Sussex council adopts $278.6 million budget

New paramedics stations, upgrades at airport and treatment plants among expenditures
June 23, 2023

Sussex County Council, following a June 20 public hearing, voted to approve a $278.6 million budget for fiscal year 2024 that begins July 1.

The budget keeps county property taxes unchanged for another year, but does include various fee increases, as well as rate changes – $10 more annually for sewer, $15 additional yearly on unmetered water – for public utility users.

“This budget maintains the high level of service our customers have come to know, and rightfully expect,” said County Administrator Todd Lawson. “We are keeping pace with the demand, particularly in our public safety and wastewater sectors, while maintaining exceptional value amid economic forces that continue to challenge governments, businesses, right down to individual households.”

The budget is down $15 million, or 5.3%, from the current year as capital spending is down and federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act cycles out.

The budget is supported by a mix of revenues, including property taxes, realty transfer taxes, sewer service fees, building permit fees and document recording fees. That revenue, in turn, funds a wealth of local services, including paramedics and 911 dispatchers, public wastewater treatment, building inspection and public libraries, among other services.

Sussex County Finance Director Gina Jennings said the budget is reflective of the new norm of economic challenges – rising demand for public services as national inflation, while somewhat lessened in the past 12 months, continues to drive increased costs.

Building revenue decreasing

Building-related revenue is forecast to decrease 9%, or $1.3 million, from the current fiscal year. Building permits have declined 9% over the past two years, with revenue from inspection fees down and recorder of deed documents down 4%.

The realty transfer tax, the county's main source of revenue, is forecast to decrease by $12 million to $31.5 million. In addition, Jennings said, transfer taxes will provide 35% of total revenue, compared to 40% this year.

The realty tax reached record highs 2021-23, for more than $60 million in FY 2022 and $50 million in FY 2023.

Building-related revenue peaked at nearly $20 million in FY 2021. Building permits also reached an all-time high in FY 2021, with more than 14,000.

To make up for the decreasing building-related revenue, the budget includes realty transfer tax reserves, more funding from the state for county paramedics and an increase in taxable properties.

Breaking down the budget

The county's biggest expenditures include the grant-in-aid program at $24.3 million, up 10%, and personnel costs at $44.7 million, up 4.9%.

Grant-in-aid supports a variety of county and community projects, with $10.7 million to public safety; $2.9 million to libraries; $2.6 million to economic development; $2.9 million to open space; and $1.7 million to community assistance, which includes human service grants, housing assistance, council and youth grants, and grants to CHEER and senior centers.

Public safety expenditures are budgeted at $26.8 million. The county has budgeted $4.1 million for additional Delaware State Police troopers; $805,000 in local law enforcement grants; and $5.7 million in fire and ambulance grants. There is also $15,000 included for Fenwick Island lifeguards and $200,000 for a fire-service study. Funding comes from realty transfer tax and a building permit fire service fee.

The proposed budget includes $89.7 million in the general operating fund, a 4.8% increase; $19 million in general fund capital projects, a 33% decrease; $52 million in the sewer fund, a 1.4% increase; $66 million in water and sewer capital projects, an 8.5% decrease; $1.8 million in the water fund, a 10% decrease; $10 million in the pension fund, an 8.4% increase; and $39.8 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds, a 12.1% decrease.

Nearly 40%, or $72.2 million, of capital projects are budgeted for work at Delaware Coastal Airport, including $32.5 million for the main runway extension to 6,000 feet and $13.6 million for taxiway B.

The budget also includes $21 million for an administration annex and $2 million for administration parking.

Revenue for capital projects is: $50 million, realty transfer tax reserves; $59.7 million, Federal Aviation Administration grant; $260,000, investment income; and $3.1 million in state funds.

Sewer capital projects total $66.1 million, including $11 million at the Inland Bays treatment facility, and $4 million at the South Coastal facility for upgrades and capacity expansion.

Funding is provided for 14 sewer district expansion projects, including $6 million for Slaughter Beach, $5 million for Long Neck communities, and $3 million for Herring Creek.

Highlights in the budget

• $66.1 million for wastewater infrastructure, including new sewer mains, increased treatment capacity and other upgrades to the county’s utility systems

• $7.4 million to preserve open space, including work at Hopkins Preserve near Lewes, and farmland that could otherwise be developed

• $3.4 million in funding to pay for the continuing court-ordered property reassessment

• $2 million for the design, planning and construction of paramedic stations in the Dewey Beach, Lincoln, Millsboro and Milton areas

• Funding for three new positions to meet demand in the county’s wastewater operation, but the county general fund’s overall employee count remains unchanged due to departmental shifts; four additional paramedics are slated for hire next year

• $400,000 for a new mobile library

• A $1.5 million contribution to the state, using the county’s realty transfer tax reserves, for construction of an aquatic recreational facility at Trap Pond State Park near Laurel.

There will be no change in current property tax rates, though several fee increases are proposed, including $10 annually for sewer and $15 annually for unmetered water on public utility systems, as well as new and adjusted fees for a variety of engineering services.

Copies of the budget, as well as the accompanying budget presentation, can be downloaded from the county website at


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