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Races to Watch: District 1 Kent County Levy Court Democratic primary

Delaware Public Media

Kent County Levy Court District 1 need a new commissioner after Brooks Banta retired following nearly a quarter century in that seat

Delaware Public Media’s Nick Ciolino has more on the two Democrats vying to fill that spot.

There are seven elected Commissioners on the Kent County Levy Court—six representing districts in the county and one at large member. 

Levy Court is responsible for services like constructing and maintaining the county sewer system, granting land applications and providing ambulance service.

The District One seat represents the northernmost portion of the county including Kenton as well as portions of Clayton, Smyrna and Cheswold.

Its current Commissioner and Levy Court President Brooks Banta announced in January he would not seek reelection in 2020. He points out it’s been more than a decade since the county’s taxes have been raised, though that may change soon.

“We’ve always been able to maintain a balance in the bank," said Banta. "We haven’t raised taxes in a great number of years, and only then because of necessity, but in the future it does appear that the taxes will have to be raised.” 

Banta is retiring after 60 years of public service. He was first elected Levy Court president in 1996.

He has endorsed fellow Democrat and former Smyrna Mayor Joanne Masten as his replacement.


“She returns phone calls, gets the job done; moves onto the next issue," said Banta. "Her suspense file at night is like mine, it’s empty. There is no suspense, because we take care of problems during the day as they arise. So, she’ll be a real asset to the county government. She’ll do a great job.” 

Masten initially agreed to be interviewed for this story, but later did not respond to multiple attempts to contact her.

According to the News Journal’s Delaware Online Voters guide, the retired 71 year-old says she is qualified to help develop Kent County’s economy, citing her understanding of the county’s economic organization and her experience in both the public and private sectors.

Masten is one of two candidates running in the District One Democratic primary. The other is Morgan Russum. She moved to the First State 15 years ago.

“In the time that I’ve been here, I’ve always been very active in my community—involved in my kids’ schools, the PTO. Extracurricular activities: I’ve been a coach of ‘Odyssey of the Mind’. I’ve been a member of the local volunteer fire companies and the fire company auxiliary. And I always just like to be involved,” said Russum. 

Russum is a constituent services representative in Sen. Tom Carper’s office. She says she has been regularly attending Kent County Levy Court Commissioner meetings for some time.

“While the county is great and the government has done an OK job, the majority of the commissioners that are in those positions now have been for several terms—up to 30 years. And there are a lot of issues they have just simply not addressed,” said Russum. 

Russum lists addressing broadband deserts in the western part of the county as one of her priorities, as many children are attending school remotely during the pandemic.

“And if this issue had been addressed when it first came to light, when people first started to notice that it was a problem, if they started working on it now then there wouldn’t be so many of our kids that are going to be struggling this year,” she said. 

Gov. John Carney has allocated $20 million from Delaware’s federal CARES Act funding towards broadband infrastructure. But Russum notes the state has announced plans to improve broadband issues in the past and she says connectivity is still poor in much of Kent County.

Russum also says she wants to readdress funding requests made by county first responders that were denied in past fiscal years. New Castle County first responders are receiving hazard pay for their work during the pandemic from the county’s CARES Act funding. Kent County did not receive CARES Act funding, but Russum says she still wants to reimburse first responders for their challenges during COVID.

“It’s important for me that the county compensates and takes care of our first responders and department of public health," she said. "I think they’ve been doing a really great job during the pandemic.” 

This could be a change from the status quo. Banta did not name first responders specifically, but had this to say about public service.

“Certain segments of the government need to understand that there’s so much money in the pot and at the end of the day when the pots empty and the money's gone, that’s it,” said Banta. 

Both Russum and Masten say they want to find ways to support local small businesses during the pandemic.

In her statement to the News Journal, Masten mentions being mindful and current as to what relief state and federal agencies are offering, beyond what the county can offer in the way of grants.

She also says she wants to see new commercial developments in Kent County and for the county to meet the housing goals outlined in its comprehensive plan.

Russum says she wants to see mixed use development, and for the county to encourage jobs that can support the single family homes being built in the area. She criticizes the county for only concentrating on industrial jobs in recent years.

“While there may be a higher number of jobs in the area, and I’m talking maybe a couple of hundred, those jobs don’t correlate into living wages in the area, which makes things very difficult for the people that are here,” said Russum. 

The primary election is this Tuesday Sept 15th. Joanne Masten and Morgan Russum—both Democrats—are the only two candidates running for the open Kent County Levy Court District One Commissioner seat.