Dover City Council breezes through 2019 budget review

Timothy Slavin

DOVER — Dover officials had allocated three nights of meetings to review the city’s planned budget for fiscal year 2019.

It turned out that members of City Council only needed one hour on Tuesday night to approve the budget as presented by City Manager Donna Mitchell.

They voted 7-1 in favor of the spending plan. Councilman David Anderson cast the only dissenting vote while Councilman Roy Sudler Jr. was absent.

The proposed budget includes no increases in property tax, sanitation or water rates for FY 2019.

The city’s total financial plan for fiscal year 2019 is proposed to be $148,398,300. The plan includes an operating budget of $130,185,700 and a capital investments budget of $18,212,600.

The spending plan represents an increase of 3.7 percent over the original fiscal year 2018 financial plan of $143,079,600, with the increases all attributed to capital investments.

It also proposes the development of a Stormwater Utility for mid-year consideration by council.

The first formal reading of the budget will take place at the City Council meeting on June 11 with the second reading and adoption of the budget expected to take place at the June 25 council meeting.

Councilman William “Bill” Hare made the motion for the budget just one hour into the meeting and was seconded by Councilman Tanner Polce.

“This budget is very open and I think it is what it is,” Mr. Hare said. “Unless there’s more questions I make a motion that we accept this budget.”

City Council President Timothy A. Slavin was also impressed at the detailed budget that was presented by Ms. Mitchell.

“I’m not one for hyperbole but I believe this is perhaps the most solid and transparent budget that I have seen in all of the years that I have been here,” Mr. Slavin said. “It hits all of the marks that we’ve asked of our staff to have it hit.

“It’s the result of council providing a strategic direction and staff doing the heavy lifting to deliver on that vision.”

Ms. Mitchell said the budget will take the city not only through next year but into the future.

“We talked about strategic goals,” she said. “We had a retreat earlier (in the year) and talked about the future of the city and we tried to incorporate that into this budget, so this doesn’t just go to 2019, this budget will go to bring us beyond 2019.”

Ms. Mitchell said the budget will increase Parks and Recreation amenities and staff to provide quality recreational outlets for families.

She added that it also puts more emphasis on economic development to create more job opportunities for the city’s citizens, promotes programming collaboration with key stakeholders and community agencies, promotes public safety with the continuation of the Police Cadet program and streamlines city interdepartmental services.

The budget also includes plans to address the city’s aging facilities with a path towards eventually building a new municipal complex, making parking improvements in the city, improvements to Dover Park and upgrading HVAC systems in city facilities.

Councilman Anderson said he didn’t vote in favor of the proposed budget because he didn’t necessarily agree with its priorities.

“I think the budget was very well done and crafted,” Mr. Anderson said. “I think Ms. Mitchell did exactly what she was asked and did it extraordinarily well. I just wanted to hear more because I’m not sure I necessarily agree with all the priorities that some of the council put.

“I’d like more money put on streets and I’m just not on board with building new City Hall’s and the like. I think our water infrastructure and our streets should be our highest priority.”

The city is expected to increase its electric rates soon following an electric rate study that was conducted earlier this year by New Gen Strategies and Solutions to develop a cost of service and proposed rate design.

“It was important for us to examine and determine what we can do as a city to better appropriate our funds to meet the demands of commercial and industrial customers,” Ms. Mitchell said. “Part of being successful in an atmosphere of competition is to address the concerns of the customers, with the hopes of expansion and/or new development.”

The new electricity rates are expected to take effect in three phases between now and July 2022 if approved by council.

Discounts that had been provided to city customers through a Power Purchase Agreement will gradually be phased out over a three-year period. Electric customers can expect to see an overall increase of about 5 percent.

Mr. Slavin said the increases in electric rates are supported by data that was gathered during the studies.

He left Tuesday night’s meeting feeling confident in Dover’s city government.

“It’s probably as transparent a document as I could have hoped for and certainly is as transparent a document as our citizens should expect from our government,” Mr. Slavin said. “It’s a tremendous effort and a tremendous product and it is the result of what I think is a very mature and stable government we have right now.

“We are not where we were four years ago, we are in a much different place. We have people who are delivering on things that we’ve asked, they do it without drama and without rancor and we have our peaceable discussions about them.”

The fiscal year 2019 proposed budget is available for review at www.cityofdover.com.

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

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