Sussex County Council adopts $117 million budget

Housing-related revenue continues to drive economic engine
Sussex County Council passed the fiscal 2015 budget during the June 17 meeting. BY RON MACARTHUR
June 23, 2014

Sussex County Council has unanimously approved a $117.3 million budget for 2015 fiscal year that begins July 1.

The approval marks the 25th year in a row the county’s property tax rate has remained at 44.5 cents per $100 of assessed value. The average county tax bill for a single-family home remains around $100 annually, not including independent school district taxes.

Without discussion during a June 17 public hearing, council approved a budget down slightly from the current year’s $117.7 million plan. The budget is supported by a mix of income streams, including property taxes, realty transfer taxes, sewer service fees, building permit fees and document recording fees. Revenues from almost all housing-related sources are on the rise, as much as 20 to 30 percent.

“This budget once again focuses on providing essential services of the highest quality for the best value possible,” County Administrator Todd Lawson said. “That’s what any consumer wants, and Sussex County is proud again to deliver a product that is affordable.”

While the overall budget is down, the general fund portion of the budget is expected to rise by 3.6 percent, or $1.8 million. That is due in part to an expected surplus from fiscal 2014 that will be finalized later this year, as well as an expected increase in investment income, added assessments from new construction, and a continued rise in building inspection fee collections. The general fund portion of the budget pays for day-to-day operations and services offered by county government.

The new budget maintains grant funding for local service providers, including municipal police departments, local libraries and nonprofit community groups, while increasing funding by $100,000 to local volunteer fire companies, which are expected to receive some $3.4 million in fiscal 2015 from a projected rise in building permit revenue.

On the operations side, the budget includes a 2 percent cost of living adjustment for the county’s nearly 500 employees and a 1 percent cost of living raise for pensioners, as well as more than $230,000 in funding to digitize land use maps and improve public access to planning and zoning information online.

Councilman Vance Phillips, R-Laurel, said council and staff have taken a difficult pathway of holding spending to set the county's ship right during tough financial times. “We told the staff to work with us, and there would come a day when we would reward you. We've solidly arrived there, and the raises are warranted,” he said. “Our employees have worked very hard.”

While some positions will be filled this fiscal year, the county has fewer employees overall than five years ago. “And we are below the level of spending from five years ago,” Phillips said.