New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer has been busy lately, pointing out his administration’s accomplishments.
A recent event highlighted the county seeing the number of vacant homes drop by half since 2017. Earlier, he announced a one-time 5% rebate on property taxes that, by my rough calculations, might amount to about $60 for a half-a-million-dollar home or a night out at a pizzeria.
Turning those funds over to school districts with aging buildings and high poverty rates might have been a better option. Given the ups and downs of county revenues, keeping those funds in reserve would reduce future property tax hikes.
Both announcements prove that Meyer has navigated the tricky world of county government politics and, in one observer’s words, “kept his name out of the newspapers.” That was not the case with his predecessor, former police chief Tom Gordon, whose three terms generated non-stop drama.
Meyer has also been lucky. The early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic brought a $300 million windfall to counties with higher populations. The thinking was that most large counties had health and welfare systems needing funding. Delaware handles such things.
Meyer did turn over some of that money, but enough was left to buy a former hotel for use as a center for the homeless. The Hope Center has made strides, despite an out-of-the-way location off I-95, even though the ultimate responsibility in dealing with the issue lies at the state level. Meyer also found funds for an effort to monitor the county sewage system for evidence of Covid, now a widespread practice that is also being used in assessing opioid use.
A decent housing market that generated transfer tax revenue (Delaware government tops the nation in the percentage of the sale price it pockets) also reduced the number of vacant homes and boosted county tax revenues. Meyer deserves credit for reducing the bureaucratic red tape that often held back renovation work, including home “flips.”
Then there’s the elephant in the room. Meyer, a Democrat, is running for governor, and while he has been careful not to blur the lines between his candidacy and his role as county executive, there is a reason for these events.
The big question is when his likely opponent, Lieutenant Gov. Bethany Hall-Long, will make a formal announcement. – Doug Rainey, chief content officer.