Lower, slower Delaware still lower, just not slower

March 20, 2018

The cliché, "Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it," is well-worn, but contains some truth.

So some years ago, we asked an eighth-generation Sussex Countian why there was no four-lane highway between the beaches and U.S. 50 in Eastern Shore, Maryland. The answer came back quickly to the effect that western Sussex County farmers didn't want a bunch of traffic from Washington and Baltimore traversing their land, driving through their towns and otherwise annoying them.

And further - and this was decisive - there would be no such highway as long as Thurman Adams was alive. You will remember that the late state Sen. Thurman G. Adams Jr., Democrat of Bridgeville, was president pro tem of the Senate. The urban legend here is that Adams once told the secretary of transportation that if he ever heard of so much as one pencil scratching paper to plan such a highway, they would all be toast. DelDOT believed him, too.

Perhaps it is pertinent to point out that there are three four-lane highways running north and south through Sussex County, but none running east and west. Which may partially explain why we get so many immigrants to Saltwater Sussex from New Jersey and Pennsylvania. And now even from New York and Connecticut.

This also explains why Sussex County has progressed from by far the least populated county in Delaware to No. 2 by quite a margin in the last 25 years. Back then, many hotels and restaurants in Rehoboth, Dewey and Bethany Beach closed for the winter right after Christmas, or even right after Thanksgiving, to reopen in the late spring. Things were slow in Lower Slower Delaware in those days.

Today, on the other hand, the ZIP codes from Milford to Fenwick Island now sport a population of nearly 100,000. Beebe Hospital has expanded three times in those years. The Cape Henlopen School District is holding another referendum today, this time to build yet another middle school and expand the high school built just a couple-plus years ago.

True, a lot of those immigrants are fiftyish retirees with no children at home. But these retirees require services, and that means younger workers with kids. The mention of these immigrants, who fill our churches, our schools, our restaurants, our libraries (all new, as well) and our representatives' coffee klatches, suggests another point. That is all too often, the immigrants come to Delaware because of our low taxes, but they also bring their expectation for government services.

Those expectations can be based on New Jersey or Maryland, high-tax states.

Some years ago, these suggestions were offered to newbies:

• If you want running water, drill a well.
• If you want sewer, build a septic system.
• Since you are not within a municipality, your garbage will not be picked up by the city. You will need to call a trash company.
• You will need to pay your fire company "dues" when the bill comes. Otherwise, if you have a fire, the fire department may bill you and it'll be a lot.
• The only law enforcement in Sussex County outside municipalities is the Delaware State Police. These troopers are on those four-lane highways, not in your subdivision. So buy a gun.
• If you want the snow plowed on your street before it melts, call somebody to plow it.
• If you want something other than sandy loam on your street, call a gravel company.
• If you want to receive mail, put up a mailbox and then call the local post office and tell them where it is.
• There is no leash law in Sussex County, so don't complain if some dog chases you.
• If you want a street light, call the Delaware Electric Co-op. They'll install one for you and then put it on your electric bill.

Immigrants from New Jersey or north sometimes don't understand these things. They are used to the state and local government providing police protection, sometimes pretty intrusive, or bringing a water line to your door.

We don't do that in Lower Slower Delaware.

That is why the taxes on most homes are less than $1,000, whereas the same home in northern New Jersey would face property taxes of $15,000 or more a year. It is why there is no sales tax in Delaware, whereas in New Jersey it is 8 percent. Nine percent in Washington, D.C. It is why Delaware's personal income tax is modest compared with surrounding states.

So the next time you're in a meeting and some newbie complains about the government services or something else they miss from where they came from, say something.

Tell them that they came here from New Jersey or wherever because they were getting away from something they didn't like. So please don't try to make Lower Slower Sussex like New Jersey or New York.

That eighth-generation Sussex Countian may not be entirely right, but he did have a point when he reminisced that things were different before the Chesapeake Bay Bridge was built or before SR1 was made like it is between Wilmington and Dover.

Lower, Slower Delaware is still lower. Just not slower.

Reid Beveridge has covered politics in Texas, Iowa, Wisconsin, Delaware and Washington, D.C. He is now retired at Broadkill Beach.

  • Accomplished writers appear in the Politics column every Tuesday on a rotating basis to explore the dynamic world of politics at the local, county, state, national and world levels.

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