Sussex County officials have unveiled a proposed $278 million budget for fiscal year 2022 to fund a variety of local services, such as 911 dispatchers, paramedics, and local libraries, as well as various projects including expanding sewer service and construction of a state-of-the-art public safety complex.
The plan is the most significant budget in the county’s history, up $100 million from the current year, with much of that amount tied to an increase of $52 million in capital construction and an infusion of $45.5 million from the federal government’s American Rescue Plan.
County staff presented the proposed budget to Sussex County Council during its May 25 meeting.
The proposed budget also reflects record growth in building-related revenue, projected to jump 17 percent to $12 million compared to last year.
While the county slashed its budget last fiscal year because of the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the economy, in reality, the county experienced a surge in residential and commercial construction.
Finance Director Gina Jennings said revenue from realty transfer taxes this fiscal year is expected to be 11 percent over budget, which could top the all-time peak of $36.3 million reached in 2005. Realty transfer taxes are the largest source of funds for the county, accounting for 32 percent of revenue. Property taxes, around $16 million, account for 26 percent of revenue.
Building permits will exceed 14,000, which is up 21 percent from a peak in 2006 and up 34 percent from last year.
Jennings said over the past eight years, subdivision lots have increased 447 percent, subdivision applications have increased 230 percent and conditional-use applications have increased 104 percent.
“The one takeaway from this budget is just how busy the county is in the housing and development markets,” said Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson.
“The past year has been unprecedented on so many levels, and that goes for the county’s budget, as well,” Lawson said. “A year ago, looking forward, we had no idea what to expect. We trimmed spending; we held off on big-ticket projects. What we didn’t expect, though, was a budget year that defied odds, with building permits up more than a third over the previous year, and so much activity it has been a challenge at times to keep pace, especially during the pandemic. This a good problem to have, and this budget will help to meet the demands that await us in the year ahead.”
Large increase in capital funding
While the general fund portion of the budget is $77.7 million, the capital portion – combining general fund and water and sewer projects – is $97.7 million, an increase of $52 million over the previous budget.
Nearly half, or $38 million, of the proposed general fund budget of $77.7 million is earmarked for employee costs. It also includes $21.4 million for grants in aid; $9 million for public safety; $5 million for economic development; $2.7 million for libraries; $1.7 million for community assistance; and $1.4 million for open space.
General fund capital projects – $25.7 million total – include a new public safety building, $6.1 million; business park improvements, $2.5 million; Western Sussex data center, $1 million; broadband infrastructure, $2 million; and $5 million for airport improvements.
To keep pace with the growth, the budget contains $72.3 million in sewer and water projects, including $34.6 million for upgrades to the county's South Coastal and Inland Bays wastewater treatment plants, and $11 million for work at the Wolfe Neck and Rehoboth Beach wastewater treatment plants.
Several major projects are planned to expand county sewer districts including Herring Creek, $4.5 million; Chapel Branch, $2.75 million; Wolfe Runne in Lewes, $2.1 million; Long Neck, $1.9 million; and Mulberry Knoll, $1.8 million.
A $4.5 million project is scheduled for infrastructure to complete the Ellendale water district.
Among the highlights in the proposed project are:
• More than $41 million in additional funding over the present year, to $72.3 million, for wastewater infrastructure, including new sewer mains, increased treatment capacity and other upgrades to the county’s utility systems.
• $6.15 million to pay for construction of a consolidated public safety complex that would expand the Sussex County Emergency Operations Center to accommodate the county’s emergency medical services administrative offices and training facilities.
• Increased funding, from $3.4 million to $3.7 million, for the county’s contract with the State of Delaware for the 22 supplemental Delaware State Police troopers assigned to Sussex County.
• $4.6 million for county fire and ambulance companies and departments, and $690,000 in local law enforcement grants.
• $4.4 million, up nearly $3 million from the current year, to preserve open space and farmland.
• $2.5 million in funding, from reserves, to pay for the initial stages of a court-ordered countywide reassessment of all properties.
• A $2 million allocation, up $1.25 million, to continue efforts to expand broadband internet in rural areas.
• Funding for 10 new positions to meet demand in the assessment, emergency operations center, engineering, and planning and zoning departments, with eight new positions for additional 911 dispatchers and sewer workers.
• No change in current property tax rates, with only minor increases - $4 annually for sewer, $15 annually for water – for public utility customers.
• $21.4 million in grant-in-aid funding.
Public hearing on budget
County council will hold a public hearing on the proposal during its 10 a.m., Tuesday, June 22 meeting in council chambers at the county administrative offices building, 2 The Circle, Georgetown. The public can comment in person or via teleconference on that date, or submit comments by emailing email@example.com. By law, council must adopt a budget by June 30.
To view a copy of the proposed fiscal year 2022 budget, as well as the accompanying budget presentation, go to sussexcountyde.gov/county-budget.
(increases compared to fiscal year 2021 budget)
General fund – $77.7 million
General fund capital – $25.7 million, increase of $10.7 million
Water fund – $1.75 million
Sewer fund – $45.7 million, increase of $4 million
Water/sewer capital – $72.2 million, increase of $41.3 million
Pension – $9 million
American Recovery Plan grant – $45.5 million
Total = $278 million, an increase of $100 million
For more budget information, go to: