Sussex County’s proposed $185.7 million budget for fiscal year 2020 indicates increases in building-related revenue as the economy continues to show slow and steady growth, said County Administrator Todd Lawson during the May 18 county council meeting.
However, he said, realty transfer tax revenue – the county’s main source of income – is predicted to level off. “It’s not something we’ve seen; it will stay the same as budgeted previously,” he said.
Even so, at $32.5 million, the projected total this fiscal year is the second highest since the all-time high of $35.3 million in 2006.
Sussex Finance Director Gina Jennings said the goal is not to rely on transfer taxes as much. “We want to be able to operate without an increase in realty transfer taxes,” she said.
Almost 100 percent of realty transfer taxes is spent on public safety initiatives such as grants to fire and police departments.
She pointed out that while there is a 5 percent growth in building-related revenue, it’s dropped from a 23 percent increase from 2015 to 2016 and 9 percent from 2017 to 2018.
Building-related revenue increased $1.3 million from last year.
Sussex County’s proposed budget includes money for several key projects including funds for design work on a new administration annexation building, a new paramedic station in Seaford and start-up funding for construction of a new public safety building as part of the emergency operations center.
Also in the $21 million capital budget is more than $4 million for a taxiway at Delaware Coastal Airport and funding to ensure the new county industrial park’s infrastructure is complete.
The county has 523 employees who will receive a 2 percent cost-of-living raise. Jennings said the number of employees is down 28 positions from 2009 because of the use of more technology. Salaries and benefits are 44 percent of the operating budget.
“This budget is all about the future – planning for our future needs, whether it’s public safety, wastewater improvements, or the county government’s general operations,” Lawson said. “This budget lays the foundation for the next several years.”
Among some of the major highlights in the proposed budget:
• Increased funding for the county’s contract for 22 supplemental Delaware State Police troopers, up nearly $200,000 from $3.1 million in fiscal year 2019 to $3.3 million next year.
• Additional funding, $100,000 above last year, to fund local law enforcement operations providing $30,000 to each police department.
• A $2 million allocation to further efforts to expand broadband internet to residents and businesses in hard-to-reach rural parts of the county.
• Increased grants to local libraries and senior programs, specifically $20,000 to each of the county’s 11 independent libraries, and $50,000 to CHEER Inc., one of four installments totaling $200,000, for the expansion of its kitchen to provide senior meals.
• $1 million to preserve open space and farmland that could otherwise be developed.
• Nearly $35 million in capital funding to pay for various sewer improvements and expansion projects to fulfill the county’s 20-year forecasted demand, including $8 million to expand the spray-irrigation disposal system at the Inland Bays Regional Wastewater Facility, and almost $7 million to expand and upgrade South Coastal Regional Wastewater facility.
• Approximately $3.4 million to continue development of roads and other infrastructure in Delaware Coastal Business Park.
• A $19 million transfer from the reserve account for one-time expenditures including $5 million to the pension account, $10 million to 5-year capital plan projects, $1 million to open space and $1.5 million for the Sandhill Fields sports complex loan.
• Continued funding of $250,000 annually for the county community development emergency housing fund, to help low-income residents with urgent repairs.
• Funding for eight new positions to meet increased demand in the billing, emergency operations, engineering, environmental services and libraries offices.
• No change in property taxes or sewer service charges, and minor changes in fees for accessing and storing documents in the Register of Wills Office, and for private road plan review and inspections through the public works division.
The average county resident pays $114 in property taxes and as much as $800 to $900 in school and library taxes.
Council will hold a public hearing at its 10 a.m., Tuesday, June 18 meeting in council chambers at the administrative building, 2 The Circle, Georgetown. The public can comment in person on that date, or submit comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. Council must adopt a budget by June 30.
To view a copy of the proposed budget, as well as the budget presentation, go to sussexcountyde.gov/county-budget.
BUDGET AT A GLANCE
Total = $185.7 million
General operating fund – $81.4 million, up 6.8 percent
Capital, general fund – $21.3 million
Water/sewer fund – $40.8 million
Capital water/sewer – $34.6 million
Pension fund – $7.5 million
$22.5 million – realty transfer tax
$14 million – property tax
$1.4 million – fire service tax
$1.6 million - library tax
$17.7 million – constitutional office fees
$6.7 million – general government fees
$2.1 million – building and zoning fees
$1.6 million – building inspection fees
$1.6 million – private road inspection fees
$1 million – investment income
$17 million – paramedics
$15.7 million – grants in aid
$21.3 million – general fund capital projects
$40.8 million – water and sewer projects
$47 million – personnel