City council pleased with first glimpse into draft budget

DOVER — Dover’s acting city manager on Tuesday presented the council with a recommended fiscal year 2018 budget that includes no property tax increase for the second consecutive year.

The numbers were well-received.

City council members lauded the balanced-budget proposal and what they say appears to be a stream-lined process for them due to Acting City Manager Donna Mitchell’s communication with the city’s department heads.

“It’s nice that we don’t have to be the ones sitting here doing all the slicing and dicing and surgery,” City Councilman Bill Hare said. “(Ms. Mitchell) knows what needs to be done and she did it, and I commend her and her staff.”

The proposed $143,079,600 total spending plan for FY-2018 does include a service rate increase for sanitation operations due to an increased cost in recycling, as well as greater fees for extra-duty Dover Police Department services for events such as NASCAR races and the Firefly Music Festival.

Under the budget draft, sanitation services for Dover residents will jump from $17 to $21 per month, a 23.5 percent increase to cover cost of service.

The extra-duty police special event rate is also expected to increase around $3 per hour for each officer to $68 per hour ($28 per hour for dispatchers standard time), as well as an additional $1 for overhead fees.

Overall, City Council President Timothy Slavin said the budget draft was a good place to start. He and other members of council will continue peruse the entire 306-page budget at special meetings tonight and Thursday.

“I have to tell you that for the first time perhaps in my career, I think we have been presented with a budget which is in alignment with where people want to be within the city,” Mr. Slavin said.

“Ms. Mitchell and her team have done a tremendous task here of making some of those decisions where I think they should be, which is at the department request level, and not just passing them on to council.”

City Councilman David Anderson was also impressed at the proposed draft budget.

“This is probably the best budget I’ve seen in years,” he said.

The total spending plan for FY-2018 is proposed to be $143,079,600, which includes an operating budget of $130,522,000 and a capital investments budget of $12,557,600.

The proposed budget represents an increase of 3.3 percent over the original FY-2017 spending plan, which was $138,472,000.

There is good news for city of Dover electric customers.

A distribution of FY-2016 excess earnings for the electric utility is recommended as a Power Cost Adjustment credit of $.00855. This represents $6.2 million (5.5 percent) of revenue for the utility.

Electric rates for businesses in Dover will be lowered and the average residential electric bill in the city will be down an estimated 4.74 percent per month.

“The proposed budget meets all of our fiscal policies,” Mr. Slavin said. “It holds the line on taxes, it proposes no new taxes, and by and large holds the line on fees. The increase in fees we do see are those enterprises where there’s an outsourcing that’s costing us, like recycling.

“This budget would actually lower the rates of electricity across the city. The budget would fund the cost of living adjustment for our retirees, which I believe hasn’t been done in (11 years). It also solves the funding for the (Dover Police Department) Cadet Program, which has been a source of concern for all of us.”

Mr. Slavin cautioned that there will still have to be several items cut and more added to the budget and it will be up to city council to make those tough decisions.

“I think in past years we’ve all scrubbed up and gotten ready for brain surgery and we may not need to conduct brain surgery on a budget like this, but we should be good doctors,” he said. “We should take a look at the patient and correct what we say that we want to correct and prescribe future actions.

“These hearings are not just about numbers. It’s also a time to identify activities that we want to see completed over the course of the next year.”

The FY-2017 budget was a far cry from 2016, which included a 19.9 percent property tax increase, as well as a 3 percent increase in electricity.

However, it didn’t come without a cost as the city’s Economic Development Office was dissolved.

This year’s budget doesn’t appear to have any of those kinds of major issues, though there is still a lot of discussion that will take place before it is finally put in front of council for a vote next month.

Ms. Mitchell was pleased at the efforts by city staff to put the draft budget together in the wake of former City Manager Scott Koenig’s retirement on March 17.

“The city staff provided a great deal of assistance in meeting the challenges we faced with the presentment of a balanced and policy compliant budget,” Ms. Mitchell said. “The proposed budget
reflects our continued commitment to providing cost-effective, efficient, basic municipal services for our citizens, visitors and business community.”

There is one thing that gave Mr. Slavin some relief.

“Perhaps the biggest thing is it’s not presented as an adversarial budget, it’s a collegial budget and I really want to thank Mrs. Mitchell and her team for putting that together,” he said.

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.