Kent County Lawmakers File Bills to Spur Economic Development

DOVER— Kent County legislators are poised to break new ground with a series of bills that would establish Delaware’s first public-private partnership for transportation initiatives and benefit the Dover economy – without using taxpayer dollars.

Currently in Delaware Code, there is a provision that addresses alternate ways to fund, design and build plans for transportation projects throughout the state without depending on state or federal revenue. The Delaware Department of Transportation has set schedules for various projects in all the counties, but those projects are reliant on federal and state funding and ranked on a priority list.

However, under a public-private partnership, developers could expedite transportation projects by developing a funding and construction plan, and then turn over maintenance of the projects to the state.

These five bills, sponsored by Rep. Bill Carson, would allow Dover and Kent County to take out bonds for transportation projects and then use specific economic development tools to pay the debt service over time, such as tolls, tax increment financing and special development district designations. Currently, New Castle County and Wilmington are authorized to use those funding mechanisms.

The ability to use tax increment financing and special development districts allows municipalities to redirect future tax revenue and levy taxes on redeveloped property to pay for the bonds, but only if the city, county and school district sign off.

“In these difficult budget times we have to look for creative solutions to move Delaware forward and bolster local economies,” said Rep. Carson, D-Smyrna. “This one-of-a-kind partnership could become a model for the state at a time where we need transportation projects funded, but our state revenues are lacking.”

The genesis of these bills came about from a proposed traffic alleviation and expansion plan around the Dover Mall. The $31 million project calls for a new exit along Del. 1 near the back of the mall and the construction of roads that run parallel to the highway. Developers and local officials tout this as an opportunity to draw consumers to the Dover area and add high-end stores to the mall in order to revamp it and have it rival the Christiana Mall and the outlets downstate.

However, design plans would not even begin until 2021, which prompted developers to look for alternative ways to move the project forward. Under this new public-private partnership and proposed legislation, construction would begin by 2019 and would be financed through potentially three sources: a 50-cent toll, tax increment financing and special development districts. The financing would not use public money.

“It’s impossible to overstate the importance of driving economic development in Dover and Kent County, both by building on our success improving growth downtown, and by protecting and supporting the anchors of our regional economy, such as Dover Downs and, in this case, the Dover Mall,” said Sen. Brian Bushweller, D-Central Kent. “Wilmington and New Castle County have access to TIF and special development districts to help support strong economic growth; making those tools available to our state’s second-largest city should be a matter of common sense.”

House Bills 115, 116, 117, 118 and 119 have been introduced and assigned to the House Administration Committee.