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In The News

Chambers discuss reopening businesses with governor

From Delaware State News

DOVER — Chambers of commerce representatives statewide met with Gov. John Carney as discussion to further reopen businesses continues during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Following a roughly hourlong conversation Wednesday afternoon, more is planned. The chambers will now meet with Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy Albert Shields and Division of Small Business Director Damian DeStefano, attendees said.

The point of contact connection with Mr. Shields and Mr. DeStefano was crucial for members, Delaware Small Business Chamber President Bob Older said.

“We as a group want to be in on the conversation for the regulations that will be announced coming up,” he said. “If you have regulations in place and businesses are ready to open now then they should be allowed to do so.”

According to Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce President Judy Diogo, “It was a good phone call that had a lot of good comments made on both sides.

“We’re just trying to get businesses open sooner rather than later.”

After the meeting Ms. Diogo said she hopes for businesses returning prior to June 1. On Tuesday, she said May 18 was a target date.

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Guest Column: Why does Gov. Carney dislike small business?

From Delaware Business Times

Commentary from DSBC President, Bob Older

Delaware Small Business Chamber President Bob Older submitted this to the Delaware Business Times as an “open letter to small business owners in Delaware.” 

I want to apologize to all small business owners in Delaware.  I’ve said before that I don’t believe Delaware is very small business friendly.  I have tried to make people understand business in Delaware better and in some cases, we have made great strides. However, with top-level people, it doesn’t appear we have made an impact yet.

I understand we are in difficult times.  I understand it’s a fine line between health and economy and that no matter which direction we all take there may be no right answer.  We care about our loved ones just as much as we care about making a living and putting food on our tables.  It’s not an easy decision and I think we all understand that and the ramifications that come with it.

My personal issue is that our small business owners deserve better.  We deserve better leadership at the very top.   I agree that things needed to be done to prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed and to protect the most vulnerable of our population.   On a personal level, in my opinion, what we have done since then is not the right answer.

The industries with the best lobbyist get to do things that others could not do.  The governor has said when trends go downward, we will start the processes of reopening.   Which Governor should we listen to and which is running our state?  Seems like Governor Cuomo is making more decisions than the one we elected is doing.   The one we elected says that hospitals are at half of the capacity which we expected.  That is great.   Numbers in New Castle and Kent Counties have had significant drops.  That too is great.  We have allowed dollar stores, big box stores, gun stores and the like to open up and sell more than food.  Reasons?  Either police enforcement would have been too costly or lobbyists threatened potential lawsuits.  Is that what we as a state need to do? Sue?

Over the last few weeks, thousands of people, small business owners, legislators, and most of the chambers of commerce in Delaware have reached out to key people to offer options, make some suggestions and in some cases, demand the state reopen.   Last week, the Governor opened up a few industries, mostly curbside, to help start up the economy — the bare-bones basics to “show” he was doing something.  Instead of saying those that qualified could open the next day, he made them wait four more days.  At the same time, he then pushed the opening of Phase One two more weeks – absolutely contradicting his own statements, charts, actions etc.  THAT makes little to no sense at all.  In most areas, numbers are dropping.  In all areas, hospitals are doing well, as are the people in the state.   So why push it further away?

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Philly Fed chief: Delaware faces uneven recovery

From Delaware Business Times

PHILADELPHIAThe head of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia told Delaware business leaders Tuesday morning that he expects the state’s banking and finance sectors to weather the coronavirus pandemic while manufacturing will “bounce back” as it subsides. But he also said traffic at the Port of Wilmington and the state’s tourism-dependent beaches may be in for a tough year.

Patrick T. Harker, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia and the former president of the University of Delaware, outlined an uneven economic recovery for the First State, where New Castle County will likely endure better than Kent and Sussex counties.

Delaware’s travel and hospitality sector – an area where the southern counties are particularly dependent — may face “a longer and more painful contraction,” Harker said in a conference call with the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce. That would be spurred by businesses reducing corporate travel amid the increasing use of teleconferencing software, like Zoom or Skype, and the hesitance of many families to visit crowded places such as Delaware’s public beaches.

“There will be demand. People will still, understandably, have cabin fever and they’ll want to get out on some sort of vacation, but they may take small steps before getting on an airplane or trying to go long distances,” he said.

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Central Delaware chamber pushing for more businesses to reopen Monday

From Delaware State News

DOVER — The Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce is pushing to reopen more businesses by Monday, and will make a pitch to Gov. John Carney during a teleconference this afternoon.

CDCC President Judy Diogo said the organization’s letter to the governor on Monday emphasized “well thought-out plans” to provide a healthy environment for arriving patrons and employees. The correspondence was shared with the state’s 13 other chamber branches, who will also join the call, she said.

Currently, Phase 1 economic reopening is scheduled for June 1 under the governor’s state of emergency order. While some essential businesses have stayed open throughout COVID-19’s arrival in March, others later opened with restrictions and some remain shuttered.

In the past month, Ms. Diogo said eight CDCC business members – small retail stores – have closed permanently.

“That’s devastating to hear,” she said. “They said there was no possible way to continue due to the financial impact of being closed.”

Other business owners are, Ms. Diogo said, “desperate and frightened, some of them are angry and they feel frustrated. They’re confident in the steps they’ve taken to provide safe and secure settings and are ready to open back up and get to work. “

The CDCC has approximately 850 small- and mid-sized company members who have about 36,000 employees combined. Ms. Diogo said the recurring theme during discussions is that companies have outlined in great detail their plans to provide best practices upon reopening. Businesses would be amendable if hours are initially restricted, Ms. Diogo said.

“Businesses need the option to reopen at this point, which some might not do if they don’t feel ready to do that for whatever reason,” Ms. Diogo said. “For those that do, however, we all feel very confident and trust that they’ve made serious and well thought-out efforts to safely accommodate anyone associated with them.”

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Judge rules Delaware property tax system unconstitutional; major changes to residents’ bills could follow

From The News Journal

A judge has ruled that Delaware’s property tax system is unconstitutional, potentially triggering significant changes in annual tax bills for the first time in decades.

Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster wrote on Friday that all three counties calculate tax bills with property values that are so outdated some taxpayers get an unfair discount while others pay taxes on a larger share of their property’s actual worth.

Those inequities violate the state constitutional requirement that property owners be taxed equally, Laster said in a 149-page ruling in Delaware’s Court of Chancery.

“By continuing to use the decades-old valuations when preparing their assessment rolls, the counties treat owners of similar properties differently,” Laster wrote.

The ruling could eventually affect every property that is taxed in Delaware, and begins a debate on how to make the state’s property tax system fair in the eyes of the courts.

Laster’s opinion asks attorneys for both sides to submit a schedule in 45 days to govern that discussion, which is likely to be litigated in court before any residents see changes to their tax bills

The plaintiffs, a group of education funding activists and Wilmington officials, want property values to be reassessed — a potentially costly, months-long process in which assessors visit each property and update its value in current housing market conditions.

It could lead to property tax increases for those who are currently underpaying relative to the market value of the property, decreases for those who are overpaying and some tax bills changing very little.

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Open letter to Gov. Carney from business leaders

From Delaware Business Times

Dear Governor Carney: 

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and the necessary restrictions on economic activity enacted by the State, The Delaware Business Roundtable and the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce have been working together to provide our assistance to safely and responsibly enable a phased reopening of Delaware’s economy. At the outset, we want to be clear that we believe any action to reopen the economy must follow public health guidance to be certain Delaware does not experience a resurgence and put additional pressure on the state’s healthcare system. 

We are writing today to offer two specific pieces of work: 

COVID-19 Best Practices: This is a guidance document for Delaware’s business community, developed after surveying and discussing these issues with businesses statewide. We believe this document will provide a basic guide to businesses outlining essential activities they must consider as they execute a phased reopening. We are working to disseminate this document widely to our members and beyond; 

Putting Delaware Back to Work: Economic Recovery in the First State: This is a series of strategic, long-term policy recommendations with consideration that the economic recovery from the pandemic will take far longer than any of us may have initially imagined. Thus, now is the time to make meaningful public policy changes and investments so that we can jumpstart efforts to create a higher skilled workforce, a streamlined regulatory approval process, easy access to broadband, and more. 

Many agree that the pandemic has brought to light some of the challenges Delaware faces in competing with other states for jobs, talent and investment. The goal is clear: we should act with urgency now! Why? So that in two or three years we can look back and assert unequivocally that in the midst of a national crisis Delaware leaders – representing both state and business interests – acted responsibly in the short term and also took the long view to put Delaware on a forward-looking, carefully considered path that resulted in economic prosperity for all Delawareans. We believe that, working closely with you and the General Assembly, many of the proposals articulated in the attached document should be enacted within the next 30 days as a means of generating jobs. As has been said before, we should never let a serious crisis go to waste; it’s an opportunity to do things we think we could not do before. 

Read the full letter here

Legislators Call On Governor To End State of Emergency Citing Alarming Problems

From First State Update

A group of Delaware legislators is calling on Governor Carney to reopen the state.

In a letter dated April 30, 2020, the group said they can no longer remain silent and are urging him to end the State of Emergency.

Read the letter below:

Governor John Carney
Tatnall Building
150 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Dover, DE 19901
Dear Governor Carney,On March 12, you used your authority under the Delaware Code (Title 20, Chapter 31) to declare a State of Emergency in reaction to the perceived threat posed by the
COVID-19 pandemic. 

Since that time, you have renewed the State of Emergency and issued 13 modifications of the declaration.

We were supportive of the initial actions you took. Given the dire projections and the opinions of health experts at the time, we too believed these actions were prudent and necessary. Even when we have had differing opinions regarding the state’s response, our members have worked with your administration behind the scenes to present a united front during one of our state’s most difficult periods.

Today is the 49th day Delawareans are living under the restrictions imposed by your State of Emergency declaration. With the lives and livelihoods of our citizens under threat, we can no longer remain silent.

While COVID-19 poses a significant public health concern, the efforts to curtail its spread have created their own problems that are just as alarming…

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Delaware poultry worker files federal charges against local union, claiming violations

From The News Journal

An employee at a southern Delaware chicken plant has filed federal charges against the workers’ union representative, claiming “union officials are violating his and his coworkers’ rights by seizing union fees.”

Oscar Cruz Sosa, an employee at Mountaire Farms’ poultry processing plant in Selbyville, has filed federal charges with the National Labor Relations Board against the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 27 union for threats and other violations of federal law, according to a press release issued Tuesday by the National Right to Work Foundation.

Sosa said the union seized union fees “under an unlawful forced dues provision in the union contract,” according to the release.

Sosa’s charges also allege that a union official visited Sosa at his home in March and threatened him for submitting a petition seeking a vote to remove the union from his workplace.

The charges come after a debate over decertification of the union, which union officials previously said represents about 800 employees at Allen Harim’s processing plant in Harbeson and 1,000 at Mountaire Farms’ processing plant in Selbyville. The local union also represents workers in other industries throughout the state.

Union spokesman Jonathan Williams said Mountaire Farms and the anti-union National Right to Work Foundation are behind that effort, but that the union’s current focus is on the safety of its members inside the facility.

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Delaware’s Labor Secretary warns unemployment taxes after COVID-19 could hinder recovery

From WDEL

Delaware Department of Labor Secretary Cerron Cade said Delaware could be providing over $50 million a week in benefits soon, and the bill that will be due afterwards could hurt economic recovery.

Speaking during a Facebook Live Listening Session on Monday, Cade said Delaware has handed out around $30 million in unemployment benefits in each of the past two weeks, and that number could rise as more groups become eligible to file for unemployment during the pandemic.

Cade said they’ve applied for a loan from the federal government to help and also are getting relief from the federal CARES Act.

“The [total] number could be $850 million over the next three months alone. But more realistically, the state’s share of that will probably be a little bit less, in terms of what we’re going to have to figure out and handle, but it’s going to be a big number.”

Whatever the final cost to the state ends up being, Sec. Cade said one issue is going to be refreshing that fund, which could come in the form of higher unemployment taxes as businesses will be trying to land on their feet after some have been hindered or closed for weeks and months.

“If the state and federal government don’t figure out how to address that number across the states–not just in Delaware–you’re going to see a lot of businesses and non-profit organizations struggle to pay unemployment taxes and struggle to hire people as we try to dig out of this hole.”

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University of Delaware faces multimillion-dollar budget shortfall as coronavirus slashes revenue

From The News Journal

Unexpected costs from the switch to online learning, along with revenue losses from closing campus and canceling events, have the University of Delaware figuring out how to overcome a $65 million budget shortfall, UD President Dennis Assanis said in an email Monday.

The economic downturn that has accompanied the coronavirus pandemic has affected universities across the country.

Since closing campus in early March, the school has seen a significant revenue loss after having to refund prorated housing, dining and parking fees. Early in the semester, travel restrictions reduced tuition revenue from international students. Canceled events and athletic programs have cut off expected revenue streams as well.

Federal stimulus funds, as well as cost-saving measures like closing dorms and academic buildings, have helped push the loss from $65 million to $50 million, said university spokesperson Andrea Boyle.

But in an effort to “tighten our belts,” she said, the university has also rolled out a number of other budgetary measures — namely, a hiring freeze that could impact the university’s approximately 850 adjunct faculty members.

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