By Carol Kinsley

Shortly after being sworn in as the new mayor of the town of Blades, Robert Atkinson called for a workshop in which the town council would go over a long list of details. Held April 26, the meeting touched on several issues that the town has been dealing with for quite some time and a few new ones, bringing everyone up to date. Atkinson had presented each council member with topics to report on.

Vice-Mayor Mike Smith announced that Environmental Alliance Inc., which was hired in 2019 to do a risk assessment on the abandoned dry cleaner property on Market Street near the bridge, had presented its report to Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Concern on March 15.

“It’s a very large report,” Smith said. Some problems had been detected, mostly on surface areas, and there are a couple of areas that will need to be dug up. Smith did not anticipate release of the property to the town for another six months. Once it is turned over to the town, there should be “no strings attached,” he said.

Atkinson suggested the property might be offered for sale as commercial property. “A potential park wouldn’t benefit us as a tax producer,” he explained.

Water Commissioner Ashley Hudson reported that all three wells are working properly, although a meter on one is broken and isn’t calculating water usage. Parts are on order and repair is scheduled. Hudson also noted that the water department needs to have two full-time employees, for safety sake, rather than one full-time and one part-time worker.

Bobbi Jo Tice, parks and cemetery commissioner, was asked to review the town’s cemetery requirements. A quick visit to the cemetery revealed at least five grave sites that need attention for possible violations, Tice said. The bylaws state there should be nothing that is not level with the ground except the headstone. Some exceptions have been grandfathered in on very old graves, but if these are broken and not maintained, they will lose that exception. The cemetery will be divided into sections for further inspection to see if there are more violations.

Tice announced that a substitute piece of play equipment, rather than a merry-go-round, will be purchased with grant money that is available. It will be safer, less expensive and more appropriate for younger children, she said. Tice is also looking into mulch and sand for the park.

She noted that Seaford is now renting out its parks, under specific COVID-19 rules on the number of people, amount of time and how to sanitize. There are no employees to enforce the rules — that is the responsibility of the renter.

Tice said, “Blades has a beautiful park. I think we should use it more.”

There has been discussion of a second pavilion at the park, the mayor noted, but parking space is limited.

Tice also noted the mechanism for raising and lowering flags on one of the flag poles is not working. “With Memorial Day and Flag Day coming, we need to get it fixed,” she said.

Streets Commissioner Russell Joseph reported bids are coming in for paving on two streets this year. Once the cost is known, it may be possible to get funding to cover it. In addition, nine patches have been made necessary by water leaks.

A new issue was the discovery that the town had not paid taxes due on certain items in 2018 and has incurred penalties and interest. Town Administrator Lisa Marks was able to arrange for the penalties to be waived.

Marks said a dozen or so residents have complained they have not received a tax bill. She and Town Clerk Karen Raines sent letters to property owners who have not paid their taxes. They are also working on letters about outstanding water accounts. Shutoffs for non-payment, which had been halted because of COVID-19, will begin again this month, but only after reminder letters are mailed. “Arrangements can be made to pay,” Marks said.

Newly named Police Commissioner Donald Trice reported on a “productive meeting” with Police Chief Paul Anthony which included staffing, use of bullet-proof vests and how to use a $14,000 grant for the police department. “Our goal is to keep our officers safe and the town of Blades safe, too,” Trice said.

Atkinson commented that Anthony “does have a heart for the town and has been a big help to us.” He said Anthony’s contract renewal would be discussed at the next council meeting on May 10.

The schedule for payment to council members was discussed and will be returned to the June and December schedule specified in town policy.

The mayor also noted that a service provided by the town’s bank — going over the checking statement — is not free, but costly. In the past, the town has had a problem with audits because there was not an extra person to provide checks and balances, he said. Having the town clerk officially become an assistant to the town administrator would make it possible to eliminate the bank service and help the town become compliant with auditors. The change in title and expansion of responsibilities needs to be voted on at a council meeting.

Atkinson added, “Evaluating budget to income, the situation is not as bad as we thought. Give us two months. If we control spending for 60 days, we should be okay. What bothers me the most, as a business person, is that we have no reserve.”

Editor’s Note: The article reporting on the April 12 Blades Council meeting was in error. The cemeteries are mowed under a three-year contract, not the park.