Sneaking Suspicions
Archives-- March 13-26, 2005

This page includes posts from March 13-26, 2005 in the usual reverse order. Each posting on the home page is perma-linked to these archive pages.

March 25, 2005
Where the kids aren't

Tom Maguire pointed to an interesting NYT story the other day about where children live, and where they don’t. 

The piece focused on a revitalized former industrial area in Portland, Oregon called the Pearl District, where the housing prices are high, the coffee shops are trendy, and the kids are mostly nowhere to be seen.

The demographic implications of this trend, matched in gentrified segments of many large cities across the country, are also familiar territory in my own little zip code, 19971. 

The City of Rehoboth’s population is about 1,500, while the entire zip code area totals about 11,000. 

A resort town, the number of occupied housing units over the winter is less than half of the city’s total stock.

Within Rehoboth’s town limits, the demographic distinction between the summer season and the off-season could hardly be more stark. Over the winter and early spring, Rehoboth proper is essentially gay and gray, with the senior portion well in line with the description given to the area by the Community Tapestry segmentation system.

As noted in a few previous posts, home prices within city limits have skyrocketed, and the newcomers are predominantly wealthy and childless. Rehoboth’s longstanding reputation as a gay-friendly place has brought many members of that community to the area, and rich retirees of all gender orientations are busy pushing the in-town real estate market past a current minimum of $600,000.

During the summer season, however, the rest of Rehoboth’s housing stock fills up. Thousands of kids, whose parents are renting by the week or season, run amok on the City beach, its Boardwalk, and its neighborhoods. 

The year-round demographics of 19971 are not subject to such wide swings outside city limits. While there are several hundred darkened homes in the exurban parts outside town from October to May, the ratio of full-time to part-time occupation rates is far gentler.

It’s also where the year-round kids live, a fact that really hit home in my work on the facilities task force for the Cape Henlopen School District.

At one point, the two school buildings used for Rehoboth Elementary on the city’s south side, held all of the students in grades K-12 for the old Rehoboth School District. They are now just big enough to serve as one of the Cape District’s four K-5 elementary schools. However, almost all of the kids at Rehoboth Elementary are bused in to school. A tiny number of kids walk or bike there; most of the school’s families live in residential subdivisions 2 to 8 miles away.

That’s one of the main reasons we recommended that one of the two new middle schools be built about 6 miles from the City limits--it’s where the kids are. 

On the other hand, the rising real estate market in the 19971 zip code outside city limits is affecting the number of new families who can buy and settle down in the area. Average home prices in 19971 are now over $300,000. Even if one discounts the inflating influence of in-town Rehoboth home sales on that average, there’s simply not that much available here for most young families, unless they bring some substantial resources to the table, such as a hefty profit from a previous home sale or two.

The phenomenon affects a basic planning tool used by the District's task force in projecting school populations. In most parts of the state, the assumption is that there will be at least four kids in every set of five new homes. In the Cape District, we’re assuming one child per five new homes, and that’s a generous assessment at best. 

As best anyone can determine, the area’s population will continue to grow at a brisk clip. We just won’t see nearly as many kids in the local mix as we once did.

UPDATE: For comment from some big-city folks on this topic, check out what Virginia Postrel (Dallas) and Charles Hill (Oklahoma City) have to say.

March 23, 2005
The Road to Morocco

If you're still wondering what to do on Saturday night, April 2, I have the perfect suggestion.

Take a road trip to Morocco--in Dewey Beach.

The Rehoboth Beach Film Society is hosting a fundraiser dinner at Venus on the Half Shell, a great bayside waterfront restaurant in the tiny beach resort. The dinner has a Casablanca theme, complete with exotic offerings, desserts, music, and dancing.

The festivities start at 6 p.m.

Tickets ($100/person) are available at the Film Society office, at 302-645-9095.

Of course, if you're not able to come to Dewey Beach that weekend, but you'd still like to support the Film Society's mission of promoting film as a art form, you can send donations to the following address:

Rehoboth Beach Film Society
102 Midway Village
Rehoboth Beach, DE  19971


March 21, 2005
There might be another explanation

The recent well-publicized controversy between Harvard President Larry Summers and some of the college's faculty members has provided grist for dozens of blogging mills, as well as the usual mainstream media types, for a while now.

Last week Robert Musil returned from a longish break from blogging to add some useful perspective on the dispute.

Drawing on information from his Harvard contacts, the Man Without Qualities reminds us that we shouldn't ignore the role of fundamental personality conflicts as a reason for bad blood in an organization.

That explanation is perhaps not as compelling as a high-minded political dispute, but it can also be more convincing, as Musil shows.

Read the whole thing, as they say.

March 20, 2005
Shameless Self-Promotion

I posted my newest golf book review tonight.

It's a three-book review of a mystery series, featuring an unlikely hero.

Peter Hacker is a former touring pro who gave up playing the sport for money, and is now a Boston reporter covering the professional golf beat.

The novels are fun reads. It's a revival of sorts for the first two books in the series, more than 12 years after their initial appearance in hardback.

March 17, 2005
Down a pint

I took off for a bit this afternoon to give blood at The Blood Bank of Delaware.

There was a pale guy standing in front of the reception desk, wearing a beautiful tuxedo and a long black cape. A staffer patiently explained to him that this particular bank did not permit withdrawals.

Just kidding.

On the other hand, your own local blood bank would love to have you make a deposit of a pint, if you are physically able.

March 15, 2005
Stuff worth reading

I'm busy with other stuff, so blogging production here will be even lighter than usual.

In the meantime, after wading through a pile of posts and screeds against the bankruptcy bill now in Congress, it's been pleasant to read a few blog posts and other commentary that take a less vitriolic attitude toward the legislation.

I especially appreciated the thoughtful work done by Todd Zywicki at The Volokh Conspiracy and at National Review Online, and the helpful discussion and links at Tom Maguire's Just One Minute.

You might also.

March 14, 2005
Revenue sharing

Back when I was an assistant city solicitor for the City of Wilmington, I worked on legislative matters at the state capital. One perennial goal was to increase the amount of money the state gave to Wilmington and the other 56 municipalities under the Municipal Street Aid program.

This law parcels out cash for streets, lighting, and other approved expenses, using a formula that takes into account each city’s population as well as the street mileage included within each municipal boundary. I’m quietly proud to say I had a small hand in increasing the annual street aid allotment by $500,000 in one legislative session. Wilmington’s share of that bump-up totaled about $146,000. 

I held out hope for a percentage fee bonus of some of that cash, but that idea didn’t go anywhere, perhaps because of its blatant illegality.

This revenue sharing episode from the mid-1980’s came to mind again recently, as I reviewed a new General Assembly bill intending to come to Wilmington’s rescue once again. 

Delaware’s major city has suffered financially for years, and there are several hard-to-fix reasons for its difficulties. It is home to a significant percentage of the state’s poor folks, and is also burdened with a large portion of government- and non-profit-owned parcels that can’t be tapped for property taxes. It also suffers from the lingering effects of an unfortunate maladministration or two by past leaders, a flat or declining employment base, and significant limitations on annexation. 

The Mayor’s made no secret of his interest in obtaining a dollar or three from the State. In response, several members of the General Assembly introduced House Bill No. 41 a few weeks ago. For the first time, net state revenues from the take Delaware receives from slot machines would be earmarked--$10 million to Wilmington, and $10 million to the Farmland Preservation Fund. 

The money’s there, certainly. The current revenue forecast suggests that Delaware’s annual gambling revenues from slots and the lottery will exceed $225 million. 

On the other hand, the State Budget Office can usually be counted on to fight against any earmarking of the revenue that flows into the state’s coffers. I’ve seen and heard those officials successfully argue against dedicating cash from particular sources for all sorts of expenditures, under both Republican and Democratic administrations.

I’d also be intrigued to see how the other 56 municipalities react to this proposal. Somehow I doubt they will simply agree that Wilmington should be given this money, without also suggesting they should also be given a piece of the same pie. 

Wilmington officials will make their own case for help before the General Assembly and the Governor’s Office in the next few months.

In the meantime, some folks might consider whether a version of the municipal street aid revenue-sharing model would be a handy way to distribute cash to the cities. For example, it wouldn’t be all that difficult to work up a formula that based the payments on a combination of population data and the percentage of city properties exempt from property tax. Wilmington would still be the prime beneficiary for any such revenue, but several other troubled communities throughout the state would also benefit from this approach.

And in any event, there's no need to earmark a single source of revenues to fund a revenue-sharing program, beyond a political perception that naming a single pot of cash for the purpose will help sell the idea.

I'm not at all convinced that's truly necessary.

March 13, 2005
Go Hornets!

Congratulations to the Hornets of Delaware State University. Their victory in the MEAC tournament yesterday put them in the NCAA Division I Championship for the first time in the school's history.

The team came back from a 13 point deficit in the first half to beat Hampton, with a great fall-away putback jump shot by Aaron Williams with 1.6 seconds left.

They were fun to watch on the ESPN2 telecast, a rare treat for any Delaware college hoops team.


Contact Information:

Fritz Schranck
P.O. Box 88
Nassau, DE  19969


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© Frederick H. Schranck 2002-2005