Use surplus transfer funds for roads
Sussex County Finance Director Gina Jennings made an astounding – though not really surprising – announcement at a recent council meeting. Real estate transfer tax revenue is up for this fiscal year which started July 1, compared to the previous year. Way up.
While the current budget projected a total of $22.8 million in transfer taxes for all of the current fiscal year, the county has already collected $32.5 million in just the first seven months. The next five months will no doubt generate several million dollars more in surplus funds.
Sussex has to hold a public hearing about use of those extra funds, but suggested uses so far include extra funding for fire and rescue operations; public library capital projects; open space acquisition; acquisition of land for paramedic facilities; additional funding for an economic development loan program; and funding for other capital projects such as a business park in Seaford.
One program not mentioned for additional funding from the surplus transfer taxes is the county’s FAST program - Funding Accelerating Safety in Transportation. It should be. This innovative collaboration with Delaware’s Department of Transportation provides upfront money from Sussex County – to be paid back – to speed up the timeline for construction of projects in DelDOT’s six-year planning cycle. The recent FAST $4.5 million funding approved for improvements to the dangerous Sweetbriar/Hudson/Cave Neck roads intersection will see that project completed four years earlier than it otherwise would have been.
When the FAST program was first approved, County Administrator Todd Lawson said traffic is the single largest concern heard from the public.
The dramatic increase in transfer tax revenues is a clear indication of more people and cars coming to Sussex to use its roads. Using a portion of that surplus to speed up one or two more DelDOT projects – leveraging improvements with development – makes total sense and should move toward the top of the list in this discussion.