Workshop sets Sussex County budget process in motion

GEORGETOWN — Sussex County Council Tuesday got its first collective glimpse of the county’s proposed Fiscal Year 2020 budget — a balanced ledger that if adopted as drafted will total approximately $186 million.

“I’ll save you the suspense and let you know ahead of time; there is no recommendation for a tax increase. So, our trend continues,” said Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson at the start of the lengthy May 7 workshop.

As proposed, the county’s property tax rate would remain at 44.5 cents per $100 of assessed value. This would be the 30th consecutive year with no county tax increase.

The $185,764,416 proposal marks an increase of approximately $8.2 million from the 2019 budget.

Keeping with tradition, the proposal continues the county’s commitment and support for public safety.

Public safety expenses, which include fire/ambulance, law enforcement, Emergency Operations Center and paramedics, total $29.2 million. This represents 36 percent of the $81.5 million operating budget, according to Ms. Jennings.

The county also plans to continue funding supplemental state police coverage, a cost of $3.3 million for 22 troopers.

The proposed budget also reflects what county leaders anticipate will be some leveling off in the housing and real estate market. Ms. Jennings said she is keeping the Realty Transfer Tax (RTT) equal to last year’s FY19 budget at $22.5 million for FY20.

“I anticipate also bringing in about the same as FY18 for FY19, which is $32.3 million,” said Ms. Jennings.

“We feel like we’re going to see a plateau in growth. So, where we had years in the past a steady increase, this year we are going to predict that that increase is going to level off somewhat,” Mr. Lawson said. “The numbers bear this out. This is what we are seeing, related to specifically the housing sector …”

County council members Doug Hudson, John Rieley, Samuel Wilson Jr., Irwin “I.G.” Burton III and Michael Vincent heard presentations from Mr. Lawson, Ms. Jennings, Deputy Finance Director Kathy Roth and various department heads and directors. More presentations related to the FY20 budget proposal will follow.

“This is a culmination of probably three to four months’ worth of work where we had met with all department directors and budget requests,” said Mr. Lawson, who added “a lot of credit for what we go over today is directed to Gina and Kathy.”

Some $26 million in reserves are being used in the general fund and capital budgets.

While there are no increases in property tax and sewer/water operating charges and connection fees, the proposal does included changes in the Register of Wills fees and slight increases in private road review and inspection fees, and septic disposal fees.

Council feedback from this and other sessions could alter the draft with tweaking as “you see fit,” Mr. Lawson said.
Once finalized, the proposed budget will go before the public at a public hearing followed ultimately by adoption.

By state law, the county must have a balanced budget in place by June 30.

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