Time for Sussex to hire a land use planner
For 22 straight years, Sussex County residents have seen no increase in county taxes; on the contrary, this year, the county eliminated a $3 capitation tax.
Few counties in the nation came through the economic downturn without raising taxes. Sussex County Council has done an outstanding job matching expenditures to dwindling revenues and cutting back expenses when times were tough.
Many county employees took on new responsibilities when retiring workers were not replaced in an effort to save money and weather the downturn. As the economy picks up, as evidenced by an expected 7 percent increase in real estate transfer tax revenue, county officials are wise to recognize the contributions of employees during tough budget times by giving them a small raise.
Council also recognized the need to upgrade the Sheriff’s Office, which is only fair in light of the workload and the revenue the office produces. No one is happy about the number of sheriff’s sales, yet every one of them contributes revenue to county coffers.
One expense already included in the county budget but not spent was not mentioned during the budget process: hiring a county planner.
The county has been without a land-use planner for two years, since May 2009, when planner Richard Kautz took early retirement. At that time, budget constraints might have slowed the search for a new planner, but the economy is clearly recovering. There’s no need to delay any longer.
Councilman George Cole reminded council a year ago Sussex is the only county on Delmarva without a certified planner; council voted 5-0 to move forward with the hiring process. Yet no planner has been hired.
Land-use planning is perhaps the most critical and controversial function council must accomplish. A growing number of lawsuits over land-use issues have now been filed against council; several might well have been averted had all plans submitted to the county been reviewed by a certified planner.
The cost of a planner is low when compared with legal costs of defending council’s decisions. The time for a planner is now. County council must act quickly to fill this critical position.