Proposed FY 23 Budget Unveiled to Sussex County Council
Sussex County is keeping its financial boat balanced and afloat, even in spite of record-level national inflation and uncertain economic waters ahead.
Sussex County officials on Tuesday, May 24, 2022, unveiled the proposed $294.1 million budget for Fiscal Year 2023 to fund a variety of local services, including 911 dispatchers, paramedics, and local libraries, as well as various projects to expand sewer service and improve public safety. The yearly plan is the second in a row for the County that nears $300 million, once again fueled by, in large part, funding from the American Rescue Plan Act.
The overall proposed budget is up by more than $16 million over the annual budget proposed this time a year ago, but down slightly, approximately $1.6 million, when adjusted for amended expenses. Increased operational costs, continued economic uncertainty, and more demand for public services are among the many factors driving this year’s proposal.
“The cost of everything is going up, and that’s reflected in our budget in the form of higher expenses for fuel, insurance, materials, labor costs, and so on,” said County Administrator Todd F. Lawson, who presented to County Council the proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. “On its surface, a $300 million budget looks exceptional, but it’s a mirror of these exceptional economic times. We believe this proposal is prudent in keeping pace with the financial realities of the day, while maintaining the high level of service our customers demand and deserve.”
Among the highlights in the proposed FY2023 budget, the proposal includes:
- $72.2 million for wastewater infrastructure, including new sewer mains, increased treatment capacity, and other upgrades to the County’s utility systems;
- $7.4 million to preserve open space and farmland that could otherwise be developed;
- $7.3 million to pay for the final phase of construction of a consolidated public safety complex that will expand the Emergency Operations Center to accommodate the County’s Emergency Medical Services’ administrative offices and training facilities;
- Increased funding, from $3.6 million to $3.8 million, for the County’s contract with the State of Delaware for the 22 supplemental state police troopers – and the possibility of an additional officer – assigned to Sussex County;
- $3.4 million in funding to pay for the continuing court-ordered countywide reassessment of all properties;
- $1.5 million for the construction of a new paramedic station in the Millsboro area;
- Nearly $800,000 more, from $2 million to $2.8 million, for local volunteer fire companies with ambulance service to cover salaries for paid EMTs;
- Funding for 16 new positions to meet demand in the County’s Community Development & Housing, EMS, Engineering, EOC, Human Resources, Marriage Bureau and Records Management offices, with the bulk of those for additional paramedics and 9-1-1 dispatchers;
- No change in current property tax rates, though a number of fee increases, including $24 annually for sewer and $35 annually for water for public utility customers, as well as new or adjusted fees for a variety of land use services (change of zone, commercial site plan review, subdivision, and variance requests, etc.).
County Finance Director Gina A. Jennings said this year’s plan was developed once again with a cloud-based software management reporting tool that shows more detail, including charts, tables, and narratives, all of which provide a greater understanding of the County’s finances and heightened transparency of the budgeting process.
Council President Michael H. Vincent praised the budget team, including Mr. Lawson, Ms. Jennings, and Deputy Finance Director Kathy L. Roth, for crafting a solid plan as inflation and other economic factors loom. “Anyone who runs a business or pays household bills knows just how demanding budgeting can be. And that’s without the unprecedented prices and supply chain shortages we’re seeing in this economy,” President Vincent said. “Government is no exception. Thankfully, our budget team has been able to navigate those forces and present a plan that, hopefully, our taxpayers will appreciate, as it maintains the same great product in the services we deliver while keeping costs in check.”
County Council will hold a public hearing on the proposal during its 10 a.m. meeting Tuesday, June 21, 2022, in council chambers at the County Administrative Offices building, 2 The Circle, in Georgetown. The public can comment in person or via teleconference on that date, or submit comments through the web at email@example.com. By law, Council must adopt a budget by June 30.
In other Council news the Council approved three applications in Old Business – two Change of Zone applications and a Conditional Use application for Henlopen Properties, LLC – located on Kings Highway near the intersection of Gills Neck Road in Lewes. When the applications came before the Council on April 26, action was deferred for two weeks for the Lewes Board of Public Works and any other member of the public to submit their reports on the well head protection issue. Subsequent to that, the Applicant would have an additional period of time until May 20th to submit any response to that. Planning & Zoning Director Jamie Whitehouse says the information was presented on time and circulated to the Council, which then voted to close the record. The written findings say that “the Mitchells corner project does not have a negative impact on the wellhead protection area and will, for the first time in the history of the property, pretreat the water infiltrating into the ground and provide significantly more pretreated water from the surface than exists today.”
During the afternoon session, the Council heard a Subdivision Appeal. The appeal was filed over the Planning & Zoning Commission’s decision to deny Subdivision Application No. 2021-06 – Coral Lakes. The Attorney for the developer, Kate Mowery, asked for a reversal on the P&Z’s vote. She told the Council that the denial violates Delaware Code and the P&Z’s Rules of Procedure after no findings or conclusions were provided for denial.
Attorney for the Planning Commission, Vince Robertson, did agree with Mowery’s comment that is “an unprecedented situation.” He says that the vote on the Subdivision application came after a lengthy public hearing and he says that the application was voted down 4 to 1. Robertson says it’s the Commission’s opinion that technically the vote complied with the requirements in that if failed to receive the needed three votes to pass and would be disapproved.
The Council went into executive session to consider the appeal. When they returned, Council President Mike Vincent read a lengthy motion. Included in the Council’s findings, the Planning & Zoning Commission did not provide the required written reasons that would let the Council determine if there was a logical review of the application and they have remanded the matter back to the Commission for a review of the entire record in open session and take a public vote with statement of reasons supporting the Commission’s vote. The Commission must issue a written decision of the findings and conclusions by August 31, 2022. The Council approved the motion with a 3 to 2 vote. Council members Mark Schaeffer and Cindy Green voted no.