DOJ seeks $3 million increase in spending

DOVER — The Delaware Department of Justice is seeking about $3 million more, including 17 additional positions, for the upcoming fiscal year, Attorney General Kathy Jennings told budget officials Wednesday.

The Office of Management and Budget is currently in the midst of the annual fall budget hearings, where about 30 state agencies and organizations present their asks for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Wednesday was only the third day of presentations, which are slated to continue for another two weeks.

After the hearings wrap up one week before Thanksgiving, Gov. John Carney will work with budget officials to craft his spending recommendations. Those will be presented in the second half of January, allowing the General Assembly five months to review those suggestions before voting on them in late June.

This year’s statewide operating budget totals $4.45 billion in general funds, which mostly consist of taxes and similar revenues.

The Department of Justice is receiving $38.6 million this year, up about $1.8 million from the prior year. A little more than $1.7 million of the requested $3 million increase would go to funding 17 positions: eight deputy attorneys general, six paralegals, one social worker, one criminal investigator and one administrative specialist.

Those added positions, Ms. Jennings said, would help the agency put more focus on prosecuting sex crimes, defending civil rights, protecting the elderly and the young alike, preventing data breaches, helping individuals with immigration issues and cracking down on instances of people trying to defraud the government.

She’s also looking for $600,000 to bring greater equity to departmental salaries.

Currently, the pay structure means two workers who hold the same position could have salaries that vary by thousands of dollars, according to the department. By way of example, Ms. Jennings said a person who starts two pay grades and $1,500 above another employee could in just a few years be making less due to the promotional structure in the agency.

“Many of those people, especially people who aren’t attorneys in our office, at times feel undervalued,” said Ms. Jennings, a Democrat who was elected in 2018 after a long career with the Department of Justice.

Another $35,000 would enable the agency to pay bar dues for its lawyers. Currently, the state is the only employer in Delaware that doesn’t pay the court fee, meaning deputy attorneys general must cough up $149 annually to practice law here.

Also presenting his agency’s budget ask on Wednesday was Safety and Homeland Security Secretary Robert Coupe. That department is looking for $155.2 million, compared to $143.8 million in the current year. Nearly 90 percent of that goes to personnel.

Among the requested spending increases are $185,000 for bulletproof vests, $144,000 for tasers and $120,000 to add four dogs to and maintain the state’s law enforcement canine program.

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