County council reviews 2004 audit

Sussex County Council hosted accounting firm Jefferson, Urian, Doane & Sterner at the Jan. 25 council meeting for a review of the 2004 fiscal year.

County finance director David Baker presented the report, but acknowledged Elaine Graves and Sheldon Forney (associates), Jean Schmidt and Kerry Rahe (accountants) for their work on the project.

According to Baker, “It was a clean opinion.” The independent auditors have found the county books to be in order.

Baker touched on some of the bigger numbers.

The county added $11.4 million to the general fund, a decrease from fiscal 2003’s $12.5 million, but still healthy revenue generation.

Council Member Vance Phillips asked how much the general fund budget had increased over that same period.

County Administrator Bob Stickels said it was up by roughly 30 percent, but the overall budget was only up by a couple percentage points.

“It’s the second-best year we’ve had — the second year we’ve finished in a positive cash position,” Stickels added.

Among “government activities,” the realty transfer tax was the largest revenue producer, up 53 percent, or $9.3 million, from fiscal 2003 (and up 118 percent from fiscal 2002).

The realty transfer tax netted a hefty $17.4 million, followed by Recorder of Deeds revenues, with $2.5 million, and other building-related fees (permits, inspection, etc.), with roughly $2.2 million.

Also associated with the new growth, developers paid the county $7.3 million in connection fees, up 29 percent from 2003.

Developers paid out roughly $7.6 million in capital contributions for new sewer facilities (a 39-percent increase).

According to the audit, the county currently provides sewer to more than 44,000 customers. That number has increased by 30 percent in the last five years.

The county approved 2,797 building permits, up nine percent from the previous year.

In other business, the council granted another time extension to the developers of the Springfield Enterprises subdivision (177 homes, near Delmar).

Attorney Everett Moore appealed the Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission’s decision to let the project “sunset.” The project began back in 1996, but as Moore explained, the developers had run into changing sewer regulations, and a moratorium.

County Attorney James Griffin recommended revisions to the ordinance governing such appeals.

Council was less generous with Sussex County Sheriff Robert Reed — they denied his request for a new Chevy Tahoe, valued at $27,700.

There were questions regarding what appeared to be considerable deficits in the sheriff’s budget. Council also pried Reed about the questionable legality of lights and sirens on department vehicles.

Last but certainly not least, and the main reason why the benches in council chambers were packed on Jan. 25, council approved the continued use of the capitation tax to support libraries.

Dennis Forney, a member of the Sussex County Independent Library Trustee Association, requested a five-year extension, and Stickels seemed amenable.

“We don’t want to bind future administrations, future councils, but I feel comfortable with five years,” Stickels said. “That should give them some long-range planning opportunities.”

Forney said the county libraries were beefing up their employee benefits, and had instituted a system to protect youngsters from inappropriate Internet content.