County plans major cuts in grants

Sussex County Council heard from County Administrator David Baker about proposed cuts to Grant in Aid funding projects at their meeting on Tuesday, May 12.

Because transfer taxes are down $4 million as compared to the current year’s budget and are expected to be $2.2 million less next year, and because the county anticipates a deficit of $3.8 million this year, the Grant in Aid budget is “struggling,” according to Baker, and the related committee will recommend reductions next Tuesday, he said.

Outlined in the proposed draft is about a 25 percent overall reduction.

Fire-service funding is proposed as down 8 percent, and the fire-service enhancement fee that the county gets from building permits and passes on to volunteer fire companies is down even further, from $3,466,000 to $2,893,000.

State police grants would be down 13 percent, and the draft has the county funding just 40 state troopers and not hiring an additional four, as has been done in years past.

They have not recommended an amount to be included for the Open Space program, but do have about $1.5 million of unspent money there.

The Sussex Conservation District grants would be down 21 percent.

“We have recommended a major change in the University of Delaware Ag Extension, down 50 percent; and housing assistance, which is at $100,000 this year, would be $30,000,” said Baker.

Baker said the significant decrease in that arena was because of the amount of federal money available for housing grants. He noted that the $30,000 they have budgeted could be used for housing rehab for people on waiting lists or in need of immediate assistance.

Local law enforcement grants, which many municipalities have come to count on for the purchase of police vehicles and equipment, would be down 50 percent, from a $25,000 allocation per year per department to just $12,500.

Sewer and water grants would be down 36 percent. The County Council Improvement Grant would be down 51 percent, and human services, such as First State Community Action, CHEER and local library funding would be down 8 percent.

Cole favors municipal police grants over troopers

Councilman George Cole asked if the state police funding and the local law enforcement funding might be re-allocated to allow more funding on the local level.

After clarifying that the council funds roughly 50 percent of the cost of 40 additional officers above the state allocation for Sussex County, and has been doing so for years, Councilman George Cole proposed a change to the draft.

“What I am getting at is we have done a good job of subsidizing the state police,” Cole said. “When you discover the amount of calls local law enforcement agencies answer outside their area, for example in Ocean View, I would like to propose that we continue funding local law enforcement at 100 percent and cut back on [state] troopers. The local law enforcement is in dire need, more than the state police organization.”

Cole emphasized that he was not asking for more money, just a re-allocation of the funds to allow local law enforcement agencies the full $25,000 grants, instead of receiving a 50 percent cut.

Baker said he would talk to the state police to see what type of impact that might have, and Cole asked the council for a consensus.

“I don’t hear a warm embrace of Mr. Cole’s idea, but I feel Mr. Baker will take it into consideration,” said Council President Vance Phillips. He also mentioned that the budget is not set in stone, as it still has to be brought up next week and will have a public hearing in June at which the public can comment. It will then go back to council for debate.

“We have been so generous,” with the state police, finished Cole. “But the small towns are at a critical juncture. I’d like to see the council support it.”

The council decided it was Baker’s decision whether to include any of the proposed changes in next week’s draft of the budget.

In other news from the May 12 meeting, the council voted down an ordinance that would have raised fees charged by the Register of Wills office to be comparable to those in Kent and New Castle counties.

They also voted to allow a land-trust agreement between the county and DRC Properties and PGSD to trade parcel 533-12-76.01 for 533-12-76.01, near their pumping station #30 off of Route 54, to give DelDOT needed access.

The council also agreed to award grants to the town of Laurel for Clean-up Week in the amount of $500; $400 to Olde Tymer’s Softball League for major field projects; $500 to the Millsboro Historical Society for operating expenses and projects; $1,000 to the to Laurel fireworks celebration for July 4; $500 to the Delaware Lions Foundation for programs and projects; and $100 to the Oak Orchard Riverdale American Legion Post 28 Auxiliary for their poppies program.