Sussex County Delaware

Fenwick Island Raises
Taxes 10 Percent

 
Fenwick Island Town Council

Residents Protest
Lack of Public Input

By KERIN MAGILL
SC Online Content Editor

Fenwick's 2002-03 Budget

The Fenwick Island Town Council voted to raise the town's property tax by 10 percent while passing a $1,107,168 budget for Fiscal Year 2002-2003 at its regular meeting on Friday, July 26, 2002.

Even though Fenwick's new tax rate of $1.60 per $100 of assessed value will be the highest in the resort area, what seemed to bother residents at the town council meeting more was that they had no input in the town's budget process.

There was no information available at the July 26 meeting for residents to compare this year's budget to past years' budgets, and budget chairman Richard Griffin said on Saturday, July 27, that he did not know what the town's previous tax rate was, what its new tax rate is, or how much the average property owner's tax bill will increase.

Some of that information was provided by the town on Monday, July 29, when it reported that the $1.60 rate would increase the average property owner's property tax bill by $48.37 per year.

For the budget committee's part, Griffin said the committee merely increased last year's tax receipts by 10 percent to help cover part of the anticipated $90,201 increase in expenses.

Of that total, $35,446 is needed to cover increased employee health insurance costs, $16,200 for general insurance, and $26,000 for the town's police department, Griffin said. He also said the town expects some revenue areas to decrease in line with the general state of the economy.

In addition to the tax increase, the council voted to begin charging its gross rental receipts tax to owners of commercial properties. The tax had previously been levied on residential rentals only. The council will also begin requiring licenses in order to rent commercial property; that, too, had been limited to residential rentals. Those changes will go into effect Jan. 1, 2003.

Resident William Weistling said he and his wife Elsie were the only members of the public present at a mid-June budget workshop, and they were told they could not comment during the meeting.

"Changes need to be made to allow the public to participate," he said. "It's our money that's being spent and we should have some input into how it's spent and where it's going to come from," Weistling said.

Unlike most other area towns, Fenwick Island 's council votes on its budget the same day it is introduced. There is no opportunity for the public to either review the budget or participate in its creation until just before the council votes.

Weistling said he had asked if he could see a copy of the budget prior to the July 26 meeting, and was told he couldn't. Griffin said that was because the budget "was still being typed at 1:30 this afternoon."

"I think it'd be swell for the public to be able to talk about this thing," Griffin said. Council member Harry Haon said he agrees that "it's quite possible to have more input into the nitty gritty of the budget."

Council member Theo Brans said, "As a council, I think we can do a better job to get the people involved" in the budget process. But council member Peter Frederick said, "I'm not sure what we would gain" from public input.

Both Wiestling and another resident, Chris Clark, encouraged the council to add a public workshop on the budget next year. Resident Richard Bowman said residents don't attend the town's budget workshop as it is currently run because there is no chance for them to participate.

Another resident, Jim Simpson, said he found the budget presented July 26 "somewhat confusing. It only tells half the story," Simpson said.

The budget presentation did not include complete comparisons to previous years' revenues and expenses, nor did it include exactly what the new tax rate will be and how it will affect the average Fenwick Island homeowner.

Fenwick Island's current tax rate is $1.45 per $100 of assessed value, based on 1974 property assessments. The tax rate has not changed in at least eight years.

Property taxes will continue to be the major revenue generator for the town at $425,700. Other major revenue lines includes $194,000 from the rental tax, $100,000 from building permit fees, $93,000 from garbage collection fees, $80,000 from Alderman's fees, $77,918 from real estate transfer taxes, and $73,200 from license fees.

The major expense for the town will be salaries and their associated payroll taxes. They will total $612,249, with $257,000 for the police department. General insurance will cost the town $85,000, while health insurance will cost $97,668.

On a percentage basis, the police department will comprise 42.8 percent of the budget, the public works department will comprise 22.5 percent, and the administrative department will comprise 18.2 percent.

Griffin said the council's goals in preparing the budget were to provide:

  • Year-round, 24-hour police protection;
  • Lifeguards;
  • Collect trash twice a week in the summer and once a week during the year;
  • Provide maintenance and improve the town's streets and drainage system;
  • Maintaining the town's single-family character by enacting and enforcing building regulations;
  • Year-round administrative staff;
  • Providing emergency management and storm clean-up; and
  • Providing a voice for the town with county and state governments.

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