Elected officials are struggling to understand why the Social Security Administration has plans to move its centrally located office from Georgetown to Lewes.
Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson said the decision was made by Social Security Administration and General Services Administration staff based on the cost of real estate and a survey of office users and staff. But, he added, the reasons are vague. “We really don't have any details, and no answers to our questions,” he said.
On Nov. 11, Lawson said he has been told a lease has been signed. “The train may have left the station on this,” he said.
Lawson said it's discouraging that no local input was solicited. “The decision was made and no one knew,” he said, adding the plan may have been put in place during the summer.
The move was made public during the Oct. 29 county council meeting when council members opposed the plan and directed Lawson to contact Delaware's federal delegation.
It didn't take long for U.S. Rep. John Carney to react. He sent a strongly worded letter to Sara Manzano-Diaz, Mid-Atlantic regional administrator with the U.S. General Services Administration. “Georgetown is no more than 16 miles from any point in Sussex County, making it a reachable destination for any member of the community,” Carney wrote. “Moving the SSA office to Lewes would require Delawareans in western Sussex County to travel more than twice the distance to obtain needed services.”
Carney said the office, located off Route 113 just north of Georgetown, serves nearly 100 people a day, including many senior citizens.
Lewes is a popular tourist destination served by Route 1, the most congested road in Sussex County, Carney said, with routine traffic delays in the summer months. “The current location in Georgetown is far enough away from the Delaware beach areas to avoid much of the traffic, and the office is already served by a major highway and several bus routes,” Carney said.
In addition, Carney said, his office has heard from residents and county officials that no public input was sought before the new location was selected. Transparency and input from the public must be part of making a decision that will impact thousands of Social Security recipients in the community, he said.
Sussex County Council President Mike Vincent, R-Seaford, asked Lawson to find out what county officials could do to stop the move. “Is there anything we could do to change their mind and keep the office somewhere in the center of county?” he asked during the Oct. 29 meeting.
Vincent said Georgetown is the perfect location because it is literally in the center of the county.
“There are some serious concerns about this from my constituents,” said Sussex County Councilman Vance Phillips, R-Laurel. “It's much more convenient for most of the county to go to Georgetown than Lewes.”
Phillips called driving on beach-area roads in the summer almost nightmarish.
Sussex County Councilwoman Joan Deaver, D-Rehoboth Beach, said she is not sure why the Social Security Administration would choose to move its office. “I'm surprised,” she said. “It seems like the office should be in the center of the county, but I don't know costs or the reason for the change; I don't have enough information. I'm all for keeping services in Georgetown.”
“The new location is definitely skewed to the eastern side of the county,” Lawson said.
The location of the office and the date of the move have not been announced. Calls to General Services Administration officials were not returned.