Sussex County Delaware

No Tax Increase in
County's Budget

 
Sussex County Council ...

No Assistance for Sheriff,
State Police Plans, Either
By ERIC MAGILL
SC Online Publisher
Proposed 2002 Budget

GEORGETOWN -- Sussex County Council, after four years of surpluses, got what Sussex County Administrator Robert L. Stickels called a dose of reality during the first reading of the proposed Fiscal Year 2002 Budget on Tuesday, May 22, 2001.

Citing the slowing economy, the impact of potential cuts from state and federal sources, and rising costs of providing services to a county that grew 38 percent in the 1990s, Stickels presented the county's budget with the theme "Realistic Expectations".

Stickels told council that despite the county's continued $7 million reserve, uncertainty in the economy and in state and federal programs made it unrealistic to expect the county to be able cut taxes, pay for additional police protection, or pay for a county parks and recreation program.

Those items have been frequently requested by county residents eyeing the county's continued surpluses, but the proposed $31,232,577 general fund budget, which contains a 3.72 percent increase in expenditures, includes none of them.

The public will be able to comment on the budget at a hearing on Tuesday, June 19, 2001, in council chambers at 10:30 a.m.

Stickels said that while he and the county's Department of Finance couldn't make room for the requested items, the county won't have to raise taxes for the 12th straight year. The tax rate will remain at 44.5 per $100 of assessed value.

Stickels reminded residents that the county collects property taxes for the county's school districts and that the average taxpayer pays only about $85 a year in county taxes. The remainder of taxpayers' bills go to the schools.

Stickels also answered criticism of the county's burgeoning reserve, saying the "Rainy Day Fund" must be kept at 25 percent, or $7 million, to "avoid shortfalls that other governments are currently experiencing". He said the fund will also allow the county to participate in cost-sharing programs not included in the 2002 budget if it so chooses.

County Councilman Vance Phillips, who has been critical of the reserve in the past, saying the county should not build such large reserves of private assets, declined to second-guess the proposed budget on Tuesday.

"This is a good, conservative, fiscally responsible budget, and as long as we maintain a disciplined approach to spending increases, I won't make an issue of it," said Phillips of the reserve.

Phillips said he would like to have seen a tax cut but knew he couldn't get the three votes needed for one. He said he was satisfied with the 3.72 percent increase in general fund expenditures because it was "less than President Bush's recommendation of a 4 percent increase (for the national economy)."

"We've had a very robust economy the last four years and to the credit of the administration, it hasn't overspent," said Phillips. "In contrast, should the economy slow significantly, we'll be in a position to maintain our level of services without a tax increase. This budget funds our priorities."

Sussex County Sheriff Robert Reed said he wasn't surprised that the budget doesn't include his request to set up a county police force with 32 deputies. He added, however, that he will continue his battle to raise his deputies' starting salaries from the approved increase of $20,000 a year to $25,000 at the public hearing on June 19.

The budget doesn't include, either, a request from Delaware Senator H. George Bunting Jr. for $1.8 million for new state police officers to fight drugs in Sussex County's unincorporated areas, or a request from the Sussex County Association of Towns for assistance for municipal police departments that answer calls in unincorporated areas.

Stickels said the county can't afford the additional officers Bunting requested. He called the state's request "unrealistic" when it is asking Public Safety Secretary James Ford to reduce his budget by nearly $1 million. The budget does include a slight increase to $372,000 for the 12 state troopers the county pays for now. He said SCAT did not request a specific amount of funding.

As for establishing a parks and recreation department, Stickels said the state park system is good enough and that a duplication of those services wouldn't be a good use of the county's money.

Stickels said that President Bush's proposed $1.6 trillion tax cut could also have a negative impact on the county with the reduction or elimination of programs the county has used in the past.

"My own personal experience has been that the last time we had a major federal tax overhaul, local governments suffered," said Stickels. "Balanced budget policies that were implemented under the Reagan Administration resulted in local governments losing Federal Revenue Sharing and the elimination of the United States Environmental Protection Agency Construction Grant Program for water and sewer infrastructure.

"During the budget year, it will be the responsibility of the Budget Committee, as well as the County Council and individual employees, to adhere to the budget limitations that are imposed in the 2002 budget."

Other items of note in the FY2002 Budget:

  • An increase in 26 sources of revenue, including a 17.4 percent increase in the realty transfer tax. The $7,750,900 generated by the tax will be used for paramedics, fire and ambulance service, the county's emergency operations center, solid waste, sewer service, and local government revenue sharing for municipalities that earn less than $20,000 a year in realty transfer taxes;

  • The elimination of taxpayer-supported indebtedness;

  • No increases in the county's sewer and water user fees or other county fees that contribute to general fund revenue;

  • The establishment of a Capital Improvement Fund for projects that have no revenue base to support them -- the fund is expected to generate $599,995 in FY2002;

  • Funding of volunteer fire companies in the county totalling $1,765,275 including the funding of Basic Life Support Attendants for three additional fire companies;

  • The completion of the installation and implementation of the new Sussex County Fire Service communication paging system. The county paid $495,000 into the program;

  • The funding of the county's libraries in the sum of $2,857,385 and the expansion of the Milton Public Library;

  • Expansion of the Sussex County Airport;

  • Pay raises of 2 percent by July 1, 2001, and an additional 1.5 percent by Jan. 1, 2002, for county employees. Certified paramedics and 911 dispatchers will receive an additional 3 percent across-the-board increase effective July 1.

  • A plan to broadcast county council, planning and zoning commission, and board of adjustment meetings live over the Internet. The service, to be provided in-house, is expected to cost $5,000 to $10,000 a year;

  • Continuation of full funding of the county's pension program;

  • Upgrading of existing wastewater service and expansion of the user base;

  • Reducing sewer service costs;

  • Continuation of tax and sewer assistance programs;

  • Updating the county's 1997 Comprehensive Land Use Plan;

  • Conversion of property owner cards to digital form for Internet access and conversion of paper records to microfilm.

Manufactured Homes Removed ...

County Administrator Robert L. Stickels informed council that the county constable's office has removed 17 of the original 20 mobile homes targeted for removal under the county's joint agreement with the First State Manufactured Housing Association.

The program, designed to remove abandoned mobile homes that have deteriorated into eyesores, will remove two more of the original 20 units in the coming week. The county has been unable to contact the owner of the other property yet.

Stickels said none of the funds allocated by the county or the First State Manufactured Housing Association have been used in the removals. He said he has asked the constable's office to identify 20 more homes to be presented to council in June, 2001.

In Other Business ...
  • Councilman George Cole missed Tuesday's council meeting to represent the State of Delaware at the National Association of Counties Board of Directors meeting in Hawaii. Cole will be in Hawaii from May 22-26.

  • Sussex County offices will be closed Monday, May 28, 2001, in observance of Memorial Day. Offices will reopen at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, May 29. There will be no council meeting on Tuesday, May 29.

  • The Sussex County Economic Development Office and county council will hold a ground-breaking ceremony for the new Sussex County Airport Terminal Building on Tuesday, June 5, 2001, at 9 a.m. The 6,000 square foot building will house a 60-seat restaurant, conference room, pilots' lounge, a flight preparation area, and offices. Projected costs are estimated at $1 million. The ceremony will be held next to the current terminal building.

  • County Administrator Robert L. Stickels told council that the State of Delaware Plumbing Code has been revised to require male and female restrooms in all new commercial construction. The new code is available from Delaware Health and Social Services, Division of Public Health, 544 S. Bedford St., Georgetown. The cost is $32.30. Questions can also be answered by calling the Plumbing Inspection Office at 302-856-5122.

  • Stickels told council that the Town of Bridgeville has applied for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for public water service to its existing water service area in and adjoining the town. A public hearing will not be held on the application unless Al Farling of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control receives a request for one by May 29, 2001. The application may be inspected by appointment at DNREC offices, Suite 200, 5 E. Reed St., Dover, or by calling Farling at 302-739-5081.

  • Council unanimously approved a beneficial acceptance agreement allowing the Village of Bear Trap Dunes in Ocean View to connect 81 single-family and townhomes to the South Bethany Sanitary Sewer District. The county has received $174,879 in connection costs.

  • Council unanimously passed a supplemental contract for construction administration and expenses incurred during the rebidding of the new Sussex County Airport terminal by the architectural firm French & Ryan. The supplemental contract is for $31,831.90.

  • Council declared two proclamations. First, it declared the week of May 20-26 as Emergency Services Week in the county. It also declared the week of May 21-25 as Hurricane Awareness Week. County Administrator Robert L. Stickels told council that the upcoming hurricane season, from June 1 to Nov. 30, will have 11 named storms including 6 hurricanes. Two of the hurricanes are expected to be "intense".

  • Stickels announced that the Seaford Veterans Committee will hold a Memorial Day ceremony at the Kiwanis Memorial Park on Stein Highway in Seaford on Monday, May 28, 2001, at 11 a.m. The ceremony will include a band, firing squad and raising of the colors. It will be followed by a brief dedication of the memorial bricks that have been placed along the walk honoring those who have served their country. A monument there honors those who have died serving their country. The Veterans Committee is composed of five veterans organizations, two American Legion posts, DAV Chapter No. 9, MCL Detachment No. 780, and VFW No. 4961.

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