Georgetown, Del., May 19, 2020: Sussex County government will trim departmental spending, forgo major capital projects, and cap its grants programs, but keep all services intact and positions funded, under an austere budget plan for the year ahead as Delaware and the rest of the nation continue to grapple with the effects of the COVID-19 emergency.
County officials on Tuesday, May 19, 2020, during a teleconference meeting of the County Council, unveiled the proposed $157.8 million budget for Fiscal Year 2021 to fund various local services, such as 911 dispatch, paramedics, and wastewater, as well as already planned projects, including a consolidated public safety complex. The spending plan, though, calls for no new programs or projects, with no increases in taxes or general fund fees, despite projected income dips, particularly among real estate-related revenues.
The overall proposed budget, which is down 15 percent from the current year, is designed with revenues projected to be down to 65 percent to 85 percent of their FY 2020 levels, reflecting the current financial uncertainty wrought by the global pandemic. In response, spending is reduced or delayed in many areas until the financial aftermath of the health crisis becomes clearer.
“To be blunt, these are different times, and this is a different budget, different than anything we have seen in recent memory, if ever,” said County Administrator Todd F. Lawson, who presented to County Council the proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. “It keeps spending to an absolute minimum and doesn’t include any new major capital projects or purchases, but I’m proud to say it keeps our employees working and our operations funded so we can continue to deliver the services our public depends on each and every day.”
Among the highlights in the proposed FY2021 budget, the proposal includes:
- $1 million to cover engineering costs of a planned consolidated public safety complex that would expand the Emergency Operations Center to accommodate the County’s Emergency Medical Services’ administrative offices and training facilities;
- Maintained funding, at $3.4 million, for the County’s contract with the State of Delaware for the 22 supplemental state police troopers assigned to Sussex County;
- A $750,000 allocation to continue efforts to expand broadband Internet in rural areas;
- $1.7 million to preserve open space and farmland that could otherwise be developed;
- Funding for 12 positions to meet demand in the EMS, EOC, and Engineering departments, with the bulk of those, eight, going to EOC as the center absorbed functions of the Seaford 911 facility in 2019 and shifts to a call-taker/dispatch model later this year;
- No change in current property tax rates or sewer service charges, and only a minor increase, $15 annually, in service charges for water customers.
County Finance Director Gina A. Jennings said the proposed budget has been drafted as a baseline spending plan that can be modified in the new fiscal year as quarterly revenue outlooks yield more information. If revenues derived from realty transfer tax, building permits, building inspections, and through document filings in the Recorder of Deeds office exceed a given quarter’s budget by at least $1 million, numerous departmental expenses, purchases, and projects/initiatives could be restored through prioritized budget amendments.
Council President Michael H. Vincent praised the budget team, including Mr. Lawson, Ms. Jennings, and Deputy Finance Director Kathy L. Roth, for crafting a plan amid difficult and uncertain economic circumstances. “This budget does what we need it to do, which is to keep the lights on and government running,” President Vincent said. “That, along with the hard work of our dedicated staff, will get it us through these uncertain times.”
County Council will hold a public hearing on the proposal during its 10 a.m. meeting Tuesday, June 23, 2020. At this time, due to the public health crisis and in compliance with Gov. John C. Carney’s emergency declaration, the hearing may be limited to a virtual session with public comment submitted via telephone or in advance by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The public should consult the Council’s June 23 agenda, when posted, for further guidance.
By law, Council must adopt a budget by June 30. To view a copy of the proposed budget, including the accompanying presentation, visit sussexcountyde.gov/county-budget.