lynn (3rd District) have all filed petitions for re-election, according to the Office of the City Clerk.
Council President Thomas Leary has opted not to run after deciding that nearly 14 years combined on council was a fair amount of time in public service.
Former Councilman Timothy Slavin has filed for Leary's at large seat.
So far, none of these gentlemen have opposition, according to the Office of the City Clerk. Dover's municipal election is scheduled to be held on April 16, 2013. Candidates are running for four-year terms for the first time after coming off two-year terms. City officials successfully petitioned the Delaware General Assembly in 2012 to change its city charter to extend time in office in order to save on the $10,000 cost of an annual election and to give council members more time to learn the budget process.
The councilmen agreed that fiduciary oversight would be at the top of their lists. That included how to wrap their minds around an unfunded, financial liability for employee pensions and health care costs worth more than $100 million in the near future.
"The economy is taking its time bouncing back," Anderson said. "We do have a very tight budget situation because revenues have been stagnant, particularly with things like the [real estate] transfer tax and other areas. But, as you can see with the plans and permits in the commercial sector, it won't be long before a lot of major projects come on board. If we keep the fiscal restraint, in a few years we're grow out of the tight budget.
"The other issue is we need to keep our commitment of keeping the city as safe as possible," he said. "We've already seen some results. The foiled robbery this week is a fine example, where combined police patrols and cameras worked together."
Hutchison, who served as mayor from 1994 to 2004 and police chief prior to that, said he wanted to continue to serve the city with the financial knowledge he had gained over the years. He began learning the intricacies of the city budget when he was police chief from 1988 to 2002, allowing him to bypass "a serious learning curve" when he joined council in 2011.
"It's hard to believe that it's been almost two years since I've been back in office," Hutchison said. "But it's an exciting time; it's a very critical time. Never in my lifetime have I witnessed the economic times of today. This economy is not going to change anytime soon. It requires good leaders that can look at your operation. Our No. 1 commitment is providing our citizens with quality service."
Page 2 of 2 - In addition to pensions and benefits, Hutchison said council needed to continue its work the growing problem of vacant buildings in disrepair, jobs and economic development. He added that Calpine building a 309-megawatt power production facility on 37 acres of land Garrison Oak Technical Park was an example of economic development because that new venture would generate $2.2 million in annual revenue for the city.
"I am very excited about working with city council, the city manager and the mayor to address the issues," Hutchison said. "We have a lot of work ahead of us."
Indeed, the city had its share of problems to address, Hare said. But the current council had gotten a good start on getting the city headed back in the right direction, he added.
Hare served on council from 1991 to 1997, and rejoined the legislative body two years ago.
"We're in a recession," Hare said. "We have some unfunded liabilities that we have to address — millions of dollars' worth – and I'd like to address those without raising taxes and fees."
As Lynn put it, the city was "at a crossroads" and the decisions it made today would have significant, long-term consequences. He said the city made great strides with the hiring of additional police officers, passing an ordinance that protects children from high risk sex offenders and beginning work on an ordinance that would compel landlords to address criminal activity in rental units. But, Lynn said there was still work to be done, particularly from an economic perspective.
"We must continue efforts to promote economic development in Dover so that we are a real contender among other similarly situated Mid-Atlantic cities," he said. "Simply stated - we mean "business" here in Dover (pun intended).
"Along those lines, I have fought to ensure that we retain out single greatest asset, and one that has essentially 'underwritten' our comparatively low cost of living in Dover – our Electric Utility."
City Council candidates must be American and Delaware citizens who have resided in the city for two years prior to the election. The filing deadline for the election is 4:30 p.m. Feb. 8.
More information can be obtained by calling the City Clerk's Office at 736-7008.