Georgetown, Del., May 25, 2021: Sussex County has a quarter of a billion reasons to be optimistic about its future finances as Delaware and the nation emerge from the greatest health and economic crisis to face the globe in the last century.
Sussex County officials on Tuesday, May 25, 2021, unveiled the proposed $278 million budget for Fiscal Year 2022 to fund a variety of local services, such as 911 dispatchers, paramedics, and local libraries, as well as various projects, including expanding sewer service and construction of a state-of-the-art public safety complex. The plan is the most significant budget in the County’s history, up $100 million from the current year, with much of that amount the product of increased capital construction and an infusion of cash from the federal government’s American Rescue Plan.
The overall proposed budget is a sharp contrast to the current year’s $177.3 million budget, which, when presented at $157.8 million a year ago, was pared back 15 percent because of the uncertainty of the ensuing coronavirus pandemic. The reality, though, was far different as the year moved along, with the County experiencing a surge in real estate revenue as people quarantined during the COVID-19 pandemic took on home improvement projects or purchased new houses in the region.
“The past year has been unprecedented on so many levels, and that goes for the County’s budget, as well,” said County Administrator Todd F. Lawson, who presented to County Council the proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. “A year ago, looking forward, we had no idea what to expect. We trimmed spending, we held off on big-ticket projects. What we didn’t expect, though, was a budget year that defied odds, with building permits up more than a third over the previous year, and so much activity it has been a challenge at times to keep pace, especially during the pandemic. That said, this a good problem to have, and this budget will help to meet the demands that await us in the year ahead.”
Among the highlights in the proposed FY2022 budget, the proposal includes:
- More than $41 million in additional funding over the present year, to $72.3 million, for wastewater infrastructure, including new sewer mains, increased treatment capacity, and other upgrades to the County’s utility systems;
- $6.15 million to pay for construction of a consolidated public safety complex that would expand the Emergency Operations Center to accommodate the County’s Emergency Medical Services’ administrative offices and training facilities;
- Increased funding, from $3.4 million to $3.7 million, for the County’s contract with the State of Delaware for the 22 supplemental state police troopers assigned to Sussex County;
- $4.4 million, up nearly $3 million from the current year, to preserve open space and farmland that could otherwise be developed;
- $2.5 million in funding, from reserves, to pay for the initial stages of a court-ordered countywide reassessment of all properties;
- A $2 million allocation, up $1.25 million, to continue efforts to expand broadband Internet in rural areas;
- Funding for 10 new positions to meet demand in the Assessment, EOC, Engineering and Planning & Zoning departments, with the bulk of those, eight, split between the EOC and Engineering offices for additional dispatchers and sewer workers, respectively;
- No change in current property tax rates, with only minor increases - $4 annually for sewer, $15 annually for water – for public utility customers.
County Finance Director Gina A. Jennings said this year’s plan was developed with a new cloud-based software management reporting tool that shows more detail, including charts, tables, and narratives, all of which will provide a greater understanding of the County’s finances and heightened transparency of the budgeting process. That’s especially important in the post-pandemic era as citizens, many of whom have shifted to virtual attendance of public meetings, look to have a better understanding of available services and how their tax dollars are spent, Ms. Jennings said.
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 that helps to restore normalcy following a year of so much uncertainty. “Facts and the familiar have been hard to come by, it seems, throughout this past 14 months,” President Vincent said. “But if there is anything our citizens can count on, year after year, pandemic or not, it’s that their hard-earned investment in public services here in Sussex County will be managed in a consistent, conscientious, and conservative manner.”
County Council will hold a public hearing on the proposal during its 10 a.m. meeting Tuesday, June 22, 2021, in council chambers at the County Administrative Offices building, 2 The Circle, in Georgetown. The public can comment in person or via teleconference on that date, or submit comments through the web at firstname.lastname@example.org. By law, Council must adopt a budget by June 30.
To view a copy of the proposed Fiscal Year 2022 budget, as well as the accompanying budget presentation, visit sussexcountyde.gov/county-budget.