of County FY '03 Budget
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GEORGETOWN -- Sussex County Council heard more cautionary news regarding the county's future finances during the first reading of the proposed Fiscal Year 2003 budget on Tuesday, May 21, 2002.
The proposed $83.9 million budget, presented by County Administrator Robert L. Stickels, calls for a 3.99 percent increase in general fund expenditures, maintaining the current tax rate for the 13th straight year, and an operating reserve of 22.3 percent, or $7 million.
Besides the $32.4 million general fund, the budget also includes $8.06 million for the Capital Improvement Fund, $2.281 million for the Community Development Fund, $22.9 million for sewer and water districts, and $18.1 million for new capital projects.
A public hearing on the proposed budget will be held in council chambers on Tuesday, June 18, at 10:30 a.m.
Based on the theme "Changing Times", Stickels continued the theme for county finances established last year, "Realistic Expectations".
Citing the 9/11 terror attacks, he said the county must adapt to changing needs for public services such as police and emergency services and other increased costs. To that end, the county has committed $700,000 this year for additional state troopers and has added a new paramedic unit in western Sussex County. The county's insurance premiums have also risen $600,000.
As he did during last year's budget hearings, Stickels maintained that the county will not be immune to the financial challenges facing the state of Delaware, which is struggling to contain budget deficits.
Among the negative trends Stickels noted are that the $6.9 million surplus the county experienced in FY1999 dropped to $4 million in 2000 and $2.5 million in 2001. Stickels also noted that only 22 revenue sources will increase this year as compared to 26 sources in FY2002.
In addition, Stickels said that although realty transfer tax revenue would surpass property tax revenue for the first time this year, annexations by municipalities in the county are eroding the county's transfer tax revenue and contributing to decreased surpluses.
He said that trend will likely continue due to the updated Comprehensive Land Use Plan's call for encouraging development within municipalities and their surrounding areas.
That, coupled with expanded programs and services such as the hiring of the new state troopers, the introduction of a land preservation program, and the expanded paramedic services, have resulted in the smaller surpluses.
The budget committee also recommended that the county continue its policy of outsourcing many services such as police protection. Recognizing that many county residents are clamoring for new services, the committee quoted James Reston, who once wrote, "Nations, like individuals, have to limit their objectives or take the consequences."
And while the budget again includes $80,000 in "walking around money" for council members to distribute to their favorite constituents, the budget committee, citing dramatic increases in grant requests, recommended that council "resist politically popular requests that could result in either tax increases or reduction in funds for necessary County responsible programs."
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