Cape Gazette
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Sussex budget is reflection of local economy

No property tax increase for the 23rd straight year
By Ron MacArthur | May 28, 2012
Photo by: Ron MacArthur Sussex County officials have finished writing the 2013 budget. The public can comment on the plan at the Tuesday, June 19 meeting.

Georgetown — The proposed fiscal year 2013 Sussex County budget is a direct reflection of the economy, or the new norm, as County Administrator Todd Lawson puts it.

The proposed $121.1 million budget is nearly 14 percent less than last year's $140.1 million budget,  mostly because work on five major sewer projects has been completed. The general operating budget of $46.3 million – the money used by county government for its day-to-day business – shows an increase of about $80,000.

Good news for county residents is a one-time, 8-percent tax rebate from the fiscal year 2011surplus, which amounts to about $8. Council voted to allocate $1 million from the $3.4 million surplus to a rebate. Other funds were used toward pension contributions and grant requests.

Good news for county employees is a proposed across-the-board pay increase of 2.25 percent.

This was Lawson's first budget as county administrator. Following a presentation by Lawson, Finance Director Susan Webb, Budget and Cost Manager Kathy Roth and Accounting Director Gina Jennings, council introduced the budget ordinance.

Property taxes of 44.5 cents per $100 of assessed value will remain unchanged for the 23rd consecutive year. The average county resident pays less than $100 in property taxes and the average resident living in a manufactured home pays $37 in annual property taxes.

County financial planners predict most of building related revenue sources – the driving force for the county's budget – will either decrease or be flat in fiscal 2013. The realty transfer tax, the county's largest source of income, is predicted to be down about $300,000 to $13.2 million in fiscal 2013. The tax reached its high of $36.3 million in 2005.

Housing-related revenues from inspection fees, zoning fees, recorder of deeds fees and manufactured home placement taxes are predicted to remain almost flat for the fourth consecutive year at around $6 million, down from nearly $16 million in 2006.

Taxable assessments are predicted to increase by only 1.4 percent, another reflection of the sluggish housing market, Lawson said.

“Cost-saving measures we introduced several years back when the economy faltered is now our approach to doing business every day,” Webb said. “We have adjusted to the new norm, and this budget reflects our current financial realities.”

Those cost-saving measures included a slowdown in hiring – the county has 45 fewer employees than in 2008 – cutbacks on projects, aggressive collections measures for overdue payments and cross-training of employees.

Operating expenses have remained near $46 million for the past four years, a 20 percent decrease from nearly $60 million in 2008.

“Sussex County is at a crossroads and faces the difficult task of preserving the many attributes that make our county such a wonderful place to live while attempting to stimulate the local economy and spur job creation,” Lawson said. “At the same time, we must look to the future to prepare for growth and increased demand on county services.”

The county's main revenue sources include: $13.2 million from realty transfer taxes; $13.2 million from property taxes; $8.1 million from row-office fees; $5.8 million from federal and state grants; and $2.6 million from general government fees, including building permits and zoning fees.

The county's primary expenditures include: $12.3 million for paramedics; $7.3 million for the grants-in-aid program; $4.4 million for the county's finance department; $3.7 million for libraries; $2.8 million for emergency preparedness; and $2.6 million for row offices.

Some residents will see increases in sewer-service charges – ranging from $8 to $15 annually – as the county continues a multi-year program to implement uniform rates of $262 per year for most of its nearly 55,000 sewer customers. The annual charge pays for operations and maintenance of the county's sewer systems. Local customers in Angola, Ellendale, Bayview Estates and Oak Orchard will see an $8 increase while Long Neck sewer customers will see a $15 annual increase. Dewey Beach water customers will be charged an additional $13 to cover the increase in the cost of water from the City of Rehoboth.

However, residents in 18 sewer districts will see lower assessment rates after the county refinanced $61 million in sewer-construction bonds and passed the savings onto its customers.

For half of the county's more than 30 departments, overall expenses will be lower next year, including a slight decrease in the Sheriff's Office.

Lawson said Sheriff Jeff Christopher requested a new vehicle, new staff member and additional money for training. None of those requests are included in the proposed fiscal 2013 budget. “There are no new vehicles for any department included in the budget,” Lawson said. “And the sheriff has only spent 13 percent of the money allocated for training,” he said. The amount for training will remain at $3,000. The Sheriff's Office budget shows a slight decrease from $839,000 in fiscal 2012 to $834,000 in fiscal 2013; a vehicle was funded in the 2012 budget. Revenue from the Sheriff's Office is expected to be $4 million.


Public hearing on county budget is June 19

County council will have a public hearing on the budget at its 10 a.m. Tuesday, June 19 meeting. The public can comment in person on that date or can submit comments via the internet at budget@sussexcountyde.gov. A copy of the proposed budget can be downloaded from the county's website at sussexcountyde.gov. By law, council must approve the budget by the end of June.


Sussex County fiscal 2013 budget highlights

The total $121 million budget includes: $46.3, general fund; $13.2 million, government fund capital projects; $21 million, water and sewer capital projects; $35 million, water and sewer operations; and $5.3 million, pension contributions.

An 8 percent tax rebate to all taxpayers who have paid their taxes.

A 2.25-percent cost-of-living raise to all employees; a 1.25-percent increase to pensioners.

More than $5.5 million for airport improvements, including $4.5 million for a 500-foot airport runway extension; more than $4.1 million in federal grants goes toward runway project.

$3 million – half from state funds – for a new Greenwood Library.

Local law enforcement grants have been reinstated to the full $25,000 per town following years of reductions.

The average family in Sussex pays less than $100 in property taxes.

Public safety grants remain stable at $12.4 million for county paramedics: $3.3 million to volunteer fire and ambulance services; more than $562,000 to local police departments; and $1.7 million to fund additional Delaware State Police troopers.

Eleven local libraries will receive $576,000 in fiscal 2013.

With the loss of federal grants, community development funding is down $2.1 million to $1.7 million from fiscal 2012. More than 1,000 residents are on a waiting list for home renovations and repairs under the community development program.

The county budgeted more than $21 million – well less than half of the $47 million in fiscal 2012 – for water and sewer capital projects.

 

(Source: Jen Ellingsworth graphic)
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