NOTE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed Brian Franklin’s quote to another person.
Bellefonte, a town of 1,200 in northeastern New Castle County, wants to simplify its borders by annexing two neighboring subdivisions, but the idea is anything but simple.
First, the concept – suggested by some homeowners in the areas that could be annexed – has taken years to develop and be approved by the state, with letters of concurrence coming from New Castle County and Wilmington.
Second, it’s generating loud discussion on nextdoor.com, with some posters complaining about higher taxes, government control (“Now I am also a slave to the politicians of Bellefonte,” Brian Franklin wrote) and stifled voices online.
On the positive side: “My daughter lives in Bellefonte and knows what a good deal Bellefonte residents have,” Sharon Parker wrote. “I have long wanted to have such a good deal.”
Scott MacKenzie, president of the town commission, said he felt that some negative “assertions are a little outrageous” and even “hurtful.”
What’s being planned
“Over the years, the town has received comments from neighbors in the area expressing their interest in becoming a part of the town,” a page on the town’s website explains.
“You most likely always considered yourself part of Bellefonte – and now it will be true!” a sample of the letter sent to the 119 potentially annexed households says.
The annexation will get public hearings at 6-7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 9, and 6-7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 13. The issue then goes to the town commission, with the goal of completing it by July.
The commission could vote as early as March or more likely in April, MacKenzie said. Officials will count ballots sent to the homes involved and want 50% support to annex either or both areas.
That said, the letter reads. “If we DO NOT hear from you, we will assume you are agreeable.”
Bellefonte would halve the number of lines it needs to define its borders if it annexes Riverview Gardens to the east, up to the middle of River Road, and Phillips Heights to the west, up the middle of Rodman Road. The annexation goes back to a 2019 town plan, starting on Page 48, with a map dated back to 2010.
The town has annexed subdivisions after it was incorporated in 1915, he said, and its odd shape partly is a legacy from excluding a long-ago farm (the farmhouse was roughly where Peco’s Liquor is.)
The benefits of being in Bellefonte
Of course, cost is a big issue.
Residents in unincorporated areas of New Castle pay a tax rate of 80.66 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, which is broken down into 11 categories.
Residents in incorporated areas, like Bellefonte, pay different rates, depending on which of these 11 services their municipality provides. For Bellefonte, that’s planning and inspections, so its rate is 79.53.
But Bellefonte provides two other valuable services – residential trash, recycling and yard-waste collection, plus snow removal – that residents in unincorporated communities have to buy separately.
Bellefonte’s real estate tax bill averages $300 per year, the letter says. Compare that to the $465 that Waste Management would charge for just trash collection on a a randomly selected address in the annexation area.
Waste Management’s monthly rate for that address, according to its website, is $38.78, while Bellefonte’s collective bargaining brings its trash collection fee in at just $23, MacKenzie said. “It’s a win for them.”
Plus, the letter notes, homeowners might be able to deduct Bellefonte’s taxes on federal taxes, MacKenzie said, something that they can’t do with payments to private companies.
Bellefonte runs a tight ship financially. Before it received pandemic relief funds, it was spending almost two-thirds of its budget on just trash collection and snow removal.
And its commissioners care about the town, MacKenzie said, calling them “engaged and dedicated, with no higher political aspirations.”
Muddying the discussion online is the tendency for people to express things that some research would prove aren’t true. For instance, the nextdoor.com discussion was not muffled by anyone official, and the two hearings are intended to hear other voices as well.
“Folks, the annexation is not being politically motivated,” Jim Paradise, chair of the annexation committee, wrote on nextdoor.com. “If you’ve ever attended a Bellefonte town meeting you would see. Everyone is concerned with what is best for the town.”
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