Sussex County to suspend lodging tax, provide rental assistance funds in wake of COVID-19

GEORGETOWN — Sussex County is delivering a dose of financial medicine to help ease the economic pain many are feeling amid the coronavirus crisis.

At its regular meeting Tuesday morning, Sussex County Council, in its first teleconference, approved various measures as part of the county’s response to the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic.

To help ease financial hardships during the economic emergency, Sussex County is:

• Suspending the 3 percent accommodations tax adopted in November 2019 and implemented Jan. 1. The surcharge is for the rent of any room or rooms in a hotel, motel or tourist home in unincorporated portions of the county, with revenue collected earmarked for projects and programs, such as beach nourishment, waterway dredging, economic development and water quality/flood control;

• Contributing up to $250,000 in county funds to the Delaware State Housing Authority’s Housing Assistance Program, with that money earmarked for renters in Sussex County;

• Deferring until further notice the collection of lease payments for tenants of the Delaware Coastal Airport and Delaware Coastal Business Park.

Sussex County Administration Todd Lawson reported the state is providing $2 million in housing assistance to DSHA through its Housing Assistance Program.

“Multiple households are to receive up to $1,500 in assistance with payments made directly to the property owner or utility company,” said Mr. Lawson. “Each county has been asked if they would contribute to the state funding. New Castle has already approved the allocation of $500,000.”

Sussex County has offered to contribute up to a quarter of a million dollars from the county contingency fund to the Housing Assistance Program earmarked for renters in Sussex County, only.

Sussex County Finance Director Gina Jennings shared more information on the Delaware State Housing Authority’s rental assistance program. She said DSHA reported it had 130 applicants in the first 36 hours.

“I have been talking with DSHA,” said Ms. Jennings. “DHSA is willing to guarantee for every household we assist they will assist one as well. So, we will have a match.”

The county has taken other measures.

“The county has taken steps to reduce the financial impact on residents and businesses alike,” said Mr. Lawson. “This includes temporarily waiving credit card servicing fees and waiving payment late fees for April and May.”

“We are mindful these are very trying times, and anything the county can do to take some stress off our customers’ wallets is something we should strive for,” Sussex Council President Michael H. Vincent said. “These are small but important steps that will do a tremendous amount of good.”

County COVID-19 update

In the days leading up to Gov. Carney’s March 13 state of emergency, county leadership began contingency plans to protect county staff and the public they serve by limiting their exposure to the virus, Mr. Lawson said.

As of Tuesday, all employees and departments are operating under the county’s modified system, which includes staggered work schedules and rotating days to ensure minimum contact.

“The goal is to keep as many employees home and out of harm’s way,” said Mr. Lawson. “Not counting the public safety and environmental services employees, approximately 90 percent of our workforce is not reporting to a county facility.”

The Sussex County Administration building on The Circle in Georgetown remains closed to the public except for lobby drop-off for documents to be processed. Since the building closure, county staff – deeds, planning and zoning and building code – processed over 2,000 documents related to construction and land-use processes, Mr. Lawson said.

“In all, county operations remain in place as best as we can except in these circumstances,” said Mr. Lawson, adding the county staff has put forth its “best effort under these stressful conditions, and we ask for the public’s understanding and consideration.”

“I would like to throw out a shout-out to all of the staff, and the director’s work they have done,” said county councilman Doug Hudson. “They have all done a wonderful job in this time that we are in right now. And the time that we are in, nobody has ever had to do before.”

“I would echo councilman Hudson’s comments,” councilman John Rieley said. “It has been a very stressful and extraordinary time. I admire everybody’s efforts in pulling together.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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