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PDD Debate:Planned Wilmington stock exchange becomes political ax

Planned Wilmington stock exchange becomes political ax

XERXES WILSON
THE NEWS JOURNAL

A planned stock exchange in Wilmington became a political ax on Wednesday as Democrats running for New Castle County government’s highest elected offices faced-off.

The forum, hosted by the Progressive Democrats for Delaware, featured candidates running for New Castle County Executive and County Council President with challengers for those seats seeking to distinguish themselves from their more politically-established opponents.

Incumbent County Executive Thomas P. Gordon, who is seeking a fourth term in office, has frequently used government’s shepherding of a planned stock exchange in Wilmington as a campaign plank. The exchange is envisioned as an all-electronic trading network for small- and medium-sized businesses and is being proposed by a number of high profile executives. The CEO is John F. Wallace, a former chief executive of the Philadelphia Stock Exchange.

“It is going to be up and running before the election,” said Gordon, who controversially loaned the start-up $3 million from county reserves. “It is a great opportunity for the state.”

Gordon has pitched government’s loan to the exchange as a way to bolster Wilmington’s small business and legal services job base. His opponent in the Sept. 13 primary, Wilmington attorney Matt Meyer said it was a bad risk motivated by the potential for political gain.

“Over 90 percent of any startup companies fail within the first three years,” Meyer said. “I don’t think (investing in startups) is a role government should be playing. That is the problem with the stock exchange.”

The loan is to be repaid over five years and bring in 6 percent annual interest. Meyer also questioned when the entity might actually start. The project was had originally been targeted to open last fall. Earlier this summer, principals set a target of July. It isn’t open yet. On Wednesday, Gordon said they recently received regulatory permits that was holding the venture up.

Karen Hartley-Nagle, who is running for County Council President, said Gordon and one of her opponents, Councilman Penrose Hollins, have put government on a path to bankruptcy, citing spending from reserves as well as escalating costs.

Hollins disputed that the county is in poor financial condition, citing local government’s AAA bond rating.

The forum also touched on land use issues, economic development and the long lingering question of tax reassessments. Property assessments are applied to tax rates for various government services to determine the property owner's tax bill. New Castle County hasn't updated its property value assessments since 1983, meaning taxes have been calculated with values that could be significantly different than today's market.

Each candidate said they support reassessment – if it is done on a statewide basis. David J. Roberts, who is also running for County Council President, said there must be protections from increases on seniors, something his opponents also agreed on.

“It is an issue that has been around for years. Everybody has danced around it,” said Roberts, the former chief of New Castle County Emergency Communications. “I would really have to look at the effects it would have on the citizenry out there.”


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