As 2009 draws to a close, it’s only natural to reflect on the year gone by. For the Sussex County Council, 2009 was historic. In January, three new members took their seats on the five-member body, only to be greeted with news that record deficits were looming, largely because of the economic collapse of 2008.
To the members’ credit, the new council took immediate and decisive action, implementing various cost-cutting measures. These actions would reduce losses by 75 percent. Simultaneously, council directed the county’s budget committee to prepare a realistic balanced budget that avoided tapping reserves or raising taxes.
As a result, council in June passed a lean budget that was 16 percent smaller than the previous year, helped in part by staff reductions, voluntary unpaid leave and changes to the employees’ medical insurance plan.
Despite these reductions, the county has maintained its level of services and still included more than $7 million in grants to non-profit community service and volunteer organizations, such as fire companies, local libraries and senior centers.
During this time, Sussex has completed and embarked on many significant projects. Some of these began under the leadership of the previous council, for which former councilmen Dale Dukes, Finley Jones and Lynn Rogers deserve recognition. These gentlemen served Sussex County with great dedication, and for that we are grateful.
Sussex County Council’s accomplishments for 2009 include:
· Construction of a new paramedic station in Laurel; completing a new crosswind runway at the Sussex County Airport; doubling the size of the South Coastal Library; constructing tutoring/meeting rooms at the Milton Library; opening a new records storage facility to provide an important archival program for county government; and installing a new uninterrupted power source at the Emergency Operations Center;
· Launching a new airframe mechanic’s training program at the airport, in cooperation with DelTech. The county provided $1.2 million in funding for the renovation of a necessary hangar;
· Reducing the use of an outside engineering firm for plan review and inspection of roads within new developments, saving taxpayers about $100,000 a year;
· Implementing new private road design standards for roads within new developments;
· Closer monitoring of performance bonds and letters of credit associated with development projects to ensure that required infrastructure is completed for new communities;
· Securing $14.6 million in federal “stimulus” funding (of that, $7.7 million is grants) for wastewater projects that will provide immediate construction jobs and reduce costs for users;
· Completing the Millville sewer project, resulting in the elimination of approximately 1,600 existing septic systems; installing nine new generators for sewer pump stations at Dewey Beach and Fenwick Island; completing construction of a new sewer main and expanded pump station No. 31 in the Route 54 area; completing construction of the Golf Village sewer system, under budget, with sewer rates below referendum estimates; and completing expansion of spray rigs at the Inland Bays Regional Wastewater Facility, adding capacity by about 49 acres;
· Securing federal “stimulus” funds for development of an energy efficiency strategy, making Sussex one of the first 20 counties in the nation to win such dollars;
· Funding and administering dog control previously handled by the state;
· Increasing funding, from 60 percent to 70 percent, for paramedic services as the state decreased its share;
· Receiving the seventh consecutive Government Finance Officers Association Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting award;
· Creating an amnesty program for delinquent sewer and water payments;
· Placing property deed records online;
· Approving plans to add parking in downtown Georgetown;
· Establishing a Neighborhood Stabilization Program through Community Development & Housing Office, as well as purchasing and selling six homes through this program (the first in the state to buy and sell homes via this federal grant);
· Approving the purchase of automated CPR devices for the EMS department, making Sussex County the first in Delaware to use such devices;
· Approving a new policy to require larger public notice signs for Planning & Zoning applications;
· Posting our weekly bills list online for public review;
· Creating an online suggestion box to solicit public ideas;
· Maintaining the county’s AA bond rating.
It’s clear that 2009 was a busy year here in Sussex County. It was a year full of challenges and tough choices, but one in which those obstacles were overcome thanks to County Administrator David Baker, the budget committee and all our dedicated employees. Sussex County has been blessed in so many ways, and 2009 is a perfect illustration of our continuing good fortune.
In closing, I also want to thank the people of this county for their efforts and for their understanding during this past year. On behalf of the county council, I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. We look forward to another successful year in 2010 and continuing our service to the people of Sussex County.