Taxes, fees unchanged in Sussex County’s proposed $119 budget

GEORGETOWN – Despite the gloomy weather of late and a cloudy global economic forecast so far in 2016, Sussex County’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2017 is offering a welcomed ray of sunshine to local taxpayers – no tax or fee increases for the next year.

County leaders on Tuesday unveiled the proposed $119 million budget for FY2017 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 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 $110 annually, not including local school district taxes.

For FY2017, the general fund portion of the budget is up 2.8 percent, which is below the three percent growth rate in the county’s taxable assessments. However, the overall plan is down $3.8 million, or 3.1 percent, from the current year’s $122.8 million in County expenses. That is largely due to some reduced sewer construction in the year ahead.

While the county continues to serve a growing constituency, and a rebounding local economy, 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.

“The county’s proposed budget delivers the services our constituents expect, from public safety to public libraries, in an affordable and efficient manner,” said County Administrator Todd F. Lawson, who presented to county council the proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. “We’re proud to be able to meet those expectations with this year’s proposed budget and do it in a responsible, cost-effective way.”

Among some of the major highlights in the proposed budget, the fiscal plan includes the completion of a multi-year effort to phase in a unified, one-time sewer connection fee for new public wastewater users. Meantime, quarterly sewer service charges for existing and new customers – the county currently serves nearly 61,000 customers – will remain the same as they are in the current fiscal year, the first time rates have remain unchanged in seven years.

Other highlights include:

  • An increase in grants of $100,000 to the local volunteer fire and ambulance companies compared to the current year; bringing to $3.5 million the total amount distributed to these critical public safety entities;
  • Funding to add two additional paramedics, as well as two additional 911 dispatchers;
  • Grants to local police departments, libraries and community groups are either maintained at current levels or increased in some cases;
  • More than $11 million in capital projects, including funding for two new paramedic stations and a new Emergency Operations Mobile command unit, as well as for continued implementation of a new computer-assisted mass appraisal (CAMA) system to improve assessment data collection and online availability;
  • A 1 percent cost of living adjustment for County employees, with a .5 percent COLA for pensioners;
  • No increase in health insurance premiums or coverage changes for County employees;
  • Building-related revenues, namely through increased permit and inspection activity, are expected to generate an additional $591,000 in funding next year;
  • Realty transfer taxes will continue to be the County’s largest source of income, with $19 million budgeted in Fiscal Year 2017, though the final collected amount – as it has been in Fiscal Year 2016 – could run higher.

County leaders say the new budget continues a trend of conservative spending.

“This budget maintains the county’s core operations and services, but provides the necessary funding to make some important technological, operational and public safety improvements while keeping overall expenses in check,” County Finance Director Gina A. Jennings said.

County Council President Michael H. Vincent 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 operating within its means.

“Even though needs and economies can change from one year to the next, it’s gratifying to see that our financial principles remain firm no matter the budget year,” Mr. Vincent said. “Sussex County taxpayers can rest assured once again that their dollars are being managed wisely by a team of professionals who take financial stewardship very seriously. This budget reflects that, and I thank our budget team for another outstanding effort.”

County Council will hold a public hearing on the proposal during its 10 a.m. meeting Tuesday, June 21 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.

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A copy of the proposed FY2017 budget as well as the accompanying budget presentation, can be downloaded from Sussex 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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