Sussex County vows to reduce marriage bureau’s operational deficit

GEORGETOWN – Getting hitched in Sussex County will cost a few more bucks.

Prior to the fiscal year 2018 budget adoption, Sussex County Council on Tuesday approved an ordinance that includes a marriage license recording fee and an increased fee for out-of-office weddings.

Effective July 1, there will be a $20 license recording charge and a $25 increase in the fee for ceremonies performed outside the marriage bureau located on the second floor of the County Administration Building on The Circle.

“The marriage bureau has a loss year after year,” Sussex County Finance Director Gina Jennings explained at the budget presentation in May. “We feel like that office should try to cover its expenses. The expenses exceed revenues so they have an operational loss. What we are trying to do is close that gap.”

Historically, the Sussex County Marriage Bureau has operated at a budget deficit with expenses outweighing revenue.

The bureau lost $40,162 in FY16 and more than $52,000 in FY15. The projected loss for FY17 is $54,246, according to the budget proposal.

Both proposals garnered the backing of first-year Clerk of the Peace Norman “Jay” Jones.

“We want to still provide the services but bring that up to where it needs to be, to be good stewards of the county for the citizens,” said Mr. Jones, who assumed the Clerk of the Peace position in January. “That gap that has been there for multiple years. We’re just trying to narrow that gap. That way the office can self-sustain.”

The Sussex County Marriage Bureau issues marriage licenses, officiates “memorable marriage” ceremonies and provides certified copies of marriage licenses issued in Sussex County.

Ms. Jennings noted that New Castle County implemented a $20 license recording fee to be consistent with the other row offices.

“We feel we spend at least $20 worth of employee time to record all marriage licenses. We still have to record it in the database,” said Ms. Jennings. “Even if the marriage isn’t performed by the Clerk of the Peace we still have to keep the database and keep the marriage records.”

Ms. Jennings estimates the $20 recording fee for each license would bring in about $29,840 annually.

With the $25 increase, out-of-office ceremonies performed by marriage bureau staff will be $100 for residents and $175 for non-residents.

“We looked at time spent of our staff to go out of office, the miles, time on road, time at ceremony,” said Ms. Jennings. “We want to make sure we are covering our costs.”

County councilmen I.G. Burton, George Cole and Michael Vincent voted in favor of the recording fee and increased fee for out-of-office ceremonies. Sam Wilson opposed. Councilman Rob Arlett was absent from the meeting.

“The thing is when they get married they are going to go buy a home. They are going to buy a permit,” said Mr. Wilson. “They are still going to spend more money than they ever spent.”

Mr. Vincent explained to Mr. Wilson the fact that the marriage bureau is losing money as it is and this is an attempt “to try to make a little more income.” Mr. Vincent added that the bureau is “still going to be operating at a net loss.”

The marriage bureau’s 2017 budget is $194,246, which includes $96,767 for salaries: Clerk of the Peace, Chief Deputy, Office Coordinator and a part-time casual/seasonal staffer.

The part-time hire is a Spanish-speaking employee to issue licenses and perform ceremonies for the Hispanic-speaking community.

In addition, the bureau in 2017 has obtained a volunteer from the Haitian community to help bureau staff communicate with the Haitian population for licenses and ceremonies.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.