Sussex County to hold budget hearing Tuesday


Sussex County will hold a public hearing at 10:15 a.m. on Tuesday, June 20, to consider the adoption of the $140 million 2007 fiscal-year budget presented to county council in late May.

The budget would increase sewage fees in most of the county’s 15 sewer districts — in part because of rising fuel and electric prices facing the county, as well as Sussex towns and county residents.

Despite the rising prices, though, and costly maintenance projects and studies, the budget only increased by 2.16 percent overall from last year and wouldn’t raise property taxes.

“Of the 19 budgets that I have been involved with, this has been the most complex to deal with,” said County Administrator Bob Stickels of the last budget on which he will work as a part of the county staff. “This was an extremely difficult budget to put together.”

Although the county should feel a lessened energy-hike impact because of its association with a state-led cooperative effort, Stickels budgeted for across-the-board increases of 94 percent.

Three wastewater facilities across the county experienced energy rate increases of 117 percent when Delmarva Power’s rate caps were lifted on May 1. County officials also budgeted more than $500,000 for gas costs next year, an increase from last year of 78 percent. And the county budgeted for several local wastewater facility maintenance projects and studies, including a $317,000 study at the Bethany facility. Minimal sewage rate increases are the result of facility projects, studies and the county’s energy problem, which Stickels thinks isn’t just a “short-term” issue.

“I believe the increased costs for energy are not going to be short-term, as we saw in the ’70s and ’80s,” he said. They are going to have a lasting impact.”

Residents in the South Bethany sewer district will pay the most in extra costs next year, experiencing a 7.57 percent increase if the budget is passed as proposed last month. The county will hold a separate public hearing on Tuesday for another ordinance to establish the sewage increases.

If that passes, the South Bethany district residents’ annual bill would increase to $264.75. Bethany sewage district residents would experience a 7.49 percent increase to an annual bill of $267.66. Fenwick’s residents’ bills would rise 6.2 percent to $319.40 per year. Dagsboro/Frankford, North Millville and Ocean View districts would experience lessened increases but pay more annually. Ocean View’s sewage district rates are only increasing 3.38 percent, for instance, but residents’ annual bills are about $570.

Sewage connection fees are also rising — some dramatically — but seemingly not enough for Stickels, who said he would like to charge more but that there is no justification for such a move.

County Councilman George Cole said the budget will likely be passed on Tuesday and be in place for the start of the 2007 fiscal year on July 1.

Visit Sussex County’s Web site at www.sussexcountyde.gov for a downloadable copy of the 2007 fiscal-year county budget and the accompanying budget letter drafted by Stickels, who is retiring after 18 years in the Sussex’s head administrative role.