Dover budget proposes slight rise in spending, no tax increase

DOVER — The city’s proposed 2017 fiscal year budget includes a slight increase in spending while holding the line on property taxes.

First reading of the city’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year took place during Monday night’s council meeting at City Hall.

Final adoption of the budget is set for June 27.

The budget includes general fund spending of $42.2 million, up from $41.9 million.

One of the casualties of the proposed budget was the city’s Economic Development Office. It was dissolved after council’s budget review meetings last month.

Council voted 8-1 in a budget hearing May 26 on a proposal to eliminate the office, which included three full-time positions held by Bill Neaton, Ed Perez and Beverly Jackson and to defer funds to the Downtown Dover Partnership.

From there, council voted 6-2 to form a new Economic Development Advisory Committee that would be appointed to take its place, which would be chaired by Mayor Robin Christiansen.

Scott Koenig

Scott Koenig

City manager Scott Koenig said a lot of work by several different departments went into the budget.

“We started in the fall putting the budget together and it gears up really heavy right after the first of the year, so we spend about three-and-a-half more months putting the budget together,” he said. “There are probably a good 20 people that are feeding the budget for numbers and back checking and all of those things.”

Referring to the Economic Development Office, Council President Timothy Slavin said any time jobs are eliminated it is a tough decision to make.

“It was very difficult,” Mr. Slavin said. “It is not a reflection on them, it’s just a reflection on us wanting to go in a new direction. There were concerns about effectiveness and the effectiveness of what we’re doing with economic development.

Council President Timothy Slavin

Council President Timothy Slavin

“We decided to just kind of do a complete reboot with how we’re doing economic development and focus more on outcomes rather than staffing. We’ll get the work done through a variety of measures. First of all, we had to disincentive downtown. In the downtown district that we’re trying to revitalize people actually paid two property taxes, so we completely eliminated one. We wanted to set the table and make it a truly level playing field.”

Mr. Neaton said he was caught off guard by the decision.

“My first reaction was it caught me completely by surprise,” Mr. Neaton said. “We have worked very hard over the last eight years for the city and we’re really kind of surprised [city council] decided to take a different direction.”

Mr. Neaton added that he, Mr. Perez and Ms. Jackson have all offered their services to the partnership, given their experience in economic development.

“I have offered my support for the mayor, also,” said Mr. Neaton, who has been the economic development manager for Dover and the Downtown Dover Partnership executive director since October 2008. “We worked very hard for city to enhance its economy. I live in Dover and I think it’s a great place to work and live and I will do anything I can to support the city of Dover.”

Mr. Slavin said there appeared to be a lack of cohesiveness between what the city was doing in regard to economic development and what was being done with the Downtown Cover Partnership, so he proposed five motions at the May 26 budget hearing.

Those proposals included steps for restructuring how economic development was being done for the city and offered his view of a different model.

In addition to making Mayor Robin Christiansen the chairman of a new Economic Development Advisory Committee that will make monthly reports to council, a motion to set the tax rate for the Business Improvement District for fiscal year 2017 at zero was carried by the council.

Council also voted to increase the appropriation to the Downtown Dover Partnership from the proposed $70,000 to $150,000 with specific instructions that the partnership is responsible for staffing costs from those funds.

Council then voted that the balance of funds available after the dissolution of the Economic Development Office, the reduction of the BID tax and the increased appropriation to the partnership — which it anticipates will be between $65,000 and $70,000 — will then be devoted to the mayor’s office for economic development purposes.

In other council news that took place on Monday night:

• Mayor Christiansen and city council presented Townsend Brothers Chevrolet with a Certificate of Congratulations for being in business in the city for 86 years. Auto Team Delaware bought the Townsend family’s dealership in late April.

• Fire Chief Carleton Carey presented the 2015 annual report by the Robbins Hose Company, noting there were zero fatalities involving fire in Dover during the year.

• Allowed an extension for property owners BMDR LLC to tend to a violation of the dangerous building ordinance at a property located at 1032-1058 S. DuPont Highway.

• Voted to give authorization to Mr. Koenig to execute all contract documents for the three-year contract extension with The Energy Authority.

• Discharged the Youth Advisory Committee. Council members said they still appreciate the voice of youth and are looking at establishing focus groups for interaction.

• Passed amendment to change the 401A Money Purchase Plan for city employees and align definitions and eligibility requirements with existing policies.

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

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