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GEORGETOWN -- Sussex County Council unanimously approved the Fiscal Year 2001 Budget presented by county administrator Bob Stickels on Tuesday, June 20, 2000.
The $80,637,544 budget includes a 5.3 percent spending increase over the 2000 budget and a decrease in the operating reserve fund from $7.1 million to $6.1 million, but there will be no tax increase for the 11th consecutive year.
The operating reserve fund, while declining in total dollars, is 20.44 percent of the General Fund, well above the 18 percent that rating services such as Moody's use as a standard for governments.
"This budget allows us to do things that we've only been able to talk about in the past," Stickels told council during his 20-minute presentation. "For the first time ever, we'll have a fully funded pension and for the first time ever, we'll eliminate tax-supported debt."
Stickels cited the following as highlights of the 2001 budget:
The proposed budget passed unanimously without change, although councilman George Cole introduced two amendments to provide $300,000 for additional state police protection in the booming resort towns in his district and $20,000 over the money allotted for the county's Youth Activity Program.
Both suggestions were voted down 4-1 with only Cole voting in favor. The other councilmen didn't want to add to the expenses because of concerns of raising the spending increase above 5.3 percent and decreasing the operating reserve closer to the 18 percent standard.
Councilman Finley B. Jones said council needs to consider adding a paramedic station in the Seaford area, which he said was the busiest area in the county. Stickels said such a station would cost approximately $1 million. The issue wasn't put to a vote.
Cole said his district desperately needs the additional state police protection. He noted that his district, with 8 municipalities and 3 unincorporated areas, is the largest in the county and that with the influx of 1 million tourists during the summer season, the state police in his district are the busiest in the county.
The other councilmen, however, argued that providing additional police protection in those areas is the state's job, not the county's. Cole made his proposal contingent on matching funding from the state but was unable to convince the other councilmen to spend the money.
"I don't believe it's our responsibility, for one," said Councilman Vance Phillips in voting no. "There is no indication from the administration that these funds could come from the budget's current framework. I think the state should look at contributing a percentage of the realty transfer tax to this."
As for his Youth Activity Program amendment, Cole said the $6,000 allotted per councilman for programs in their districts won't go very far. He proposed adding $4,000 per district to give each councilman $10,000 for youth activities.
Phillips, however, said he disliked the entire concept of the program because it seemed to merely be a "political slush fund" for councilmen to throw around their districts and buy support. Councilman Dale Dukes called the program "lavish". "We have a lot of programs in this county to invest our money in that would be better than this."
The other councilmen felt the 50 percent raise to $30,000 this year from $20,000 was enough.
Cole's third proposal of the day was a 10 percent rebate to full-time residents on fees for building inspections, zoning changes, and building permits.
Stickels said building inspections, permits and zoning changes would generate just over $2 million in 2001, which at 10 percent would create a rebate program of no more than $200,000. Cole again reiterated his belief that a county doing as well as Sussex County should be giving some of the people's money back.
After discussing the legal ramifications of the proposal, the council voted 3-2 against a motion to draft an ordinance later in the year specifying the percentage and eligibility requirements for the rebates.
"Our taxes are already so low," said Dukes in voting no. "I haven't built a home or gotten a building permit for a long time, so it wouldn't benefit me. This is one of the worst shooting in the dark measures I've seen."
Phillips joined Cole in voting for the proposal.
Councilman Vance Phillips on the FY2001 Budget:
"When you look at the big picture, this is a good budget and is to be applauded. There are specific aspects I don't like, but I like how the buddget committee was able to keep us on track to eliminate tax support of the general fund.
Councilman Dale Dukes on the FY2001 Budget:
"I applaud the (budget) committee. I'm glad to hear that we're getting out of debt and still providing services. It doesn't have everything that every councilman wants, but I think we're in the position we need to be in. Sometime the economy is going to go down again, and I think we're well prepared for that."
Council President Lynn Rogers on the FY2001 Budget:
"We all have desires and special interests, but all in all, this budget is probably unheard of for a county, for all the emenities we've heard about, paying off the building (Sussex County Administration Building) 35 years early, having a very productive airport up and running now, excellent paramedic service, and a good county-wide base of employees. This county is exploding. As you heard, it seems to be emergency services day. Basic Life Support in our fire stations is at a fork in the road. In the next few years with the explosive growth we've, you (ambulance personnel) can get in an ambulance and ride all day. It's getting to be unbearable and I think it's going to have to be looked at in the future. But all in all, I compliment Mr. (David) Baker (finance director), and the staff for putting all of this together. I think this is the best county in the world to live in."
Councilman George Cole on the FY2001 Budget:
"We're in such good shape in this county, and with this growth, I'd like to see a portion of our fees (building permits, inspections, etc.) rebated to domiciled residents. We should show some gratitude to the people who put up with all of this growth to show them that this growth can be good."
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