Presented to Council
SC Online Content Editor
GEORGETOWN -- Veterans brought their quest for a home for their elderly and ill compatriots to Sussex County on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2002, as it asked county council to support the concept of building a veterans' home in the First State.
No decisions have been made by the state on where to build such a facility, but county and state officials expressed the opinion that if such a facility were to be built in Sussex County, a medical services building should also be built there.
Delaware is the only state in the contiguous 48 states that does not have its own veterans' home, according to Anthony Vavala, executive director of the Delaware Veterans Commission.
Vavala told the council that of Delaware's three counties, Sussex County has the second largest veteran population. With the passage of House Bill 500, which provides a check-off on state income tax forms for contributions to a veterans' home, and with state House and Senate resolutions backing the project, Vavala said the idea is moving forward.
There are 84,000 veterans of military service in Delaware, Vavala said. That means Delaware has one of the highest concentrations of veterans in the nation, he said. "It says something about where we are as the First State, without a home (for veterans)," Vavala said.
Nationwide, there are 109 veterans' homes; the Veterans Administration estimates that Delaware could support a home with 165 beds, according to Vavala. Cost estimates for constructing such a facility are $28.6 million, with $10 million coming from the state and $18.6 million coming from the federal government.
So far, $50,000 has been set aside by the state, but Vavala said no decisions have been made on how to spend that money.
He estimated 20 acres of land would be needed, with 5 acres for the building and the rest for parking and grounds.
Since Delaware's existing hospital for veterans is in Elsmere, in New Castle County, there is some sentiment that a home should be built near there. Possible Sussex County locations could be along the Route 24 corridor and near Lewes and the Beebe Medical Center, county council was told during the meeting.
Several speakers at the meeting said there is definitely demand for more veterans' services in Sussex County, with the veterans' health clinic in Millsboro already plagued with waiting lists.
The alternative is to travel to New Castle County, and as County Administrator Robert Stickels said, "it's a long way from here to Elsmere," particularly for elderly veterans in fragile health.
Vavala said a veterans' home would have a staff of about 200, and would include nursing home care, adult day care and "domicilliary care" or hospice care. He said it may be possible to locate a medical facility adjacent to the home. "Right now, we're looking for the county's support," Vavala said.
State Rep. Shirley Price, D-Millville, was also on hand to seek the county's blessing. "As a Sussex Countian, and serving a large population of veterans and seniors, I obviously would like to see it contained someplace in Sussex County," Price said.
She echoed Vavalas' and Stickels' thoughts on an attached medical facility. "Millsboro has got such a waiting list and Elsmere is just too far to drive," she said.
Vavala said in order for the project to move forward, 15 percent of the construction cost must be "in the bank".
Grant Requests Questioned ...
After the usual round of requests for money from a variety of organizations, Sussex County Council member George Cole suggested the county should look into changing they way it funds recreational groups.
Currently, the council considers each request that comes in at its weekly meetings.
"It seems so disorganized," Cole said.
He suggested the council consider having a county staff member review the requests, similar to the way human service grant requests are handled.
Cole said he would like to see the county develop some criteria for granting requests. As it is now, the council considers requests for everything from Little League teams to adult baseball leagues. Cole said he would like to see activities for youths and seniors given a higher priority.
"We don't have a good inventory that we could help subsidize on a yearly basis," he said.
County Administrator Robert Stickels said there is no one currently on the county staff who could handle that responsibility. "What you're talking about is starting a recreation department," Stickels said.
He said he would rather see the county expand its human services grants rather than more sports teams.
On the contrary, Cole said he believed setting up a formal applicatioin procedure would reduce the pressure on the county to set up its own recreation department.
Council member Vance Phillips vehemently protested Cole's idea.
"If you're in touch with your district you begin to realize which organizations are worthy and which ones aren't," Phillips said. "Why are you looking for an expanded role of county government when things are working fine already?" Phillip asked.
Council member Dale Dukes said he tries to "scrutinize" requests that come to him. He said he does have a problem with subsidizing traveling sports teams, since they are taking their money and spending it outside the county.
Dukes said the $10,000 cap on grant requests for each council member helps them to winnow out the wheat from the chaff. "I think everybody does a pretty good job of scrutinizing their own requests," he said.In Other Business ...
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