Sussex County proposes $128.6 million budget for FY 2016

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Sussex County leaders Tuesday unveiled the proposed $128.6 million budget for fiscal year 2016.

GEORGETOWN – Sussex County’s proposed budget for 2016 rings a familiar tune that undoubtedly will be music to taxpayers’ ears.

County leaders Tuesday unveiled the proposed $128.6 million budget for fiscal year 2016 to fund County services, including, among others, public safety, libraries, building inspection, wastewater treatment, and community improvements.

As in past years, the proposed budget keeps in place – for the 26th consecutive year – the County’s property tax rate of 44.5 cents per $100 of assessed value, with the average tax bill for a single-family home remaining around $100 annually, not including local school district taxes.

For FY2016, operational expenses in the general fund portion are up only 2.9 percent, which is below the 3.3 percent growth rate in the county’s taxable assessments.

The overall plan is up $11.3 million, or 9.6 percent, from the current year’s $117.3 million budget, largely due to long-planned sewer construction projects included in the County’s capital plan.

While the County continues to serve a growing constituency, the proposed budget keeps operational expenses in check, limits fee increases, and holds the line on property taxes – familiar budget themes in Sussex County over the years.

“Our citizens expect a quality product at an affordable price, and rightfully so,” said County Administrator Todd F. Lawson, who presented to County Council the proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. “This budget delivers the core, essential services our customers rely upon each and every day, whether it’s our life-saving paramedic system or dynamic programs at a local library. We continue to deliver on the promise of affordable government that serves the people of Sussex County.”

The most significant changes in next year’s budget will be in the form of sewer connection and service fees for residents with County sewer services.

Following an effort over the past few years to establish consistent pricing for public wastewater service, the County will continue to phase in a unified, one-time sewer connection fee for new users.

Meantime, quarterly sewer service rates for existing and new customers – the County currently serves 59,420 customers – will increase by $8 in most cases; one district, Long Neck, will increase by $12.57.

The proposed increase for FY 2016 is mostly the result of expenses for previously planned capital projects, namely public sewer construction, including $9.6 million for new sewer pump stations and $3.2 million in other system improvements. Most of the funds needed to finance those projects, now included in the proposed budget, were collected in previous fiscal years.

Other highlights include:

  • Grants to fire companies, local police departments, libraries and community groups are either maintained at current levels or increased in some cases. In the case of volunteer fire and ambulance companies, the County expects to distribute more than $3.4 million next year;
  • The inclusion of $800,000 in funding to continue the County’s efforts to digitize records, particularly for assessment and property records;
  • Realty transfer taxes will continue to be the County’s largest source of income, with $16.7 million budgeted in Fiscal Year 2016, though the final collected amount – as it has been in Fiscal Year 2015 – could run higher.

County leaders say the new budget continues a trend of conservative spending, and stressed the County will continue to save by reducing purchases, limiting new hires, and cross-training employees.

“This budget maintains and plans for our current and future infrastructure needs, but keeps operational expenses in check,” said County Finance Director Gina A. Jennings. “That’s especially important when only a few revenue sources are increasing, while others remain relatively flat. You have to prioritize and ensure you’re saving for the long-term projects down the road, while still meeting the day-to-day needs of your operation.”

County Council President Michael H. Vincent, R-Seaford, praised the budget team, including Mr. Lawson, Ms. Jennings, and Deputy Finance Director Kathy L. Roth for once again putting together a pragmatic budget that keeps the County’s operating within its means.

“I am proud that this County continues its track record of conservative, level-headed fiscal management,” Mr. Vincent said. “As the closest level of government to most of the residents here in Sussex County, it’s important that we remember who is ultimately paying the bills – the taxpayers. This budget does that, and I’m sure our constituents appreciate the County’s continued budgeting philosophy.”

County Council will hold a public hearing on the proposal during its 10 a.m. meeting Tuesday, June 16, 2015, in council chambers at the County Administrative Offices building, located at 2 The Circle in Georgetown.

The public can comment in person on that date, or submit comments through the web at budget@sussexcountyde.gov.

By law, Council must adopt a budget by June 30.

A copy of the proposed FY 2016 budget, as well as the accompanying budget presentation, can be downloaded from the County’s website at www.sussexcountyde.gov/county-budget.

The Sussex County Post delivers news from Georgetown and southern Delaware. Follow @SussexPost on Twitter.

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