Sussex County officials plan to spend more for public safety and economic development and for major improvements to wastewater treatment facilities in a proposed $143 million fiscal year 2018 budget.
On May 16, county staff presented the budget to county council, which has scheduled a public hearing on the proposal at 10 a.m., Tuesday, June 13, in the county administration building, 2 The Circle, Georgetown.
The proposed budget will require no increase in property taxes and will not increase service charges for county water and sewer.
The budget presentation was not without controversy. Through its contract with the county, Delaware State Police is asking for a 30-percent increase in funding, the first major change in a contract to pay for additional troopers in the county, a program dating back to 1995.
Instead of paying half the cost of 44 additional troopers at $2.25 million, which has been the policy in the past, the county would pay the full cost of 22 additional troopers at nearly $3 million, said Sussex County Finance Director Gina Jennings.
The new contract would fund higher pay for lieutenants, sergeants and other officers, as well as pay for overtime, special operations, benefits and shift differentials, costs the county has not paid in the past, Jennings said.
The contract would continue to fund four fully outfitted patrol cars.
Under the contract, DSP would guarantee 187 troopers assigned to Sussex County. “They are still guaranteeing that number, but we would be paying more because of the way they are allocating the costs,” Jennings said.
Councilman Rob Arlett, R-Frankford, questioned the proposed contract. “The state is coming to us with a 30-percent increase without adding one additional police officer on the road,” he said. “I think we need more dialog. Sussex County's population has grown substantially over the past five to 10 years, and I'm not sure we are getting an increase in police protection to match that population.”
Arlett said he blames the governor and legislators for the change and not Delaware State Police officials. Jennings said the change materialized after Gov. John Carney released his administration's proposed fiscal year 2018 budget.
Realty transfer tax fuels budget
More than half of every dollar collected by the county goes to public safety, which includes hiring extra state troopers, grants to local law enforcement, support for local fire and ambulance services and the county's EMS and emergency preparedness departments.
The realty transfer tax continues to be the county's main source of income at a projected $25 million in fiscal year 2017. Income from the tax has risen each year since 2010. Building-related revenue in the county increased $1.1 million – 14 percent – in fiscal year 2017.
The county collected nearly $17 million in property taxes in fiscal year 2017.
The general fund portion of the budget is up nearly $14 million to $68.7 million and the general fund capital budget is $13.4 million, which includes projects such as improvements at the county's airport.
Included in the budget is $10 million in additional contributions to pension funds; a nearly $850,000 increase in public safety funds; $600,000 for economic development programs; and $5.5 million for the county's 11 independent libraries, a $362,000 increase.
Big-ticket items in budget
Among big-ticket items in the proposed budget is nearly $3.5 million for development of a new county business park; $1.1 million for a pilot program to expand broadband internet service to rural parts of the county; $2.9 million for additional Delaware State Police troopers, a proposed $800,000 increase; $15.4 million for the county's paramedic program; $3.6 million to support the county's local fire and ambulance services, a $98,000 increase; nearly $3 million for airport improvements; and $400,000 for a new mobile command unit.
Sussex officials plan to spend $8 million in capital funding to begin phased, major upgrades at the South Coastal, Inland Bays and Wolfe Neck regional wastewater facilities to as much as double treatment capacity, as well as create interconnections with other public and private utilities to better manage loads during peak demand and wet seasons.
Also in the budget is funding to increase around-the-clock paramedic coverage in the Seaford/Blades area, as well as $950,000 to construct two new EMS stations in the Seaford/Blades and Dagsboro districts.
Included is an increase of $1.7 million in grant-in-aid funding, which includes – among many others – councilmanic, library, fire and ambulance, housing and local law enforcement grants.
“This has been one of the more difficult budgets to write because of the uncertainty, particularly as it relates to the state budget,” said County Administrator Todd Lawson. “However, I believe what we are recommending here is a good-faith effort to balance the expectations of the county and the services it provides while being sensitive to our shared financial reality.”
The proposed budget does not raise property tax rates, sewer and water service charges, or building permit fees. However, modest increases are proposed for one-time sewer connections, plan review and increases in marriage bureau fees.
The public can comment in person during the June 13 hearing, or submit comments through the web at firstname.lastname@example.org. County council council must adopt a budget by June 30.
To view a copy of the proposed fiscal year 2018 budget, as well as the accompanying budget presentation, go to sussexcountyde.gov/county-budget.
BY THE NUMBERS
• 21 rezoning, 24 conditional-use, 20 subdivision and 209 board of adjustment applications
• 120 site-plan reviews
• 23,800 EMS calls for service, a 5 percent increase
• Scanned 170,000 property records for on-line accessibility
2018 Budget Highlights
• General fund increase of $13.8 million
• $15.4 million for paramedics
• $11.6 million grant-in-aid funding
• $8 million for wastewater treatment plant projects
• $5.5 million in library funding
• $3.9 million for business park development
• $3.6 million for local fire and ambulance services
• $2.9 million for Delaware State Police troopers
• $836,000 increase in public safety funding
General fund – $68.7 million
Capital projects, general fund – $13.4 million
Water and sewer fund – $36 million
Capital projects, water and sewer – $19.6 million
Pension funds – $5.9 million
Total = $143. 8 million