Sussex County records $3.48 million surplus from 2011

Sussex County has scored yet another financial gain, recording a $3.48 million surplus for the 2011 fiscal year – the most significant gain for the County government in five years – despite a continued sluggish economy, a new audit shows.

The Sussex County Council, at its Tuesday, Jan. 24, meeting, accepted the audited financial statements for the 2011 fiscal year from certified public accountants Jefferson, Urian, Doane & Sterner P.A. The auditors released an unqualified report noting the financial statements “present fairly, in all material respects, the respective financial position” of Sussex County as of June 30, 2011. The audit report is presented annually to detail the County government’s finances for the previous fiscal year.

For 2011, Sussex County ended the budget year with approximately $3.48 million in revenues over expenditures, the second consecutive gain. County leaders have already committed to returning a little more than $1 million of the surplus to County taxpayers, in the form of a one-time credit on tax bills later this year. The rest will go to the County’s pension funds, local law enforcement, land preservation and various grants.

Finance Director Susan Webb said the $1.2 million increase in realty transfer tax revenue was a modest revenue increase, of which $800,000 was a one-time increase. She emphasized that managing expenses has done more for the County than anything else in creating the surplus.

“The economy grew in 2002 and then started to drop. Now it is starting to increase. It looks dramatic, but revenue hasn’t grown that well — it is because we have done so well managing our expenses,” said Webb.

“We are still working with the same economy we have been for the last three years, but we can control our expenses and live within our means,” she said.

Webb explained that personnel costs are down because of natural attrition and retirement, as well staff reductions in county departments including building code and assessment, which were hit hardest in the recession. Cross-training has allowed the County to save in personnel and health benefit costs, as well.

County Administrator Todd Lawson said the report is yet another example of how Sussex County can make a positive outcome from even a negative situation.

“This is great news, but we’re not there yet,” Lawson said. “We must continue to budget conservatively and spend wisely to keep our finances in order, especially in light of the down economy.”

Council President Michael H. Vincent thanked staff for their continued efforts to keep expenses down and said the audit should give the public confidence their money is being used wisely.

The complete report and other information will be available on the County’s Web site at

In other county council news from Jan. 24, the council denied an application from Robert Browning and Bradley Davis to rezone 2.38 acres near the intersection of Fred Hudson Road and Cedar Neck Road, near Ocean View, from MR/medium density to NB neighborhood business.

Councilmen George Cole and Vance Phillips both used the neighboring Salt Pond community and Harris Teeter shopping center as examples of “how development should occur” in Sussex County and said that the Browning/Davis application, in contrast, was “after the fact.” They also noted the Planning & Zoning Commission’s reasons for recommending denial of the application, including a “speculative” proposed use, traffic concerns and opposition from nearby residents.