Dover: Officials want nonprofits to pay a ‘public safety fee’

William Hare

DOVER — Dover’s city council is looking at finding new ways to keep the city safe.

Toward that goal its members will discuss the implementation of a public safety fee tonight that will apply to nonprofit organizations in the city that own building structures.

Officials estimate the fee could generate an estimated $72,104 in annual revenue to help aid the capital expenditures of the police and fire departments.

City Councilmen William “Bill” Hare, Fred Neil and Brian Lewis are sponsoring the proposed ordinance. It will be presented at the Legislative, Finance and Administrative Committee portion of tonight’s 6 p.m. meeting of the Council Committee of the Whole at City Hall.

City government staff has already recommended adopting the proposed ordinance.

“This will help cover the cost of public safety by all entities receiving benefits,” said Donna Mitchell, Dover’s city manager, who will be tasked with administering the ordinance.

Councilman Hare insisted it is only natural that everyone should have to pitch in to help pay for the overall safety and well-being of the city.

“When you look at the history and the amount of tax-assessed property for nonprofits that give absolutely no donations at all to the fire department or anything, and the number of runs they have at these facilities is quite a lot,” he said. “Luther Towers gives a nice check every year to the city for public safety in Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT).

“If a lot of these other big organizations were doing this it wouldn’t be a big issue. There needs to be something done,” he added.

Under the proposed formula, nonprofits would be charged one cent for the organization’s total exterior square footage of its physical property.

Delaware State University would be made to pay the highest public safety fee in the city as it would be charged an estimated $19,545, while Bayhealth/Kent General Hospital would pay the second-highest amount at $9,012.

Wesley College would pay $5,623 in public safety fees while the Capital School District would pay $3,863.

“The tax paying citizens of Dover are covering all of the costs to keep the city safe and running efficiently with its infrastructure,” Councilman Neil said. “The nonprofits are a huge part of permanent land owners and transient population and very few are a part of PILOT contributors offering to pay something towards police, fire and lighting of streets, etc. like Luther Towers.

“The public safety fee will affect those nonprofit organizations which have property in the city and are served by these resources. I believe it took a while for the city council to recognize the burden placed on our citizens could be lessened and we could do more beneficial things with the public safety fee.”

There are 135 total properties and 95 total entities that are listed as nonprofits within the city of Dover’s limits.

Mr. Hare said he thinks minimum and maximum public safety fees will be discussed at tonight’s meeting. He suggested a minimum public safety fee of $150 and a maximum of $15,000 at a budget meeting in May 2017.

The proposed public safety fee ordinance states, “The purpose of this chapter is to safeguard, facilitate and encourage the safety and welfare of the citizens and businesses of the city.

“The city council has determined that public safety departments that are sufficiently well-funded to attract and retain qualified individuals to serve as public safety officers provide a multitude of economic and social benefits to the public, including but not limited to increased police protection, prevention of crime, enhanced protection of property, promotion of business and industry and promotion of community spirit and growth.”

The proposed ordinance further states, “The city council has further determined that the resources necessary to fund effective police and fire protection for every developed property within the city are insufficient and that a mechanism to fund the benefits conferred on tax-exempt properties and to maintain the public safety departments at acceptable service levels must be established.”

Tax-exempt developed property owned by the federal government, state, Kent County and the city will be exempt from paying the public safety fee.

City officials anticipate the proposed public safety fee ordinance will become effective April 9 and billing will begin on July 1.

City Council President Tim Slavin said he had encouraged Mrs. Mitchell to begin charging a public safety fee for nonprofits at a budget hearing last May.

He added that the city needed to make sure the revenue stream could withstand a legal test and that he math formula used is correct.

“Any good government or other entity looks at revenue and waits for it to mature, rather than plugging holes in a budget with a new revenue model that might spike and then drop,” President Slavin said, noting that the city should not depend on the added revenue as a part of its future budgets.

The capital expenditures of Dover’s police and fire departments were a combined $580,640 in Fiscal Year 2014 and have grown to an estimated $746,700 this year.

“If we look at just institutions of higher learning in the city, we need to protect the students in case of fire and police are involved in events that occur on campus,” said Councilman Neil. “Unfortunately, illegal drugs represent temptation on and off campus.

“The council will be very cautious in developing this fee. We need to discuss this with all those who will be affected as we recognize the nonprofits are always in need of money to operate.”

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

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