Sussex County government will continue to improve its efficiency and effectiveness in the coming year, says County Administrator Todd Lawson.
As Lawson begins his third year in the post, he said most of what the county accomplishes in 2014 had its start in 2013. “We are starting to see the effects now,” he said.
Improved customer service has been high on the county hit list. Over the past three years, the county has invested $1.8 million in a state-of-the-art computer system that better integrates county departments and improves customer service – highlighted by a new and improved county website.
SUSSEX AT A GLANCE
This spring, the county will take another major step by finishing a $420,000-improvement project to the county administration building at 2 The Circle. When work is completed, customers will have what Lawson calls a one-stop shop to get a building permit, dog license or marriage license, get plans reviewed and pay bills. County customers will no longer have to walk to office all over the building.
Ultimately, Lawson said, the county would like to provide a greeter to mirror what the Delaware Department of Motor Vehicles does to assist customers with questions and direct them to the proper departments.
“In this area we are going to pull our foot off the pedal a little and see if our customer-service design works,” Lawson said.
Much of the work in and around the lobby is complete. Beneath the lobby, a new conference room with upgraded technology is under construction to provide video conferencing and video streaming. Council will also use the room for executive sessions.
Lawson oversees more than 490 employees – down from nearly 550 in 2009 – and an overall budget of $123 million for fiscal year 2014.
Emphasis on staff training
Lawson said staff wants more training, and it didn't take long for him to institute the Sussex County Leadership Development Course run by new employee Ann Delnegro. In addition, the second floor of the West Complex building has been converted to a conference/training room complete with technology required for training on computer software programs.
Lawson said it's imperative that staff have the proper skills to deal with the public.
He said training has already started to pay off in financial savings, staff morale and staff knowledge. “This has really helped improve the culture of our staff,” he said. “Employees are seeing this as an investment in them and their professional development.”
He said Delnegro has developed a training program designed specifically for Sussex County's needs. “The county has never done this before,” he said.
Eye on the construction industry
In 2014, Lawson said, county administration will need to keep a keen eye on building trends. So far this fiscal year, building-related revenue is up between 20 and 30 percent, which requires more work for county staff. Building-related revenue is the financial engine that drives Sussex County's operating budget.
“We have to make sure we have the appropriate staff to stay on schedule,” Lawson said.
Over the past four years, a lull in new construction led to cutting back on hiring and retraining staff for different positions. Lawson said as construction picks up, the county could be shorthanded, but more time will tell the true story. “It's something we have to stay on top of,” he said.
Realty transfer taxes – split with the state – account for 32 percent, or $16 million, of the county's anticipated general fund revenue. Other building-related revenue totals about $2.4 million.
Airport runway work will continue
Several key capital projects will be completed in the coming year. The $2.7 million Greenwood library is set to open at the end of February or in early March.
Improvements are planned to the older section of the county's main runway at the county's airport. Included in the $4.5 million project is repaving and re-grooving of a 4,500-foot section of the runway, the same runway that was extended 500 feet in 2013. The project also includes improved runway lighting and instrumentation equipment.
In addition, Lawson said, the county will continue work toward securing funding for a second 500-foot extension of the runway to complete the goal of a 6,000-foot runway at the airport. During the next phase, Park Avenue, the truck bypass route around Georgetown, will be realigned, which will require funding from the Delaware Department of Transportation. Lawson said while there is no funding for the roadwork this fiscal year, it would not stop design work for the project.
Four new paramedics units will begin service in 2014, and staff will look at building a new Station 105 in Bethany Beach in a continuing effort to get out of leased building arrangements. The county spends more on the paramedic department – $13 million in fiscal 2014 – than any other department.
Expansion of sewer districts
Sewer is big business for Sussex County, and plans are in the works to expand the county's system by eliminating old individual systems and providing access to new developments within county planning areas. The work requires several phases that usually occur over several years, Lawson said.
Getting underway is the $167,000 Goslee Creek planning area study to look at the feasibility and costs associated with providing sewer to a large area between Beaver Dam Road to east of Route 24 north of Love Creek. At least four approved or planned subdivisions and possibly a new elementary school are included in the planning area.
The focus of the county's sewer business will continue to be elimination of individual septic systems in the Inland Bays watershed, but as less and less land in eastern Sussex County is available to serve, other areas of the county become targets for central sewer.
“The evolution of the county's sewer system is moving westward toward Route 24 and Route 23,” Lawson said. “Potential users drive where we go.”