*ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: County presents 2014 budget

Earlier this week, Sussex County officials presented their proposed $117.7 million budget for the 2014 fiscal year. The proposed budget is down by approximately 3 percent, or $3.4 million, from the current year’s $121.1 million budget.

The decrease is largely the result of reductions in sewer assessment rates, as the debt for those systems is being paid off. In most cases, public wastewater rates will go down by as little as $4 to as much as $163, depending on the district served. In a handful of cases, however, sewer rates will increase by $6 to $15, depending on the district.

County Administrator Todd F. Lawson said that there would be no changes in the County’s property tax rate, making this the 24th consecutive year without an increase. He added that, on average, property owners of single-family homes pay 30 cents per day in property tax, while property owners of manufactured homes pay on average 11 cents per day.

Lawson also said that the County would be spending 79 percent of the budgeted $7,329,615 in grant-in-aid monies toward public safely.

“We spend most of our money on public safety,” said Lawson, noting that the number of incidents dispatched to paramedics has increased by 37 percent in the last year and that 911 calls have increased by 18 percent in the last 10 years.

Lawson also said that they propose to continue to provide funding for the county’s 11 libraries, including construction on the Greenwood Library and improvements to the South Coastal Library.
The general-fund portion of the budget is proposed to increase by 8 percent, or $3.7 million, due in part to the projected surplus in the 2013-fiscal-year budget of $1.8 million, as well as an expected increase in revenues from transfer taxes, building permit and zoning fees, and Recorder of Deeds fees.
“This shows that we continue to live within our means,” said Lawson of the 3 percent growth.

Realty transfer taxes are the county’s largest source of revenue, with the County projecting $16 million in revenue for the 2014 fiscal year.

“On average, the housing industry is increasing 10 percent in the county,” said Finance Director Gina Jennings, who recently replaced longtime finance director Susan Webb in the position. “We are starting to see the economy turn around.”

Jennings said that 32 percent of the proposed budget’s general fund would be funded through transfer tax, with 29 percent coming from property taxes.

Lawson said that, due to the Affordable Care Act, the County would spend an estimated $323,000 in healthcare each year.

“That number is only going to increase,” he said, noting that the county only had a few options for ways in which to help control that number.

Instead of raising property taxes or decreasing the current benefits offered to employees, the County is proposing to introduce spousal coordination and a birthday rule.

Lawson explained that spousal coordination will require that a County employee’s spouse must take other coverage through their own employer, if it is available. They may stay on the County’s insurance plan with that as a secondary carrier. The birthday rule dictates that employees’ dependents must have primary coverage under the insurance of the parent whose birthday comes first in the calendar year.
County Council President Michael H. Vincent commended the county’s staff for demonstrating that Sussex County taxpayers’ dollars are managed well and used wisely.

“Time and time again, our financial staff has shown that, in the best of times or in the worst of times, government can and has to make do. And we can do it without creating a burden on the backs of the people we serve,” Vincent said. “I’m sure the people of Sussex County appreciate our consistent efforts.”

Sussex County Council will hold a public hearing on the proposal on Tuesday, June 18, during its 10 a.m. meeting. The public can comment in person on that date, or submit comments through the Internet at budget@sussexcountyde.gov. By law, the council must adopt a budget by June 30. Council Chambers are in the County Administrative Offices building, 2 The Circle, in downtown Georgetown.