Sussex County proposes $177 million budget for FY19

GEORGETOWN – Sussex County will do more to preserve land, expand broadband Internet and fund more fire and EMS services in a budget plan that county leaders will weigh in the weeks ahead.

County officials on Tuesday, May 22 unveiled the proposed $177 million budget for Fiscal Year 2019 to fund a variety of county services and projects, including, among others, public safety, libraries, building inspection, wastewater treatment and community improvements.

The proposed budget limits fee increases and keeps County property taxes unchanged for another year, while utilizing increased revenue and cash reserves. But the plan reflects the need for significant investment in the year ahead to keep up with the demand for critical local services and infrastructure, including police, paramedics, wastewater, and continued efforts to expand broadband Internet service to more rural parts of the county, a high priority for Sussex officials.

“This budget does a lot of heavy lifting to fund our general day-to-day costs, but it makes serious long-term investments for Sussex County’s future,” said Sussex County Administrator Todd F. Lawson, who presented to County Council the proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. “Our community and our economy are growing, and we must continue to do all that we can to meet the needs so Sussex County remains as attractive and competitive as it is today.”

“The fiscal 2019 forecast is consistent with the fiscal 2018 to which we are seeing positive growth in the real estate market. Fiscal 2018 revenues from the housing sector are expected to be 5 percent fiscal 2017,” Mr. Lawson added. “Sussex county’s economy continues a positive trend while I remain optimistic about the county’s future I believe we will continue to operate within a reasonable financial philosophy. The positive trends have allowed the county to respond to calls for additional services, while focusing on the areas of greatest need.”

Among some of the major highlights in the proposed budget, the plan includes:

  • Increased funding for the County’s contract with the State of Delaware for 22 additional state police troopers to be assigned to Sussex County, up about $200,000 from $2.9 million in FY2018 to $3.1 million next year;
  • Additional funding, approximately $700,000, for local volunteer fire companies to fund operations, with $500,000 of that earmarked to help with rising ambulance service costs;
  • A $1.2 million allocation to further the County’s efforts to expand broadband Internet to residents and businesses in hard-to-reach rural parts of the county;
  • $1 million to preserve open space and farmland that could otherwise be developed;
  • Funding to build a new paramedic station in Seaford, as well as to purchase property for a new freestanding EMS station in the Dagsboro area;
  • More than $40 million in capital funding to pay for various sewer improvements and expansion projects, including $21 million as the County’s portion for the Rehoboth Beach outfall project, which is owned by Rehoboth but will be utilized by both the city and County to discharge treated wastewater from their respective systems;
  • Approximately $2.4 million to continue development of roads and other infrastructure in the County’s Delaware Coastal Business Park, which has already landed two major tenants since property was added to the adjacent County industrial park in early 2017;
  • Increased funding, rising from $175,000 to $250,000, for the County’s community development emergency housing fund, to help low-income residents with urgent repairs;
  • Funding for new positions to meet increased demand in the Building Code, Emergency Operations, Planning & Zoning, and Utility Engineering offices;
  • No change in current property tax rates or building permit fees; however, water and sewer fees will increase approximately $6 each annually.

The FY19 budget proposal includes a 2-percent COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) for county employees, plus merits based on performance.

Sussex Council President Michael H. Vincent praised the budget team, including Mr. Lawson, Finance Director Gina A. Jennings, and Deputy Finance Director Kathy L. Roth, for proposing a budget plan that balances public needs with fiscal reality. “The public expects and deserves the best services for the best value,” President Vincent said. “I believe this budget will satisfy both.”

Public safety accounts for 58 cents of every dollar spent.

“One of the other highlights of this budget in our recommendation is the fact that we are seeing a 7 percent increase in just the people that are moving and living here. This doesn’t even account for any of those that are visiting here,” Mr. Lawson said. “So, public safety has to apply to both. If you are in this county and you have to dial 911 or have fire or ambulance or paramedics come, you’re here. That demand is hitting our services right now. It clearly is a direct connection to more people being here, increased call for services.”

Mr. Vincent said it is important not to lose sight of the fact that today in this county, in this state, in this country one thing driving paramedic calls and calls to the 911 center is the opioid/drug overdose epidemic. “We have a serious issue in this county and the state,” said Mr. Vincent.

County Council will hold a public hearing on the proposal during its 10 a.m. meeting Tuesday, June 19, 2018, in council chambers at the County Administrative Offices building, 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.

To view a copy of the proposed Fiscal Year 2019 budget, as well as the accompanying budget presentation, visit www.sussexcountyde.gov/county-budget.

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