Kent County Levy Court approves budget with tax rates unchanged

DOVER — With COVID-19’s impact serving as an uncertain backdrop, Kent County officials kept tax rates unchanged and approved an employee pay raise on Tuesday night.

Approving the $32.2 million fiscal year 2021 General Fund budget effective July 1 came with the caution since the financial picture may look far different when a six-month review arrives.

“By December, we will have a better understanding of the state’s budget picture and our own revenue source impacts so we can make corrections as needed,” Commissioner Jeff Hall said.

With the capital projects, sewer and other enterprises items such as trash collection included, the overall budget is $76.7 million.

While Commissioner Eric Buckson said almost $1 million was saved in immediate capital expenditures, he expressed hope for their return in half a year.

“I didn’t want to bet against this country,” he said. “I know the virus is tough but I have some confidence that we’re going to get through this thing and we’re going to be better than we were before.

“I’m not sure when that will be … If the economy is strong or had a marginal impact, and I know that’s a big if, then we could decide what spending we want to approve. It could be a smaller amount of pay or spending money on capital projects or something of that nature.”

If construction permit and realty transfers revenue coincide with a continued economic downturn, funding for capital projects and other possible spending may continue to be delayed, according to Commissioner Jody Sweeney said.

At this point, though, enough confidence existed to approve an across the board 1% pay raise for the county’s approximately 235 employees at a cost of $164,000 to the budget. Another future increase is possible, Mr. Sweeney said.

Mr. Hall described the employee’s cost of living adjustment as a “down payment for the employees that have been working to keep the county operating under challenging conditions over the past few months.

“It’s my hope that we can revisit step increases and other compensation issues at the mid-year point as well.”

Commissioners voted not to increase their annual $33,422 salary.

According to Mr. Sweeney, the county’s property tax rate remained the same for the 11th consecutive year.

Public safety funding remained for items such as cardiac monitors and a mobile command post vehicle. Technology projects and new vehicle purchases for fleet management were cut for now.

Said Levy Court President Brooks Banta, “Limiting our expense side allowed us to move in a respectful manner which did not require a tax increase. Challenging times require direct decisions from our staff as well as the commissioners and we were able to succeed in that endeavor.”

There were no pay increases for temporary, part-time, contracted hourly or seasonal employees unless mandated by minimum wage laws. They shall not work more than 25 hours without approval by the personnel director.

All 19 volunteer fire companies in Kent County, including Ambulance 64 in Smyrna received $965,000 combined compared to $865,000 in FY 2020.

Delaware State University and the University of Delaware each received $15,000 grants. Among other funding, the Kent Conservation District got $125,000 and the Kent Economic Partnership $100,000. The Kent County Visitors’ Bureau got $10,000.

Nearly 50 organizations received $75,400 in community service grants. The Boys & Girls Club of Delaware received the most $15,000, followed by $4,500 to the Modern Maturity Center. Most received between $500 to $2,500 and grants were not decreased from FY 2020.

The Shepard Place received $3,000. The Frederica, Lillian Smith, Mamie A. Warren and Milford senior centers were budgeted for $2,500 each, along with the Central Delaware Habitat for Humanity, Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing and the Kent County Watch Association.

Community service grants totaled around $1.328 million this year compared to about $1.28 million last year.

Ongoing funding for capital projects at Big Oak County, Brecknock and Browns Branch park was not included. Surveillance cameras at all parks were funded for $20,000.

Not included due to COVID-19’s potential financial impact were new positions and revised job titles that would have added benefits paid out, including:

• Upgrading a currently funded part-time park naturalist to full time.

• Increase a library circulation supervisor and two library technicians hours from 35 to 40 hours.

• Reclassify and re-title four existing dispatcher III (Grade 10) positions to shift supervisor (Grade 1.

• Create a new procurement specialist fund within the Public Works Department Wastewater Facilities Division.

• Create a new assistant county administrator position.