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Smyrna/Clayton Sun-Times
  • Supporters get background information on sports complex, Frederica interchange

  • Area residents hoping to see the construction of a multi-million dollar sports complex near Frederica found out the night of July 8 they may have to fight that battle on two fronts.
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  • Area residents hoping to see the construction of a multi-million dollar sports complex near Frederica found out the night of July 8 they may have to fight that battle on two fronts.
    Retired Delaware State Police trooper Bob Murphy, of Milford, called the session at the Frederica Fire Hall, to bring together supporters of the proposed Kent County Sports Complex, which is to be built on Del. Route 1, just south of the town.
    The complex is in danger because of DelDOT’s decision to delay construction of an interchange and overpass on Route 1 that would bring youth and parents to the $23 million center. Bill Strickland, former president of the Greater Kent Committee, the group of businessmen behind the project, already has said financial backing for the project could dry up if the situation is not soon resolved.
    The session was more of a one-hour information session than an organizational meeting, where the three-dozen people there learned that not only must DelDOT Secretary Shailen Bhatt be persuaded to rethink the project, state legislators also must be pressured to reverse almost two decades of legislation that has drained away money intended for transportation construction.
    Retired DelDOT Chief Engineer Raymond F. Harbeson told the group that in the early 1990s the state began tapping the transportation trust fund to pay DelDOT’s everyday operating costs. State legislators never reversed what was supposed to be a short-term measure and continued to use the trust fund to shore up state finances, he said.
    “That was supposed to be a temporary fix that was never corrected,” Harbeson said in a Wednesday phone interview. “Those operating costs today still come from the trust fund.”
    Over the years, most efforts to get legislators to increase revenue through additional taxes and increased fees have failed as well, Harbeson said.
    A law requiring $40 million be added to the trust fund, which was not always enforced, was repealed in 2014, permanently denying that funding to DelDOT, he added.
    That gap was partially filled for Fiscal Year 2015 by a $1 hike in tolls on Route 1 and by $20 million in new borrowing, leaving a $10 million hole that was supposed to be filled by Gov. Jack Markell’s proposal for a 10-cent increase in the state gas tax.
    The gas tax, however, never came up and prospects for finding additional money for the transportation fund next year also do not look good, Harbeson told the group.
    The overall result is that there isn’t enough money available to meet both the state’s general fund obligations and to pay for all of the transportation projects, including the Route 1 interchange, despite promises and plans made in the past, Harbeson said.
    Page 2 of 2 - “The general fund keeps falling short, and there really is no general fund money to absorb [transportation expenses] right now,” he said. “It’s hard for the legislature to do that when they can’t even find the money for the general fund.”
    The only way to put money back into the transportation trust fund is to raise fees and taxes, he said.
    “I wanted to let the community know the problem isn’t as simple as them beating on legislators to get them moving on a $23 million project,” Harbeson said. “The better idea is for them to enact new revenue that will move the project forward.”
    State Rep. Donald Blakey, (R-Camden), called the evening an “eye opener” for him, adding he wished the meeting had been held while the legislature still was in session.
    However, Blakey added, those at the meeting still had time to work the problem and motivate supporters before the General Assembly reconvenes in January.
    Murphy promised to do just that.
    There will be additional meetings for those supporting the sports complex who will lobby DelDOT and the General Assembly to find the cash needed to make the interchange a reality, he said.
    To learn more about the Friends of the Kent County Regional Sports Complex, email Murphy at friendsforkcrsc@aol.com.
     

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