Kent Levy Court accepts committees’ budget recommendations

DOVER — Kent County Levy Court commissioners approved three measures introduced by the county’s administration and finance committees last Tuesday regarding the upcoming budget for fiscal year 2018, which begins July 1.

The court approved two recommendations by the administration committee based on results from their pension experience study and other post- employment benefits (OPEB) experience study.

Commissioner George “Jody” Sweeney motioned to take the pension committee’s recommendations for county employees. These included:

Sweeney by .

George “Jody” Sweeney

• Eliminating cost of living adjustments (COLAs)

• Incorporate a mortality table projected generationally with adjustments for healthy vs. disabled lives

• Lowering the interest rate to 7.75 percent and then gradually reducing it further by increments of .25 percent until reaching 7.25 percent

• Changing the annual rate of salary increases to an age graded table

• Changing the rates of the retirement table to one that more closely reflects actual experience

• Changing the rates of the termination table to one that closely aligns with actual experience

Commissioner Terry Pepper voted against the proposal.

“In my case, I represent most of the employees in the county — ones that currently work for the county and the ones that have retired — so I feel as though I need to be a voice for those folks,” he said. “I don’t want to put the restriction on the commissioners where in the future we cant give a cost of living raise to the retirees.”

The court was advised that the pension committee actuary estimated that there was a $1 million dollar impact annually to keep a 2 percent COLA in the pension program. The pension committee’s recommendations were approved by a vote of four to one.

On the OPEB side, the committee recommended the county reduce the interest rates on those retiree benefits from 8 percent to 7 percent — dropping in increments over the next four years. This proposal met with unanimous support by the court.

On Feb. 14, the Finance Committee brought a proposal to the Levy Court to distribute its “residual library tax” fund. County Administrator Mike Petit de Mange noted that the county’s library tax is around 3 cents of every 100 of assessed value on property in the unincorporated parts of the county.

“Dover, Harrington, Milford and Smyrna all have their own libraries,” said Mr. Petit de Mange. “Residents living in those towns don’t get assessed this tax. The tax was created years ago so people who don’t live in those towns could still use those libraries for free.”

Each time a resident living in an unincorporated part of the county borrows a book from a town library, $2.65 is taken from the tax fund and given to that library, he explained. The practice is called reciprocal borrowing.

Michael Petit de Mange

Over the past few years, this tax fund has been showing a surplus. The finance committee reported that this year’s was $250,000.

“Every year, the total assessment for the county grows because we have new houses and new buildings, so more tax revenue is brought in,” said Mr. Petit de Mange. “We’re also seeing library circulations flatten out. People use libraries for other reasons like audio-books, Internet and study space now. That $2.65 only goes to the library if a physical book is pulled out. The result is we’re getting a surplus around this time every year.”

In past years the Levy Court has split the surplus equally among the town libraries and the Kent County Library — the committee recommended that they continue this practice.

“I know there is a looming requests coming, there are a couple municipalities already earmarking funding from the county government,” he said. “If that’s the case and we need to have some money set aside, maybe this can be one of the ways we do it. By this time next year, we could have half a million dollars sitting in reserve to answer some of the costs.”

However, the commissioners brought it to a vote anyway and decided to distribute the funds equally among the five libraries as they have in previous years. Although casting a “yes” vote, Mr. Buckson offered the following caveat.

“I’ll vote in favor of this, but I do think we missed an opportunity here tonight,” he said. “I’ll ask that we reconsider this again next year.”

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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