No tax increase in proposed Ocean View budget

The Town of Ocean View held a workshop earlier this week in preparation for the adoption of its budget for the 2018 fiscal year, and the current draft of the budget may be good news for those hoping to see their Town tax rate stay the same.

“It’s clear that we can get through this year fairly handily without any tax increase,” said Mayor Walter Curran, with a note of caution. “I think we’re going to find in fiscal year ’19 and on, a lot will not only depend on what the State is doing. If they continue down that road of fiscal irresponsibility, it’s going to come down… Going forward, it’s anybody’s guess.”

Town Manager Dianne Vogel said the Town should continue to reduce its reliance on transfer tax revenue, as it is not a reliable source of revenue. Under the proposed budget, the Town will continue to reduce the amount of transfer tax that is allocated to operations by $30,000 in the 2018 fiscal year, and should continue to do so each subsequent year.

“As the existing acres in this town get used up, that keeps shrinking,” said Curran of transfer tax revenue. “This isn’t something we think we should do — this is something we must do.”

As it stands in the draft, $610,000 in transfer tax revenue is available for operations.

Although a 6 percent pool for salary adjustments — following upon recommendations of a 2016 salary survey — has been included in the first draft of the 2018 budget, that does not mean all employees will receive a pay increase. Employees would simply be eligible to receive a percentage of their midpoint range.

Other budget highlights include the inclusion of three “generally consistent” grant sources — $25,000 from Sussex County, $30,000 from the State Police Pension Grant and $100,000 from Municipal Street Aid. The Town may receive other grants in the 2018 fiscal year; however, the budget does reflect those numbers as, if a given grant is received, the money must be spent on that specific project.

Through the Mediacom franchise agreement, signed in 2013, the Town receives approximately $60,000 in revenue each year.

Personnel-related costs represent approximately 71 percent of the Operating Budget. Overtime for first-responders has been projected at 15 percent, and at 5 percent for Public Works employees and 3 percent for administrative staff.

A 6 percent increase in health insurance coverage has been included in the 2018 budget. The Town continues to pay 100 percent of the premium for the Fire State Basic Blue Plan. A 3.4 percent increase for dental insurance was also included.

Drainage projects are always a topic in the town, and currently there is a total estimated cost of $4,437,000 for all drainage projects. As it stands, there are drainage projects in the amount of $2,042,000 that funding is not yet provided for. For the proposed budget, the Town has allocated funds for Woodland Avenue Extended drainage and patch/overlay work, as well as Woodland Park Phase I.

It can be difficult to complete drainage projects, as some property owners have yet to give the Town easements.

“That is critical,” said Curran. “Because if they don’t give us the easements to do that, ultimately that also creates more damage on the streets, and we’re going to be spending more money for patch work… We need a big push.”

Curran noted that communities including Country Village had come together to get their neighbors to give the Town easements for the repair work.

“That’s what we need from these other neighborhoods, too. This is not a can we can continue kicking down the road. It will get more expensive, and you’ll be making interim repairs you shouldn’t have had to make.”

Funding has also been appropriated for updates to John West Park, including irrigation and lighting. Now that Route 26 improvements project has been completed, the Town also plans to enhance the roadside with banners and streetlights.

The Public Works Department has requested $68,000 for a security system for their new building, as well as new equipment, for which some monies had been set aside in the 2017 fiscal year.

Repairs to the Town’s municipal building were also discussed, as Vogel said all the exterior doors need to be replaced and the roof needs to be repaired. Curran said he had reviewed all documents associated with the construction of the building as, from what they could find, the roof was not covered under any type of warranty.

“I don’t think we can let this slide,” he said, noting that water brings a myriad of potential issues, including mold. “From my perspective, this is something that has to be done. Yes, it’s a major project. We’ve tried three or four times to patch it, and it’s like whack-a-mole. You hit it here, it pops up there.”

The council agreed to remove the line item reserving funds in the Capital Improvements budget draft for the Delaware Department of Transportation’s (DelDOT’s) Transportation Enhancements (TE) program for the sidewalks.

Public Works Director Charles McMullen said that the project has been on hold because there is a property owner who does not wish to give the Town an easement to construct the sidewalks.

“It’s no longer viable,” he said. “I don’t think it’s ever going to happen… As reluctant as I am to say it, I think we need to move on from it.”

Council considers annual cap on MVFC

The Emergency Services Enhancement Trust Fund was also discussed. Vogel said the Millville Volunteer Fire Company is expected to make a presentation requesting funding from the Town at its March meeting.

She said, in her opinion, reading the ordinance establishing the fund, the Town “may” award money, and can cap the amount given to the requesting organization.

“The rationale with the capping is not to hurt the fire department. As we go forward, they will diminish. That being the case, what I’m suggesting is we cap it at $75,000 each year, so that anything above that simply accumulates, so we’ll be able to keep giving them the $75,000 years and years into the future as the revenue coming into this fund diminishes,” said Curran. “That way you support the fire service on a more regular basis.”

Finance Director Lee Brubaker offered a different opinion, stating that if the Town held on to those monies, they would be generating zero interest, whereas the fire company has notes on their equipment that may be at 6 or 7 percent interest, which could be paid down with the grant funding.

“My view is that … once our money dries up, it’s not the Town’s problem. That’s the fire company’s, if they’re depending on that source.”

Curran said that Brubaker’s take made sense, and he asked the council to think about what they’d like to do.

Vogel reminded council that ordinances take a long time to adopt, and it would be a process to alter it.

“We have the right without amending anything to simply say, ‘We’re only going to give you this much this year and save the rest for the future.’ That we can do without amending the ordinance… It’s something to think about.”

Curran emphasized that the suggestion was not being made to punish the fire company in any way.

Resident Steve Cobb said he believes there should be $75,000 annual cap on the grant funding, noting there is the potential for other organizations in the future to come forward and apply for funding.

Resident Ann Scoleri was the only resident who attended and spoke during the public hearing on the proposed budget, prior to a council workshop.

Scoleri said she did not believe all residents of the town could afford a tax increase, noting that, with the Indian River School District referendum on a proposed school tax increase of 49 cents per $100 of assessed value scheduled for March 2, property owners could potentially be hit twice in one tax year if both entities were to raise taxes.

“Everything is going up. Everyone didn’t come here with rich pensions,” she said. “I feel like sometimes the council is working more for the people that work for our Town than for the people that live in our town.”

Changes made to the proposed budget will be placed in the second draft, with the budget ordinance to be introduced at the March 14 council meeting, at 7 p.m.

Another budget workshop is scheduled for March 28 at 6 p.m., if needed. The council is expected to vote on the 2018-fiscal-year budget at the April 11 council meeting.