County finances in ‘good shape’ this fiscal year

Sussex County’s budget is looking good nine months into the year, reported Finance Director Susan Webb this week. She explained to the county council that the County is 3 percent over budget in revenues and in “pretty good shape” overall.

“I don’t expect any drastic changes” before the end of the year in three months, she added.

The County’s expenses are 2 percent above where the budget says they should be but, again, Webb reiterated that “does not mean we are over in total,” because they are only nine months in. She said the county has a “modest” $472,000 in excess revenue over expenditures as it stands right now.

The council also got a legislative update on Tuesday from Deputy Administrator Hal Godwin and heard from representatives of the Food Bank of Delaware.

Food Bank President and CEO Patricia Beebe reported that there are approximately 22,430 “food-insecure” people living in Sussex County. That’s about 12.1 percent of the county’s total population. The Food Bank works with 53 partners and provided 900,000 pounds of food last year. Beebe reported that they had 6,000 volunteer visits from Sussex County residents to their Milford location and served about 100,000 meals in their after-school programs, at sites including the Boys & Girls Clubs.

Beebe and Food Bank Development Director Larry Haas spoke about their need to expand the Milford facility to accommodate some of their existing programs, namely their culinary program, their child nutrition program and their volunteer room.

Expanding the Milford location, where the Food Bank already owns the land and the building, would allow their culinary program to grow. Currently, in New Castle County, they have a program that serves unemployed and underemployed people by teaching them culinary arts in a restaurant-grade kitchen. About half of the students taking the 14-week course come out of the correctional system, and they have a 90 percent graduation rate.

Having the new kitchen also will allow them to serve hot meals to children in their programs in Kent and Sussex counties, as they currently do now in Newark, and to help make their child-nutrition program more efficient. And having a volunteer room adds space for their volunteers. Haas explained that, statewide, their volunteers work the equivalent hours of 37 full-time staff.

They noted that they are about halfway through fundraising for the expansion and have raised about $1.5 million dollars so far, but that they want to have all of the money lined up before construction starts.

The council this week also discussed guidelines for their grant funding. Councilman George Cole said he thought there was a lack of consistency in how council members give out their grants – typically through the last few items on their regular agenda in any given week.

Webb pointed out that, in 2009, the council had adopted a grant policy stating that they would be flexible, depending upon the need. She also said they “rarely” give what is requested, because it wouldn’t logistically be possible.

“We might just want to look into it,” pressed Cole. “We don’t have anything we can hand to people, and we might give $500 to one person and $300 to a whole team.”

Councilman Vance Phillips said they have always left it up to the discretion of the council person from whom the grant is being requested, because they know their district and the needs of non-profits in that district. Councilwoman Joan Deaver then referenced a recent grant to student.

“That’s a good example of how a councilperson can be asked to elaborate,” Phillips said.

The council decided to ask Webb to come back to them at a future meeting with something more concrete in terms of guidelines for grants.