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New Castle County Council, executive branch disagree on oversight for CARES Act spending

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Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media
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A New Castle County Council meeting before the coronavirus forced meetings to happen over Zoom

New Castle County is seeking to allocate millions in federal coronavirus relief funds with less oversight from County Council.  That makes some Council members feel uneasy. 

New Castle County’s executive branch put forward two “emergency” ordinances at Tuesday’s County Council meeting about the more than $322 million in federal coronavirus response money the County is getting through the CARES Act

One ordinance would waive the need for Council approval of contracts and other requirements for purchases paid for with the CARES Act money. The other would accept the more than $322 million, earmarking a total of around $65 million of it for uses including salaries, supplies and contractual services.

Council voted to table both. 

Councilman Dave Carter objected to the idea of giving up any oversight.

“To come in and ask basically to waive all of Council’s responsibilities except say it’s going to follow the CARES Act, which is about as specific as, not at all … is deeply concerning to me,” he said. 

County attorney Wilson Davis defended the proposals. 

“There are many pressing needs for this money,” he said. “The intent was maximum flexibility with the understanding that we will have members of Council sitting on the task forces that are going to be administering these funds.”

Councilwoman Janet Kilpatrick agreed with the need for more flexibility. 

“This is not a political issue,” she said. “If  we have to wait and vote on every single little thing, there is no way we’re going to to get through 320-some million dollars.”

Councilman John Cartier, co-chair of the Finance Committee, moved to table the ordinance waiving some approval requirements in order to give Council more time to consider it.

“We can do special meetings,” he said. “We can act in an extraordinary way in this time. But I think we need more deliberation and more controls. And I’m just concerned.”

Councilman Penrose Hollins urged Council to table the other ordinance. He said he wanted more clarity on it.

“It’s an awful lot of money to say this is an emergency,” he said. “I’m just not comfortable finding out about … $60 million and it not being very clear. I think we deserve to have a little more input.”

“I think this is a bad precedent for going forward for $322 million,” he added.  

The ordinances could be considered at Council’s next meeting. 

County Council also voted Tuesday to authorize the County Executive to present the Delaware River and Bay Authority’s (DRBA) with a notice of non-renewal for its contractual management of the county-owned Wilmington Airport in New Castle. 

DRBA’s 30-year lease on the airport expires in 2025. Council’s move is in line with the recommendation of a task force which spent months considering the best use for the site. 

“I don’t know where, why or how the 30 years were put in place in the first place,” said Councilman Jea Street Sr. “As we go into [a new contract cycle], I hope somebody has the wisdom not to make it for 30 years.”

Under the task force’s recommendation, DRBA may bid on the new airport lease.

 

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