County law-enforcement grants to return to pre-recession levels


Local law-enforcement grants for Sussex County municipalities with their own police forces will be back up to $25,000 in the County’s 2013-fiscal-year budget. That takes the grants back up to their 2009 levels. In addition, because of a surplus in a prior fiscal year, there will be a one-time tax credit for county taxpayers. With the included tax credit in next year’s budget, the average county tax bill for a single-family home will drop to just below $100 annually.

The $121.1 million projected budget is down from the current year’s budget, in part because most of the work on the five major sewer projects the County has been doing in recent years has been completed. Highlights of the 2013 budget include a modest .18 percent general fund increase ($84,000) and a decrease in sewer assessment charges due to successful bond re-financing.

In the proposed budget, there are no fee or tax increases. There are some modest increases in service charges – ranging from $8 to $15 annually, depending upon the sewer district – as the County continues to try to makes sewer rates uniform for the bulk of their 55,000 customers. But sewer assessment rates will be lowered in 18 districts after successfully refinancing $61 million in sewer construction bonds earlier this year. Finance Director Susan Webb explained that the County saved around $8 million through the recent re-financing.

The Capital Projects Enterprise Fund is down 55.48 percent, mainly because of the completion of sewer projects using federal funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) – otherwise known as stimulus funds — in the Oak Orchard, Angola and Johnson’s Corner sewer districts.

She also said the general fund still carries no debt and is “pay as you go.” Around $13.2 million will be spent without general fund debt — with 41.9 percent on airport projects and 23.9 percent for library projects.

In addition, there is a proposed cost-of-living increase of 2.25 percent for staff and 1.125 percent for retired staffers with a County pension. There is no change in health insurance contributions or coverage for staff.

Realty transfer tax still remains the major source of general-fund revenue for the County, at 28.4 percent. Property taxes follow close behind, at 27 percent, and charges for services from constitutional offices (such as the Sheriff’s Office) are third, at 17.6 percent.

County Administrator Todd Lawson explained of the level of revenue from the constitutional offices that, “Unfortunately, that is because of the high amount of foreclosures.”

While realty transfer tax was a source of $33.6 million in 2004 and steadily declined each year thereafter, to $13.62 million in 2009, it has leveled off in recent years to what county officials have termed a “new norm” and is projected at $13.20 million for next year.

The county paramedic program is the top general fund expenditure. Officials said the demand for paramedic services has increased 15 percent in the last 10 years, and 911 calls have increased 35 percent over the last 10 years. The County’s paramedics continue to be a nationally recognized leader in mobile healthcare services.

County officials explained that, for every dollar after Sussex grants and fees — or what is covered strictly with tax dollars — 58 cents goes to public safety; 14 cents goes to libraries; 8 cents goes to code enforcement, dog control, planning and zoning, permitting and addressing; 8 cents goes to housing rehabilitation and other community support; and 7 cents goes to special services, such as public works, solid waste and airport engineering. Another 5 cents goes to general government costs, which includes county council, administration, legal and finance departments and constitutional offices.

The county council will hold a public hearing on the proposed budget during its June 19 meeting at 10 a.m. at the County Administrative Offices building, located at 2 The Circle in Georgetown. The public can comment in person that day or submit comments through the Web at budget@sussexcoutnyde.gov. By law, the County must adopt a budget by June 30. A copy of the proposed budget and presentation is available online at www.sussexcountyde.gov.