Sussex adopts $185.8 million budget for the new fiscal year

GEORGETOWN — It’s official: Sussex County has a spending plan in place for Fiscal Year 2020.

And according to Sussex County officials, taxpayers can expect another year of quality, local government services at a price that’s easy on the eyes and on their wallets.

Following a public hearing Tuesday morning, Sussex County Council cast a unanimous 5-0 approval to the proposed $185.8 million budget for the 2020 fiscal year that begins July 1.

By law, Sussex County must adopt a balanced budget by June 30 each year.

The adopted budget keeps County property taxes unchanged for another year, but does utilize increased revenue and cash reserves as the county works to keep pace with demand for services and infrastructure, including police, paramedics, wastewater, and libraries, as well as continued expansion of broadband Internet service to hard-to-reach pockets of the county.

“This budget continues the long-standing philosophy of giving Sussex County property owners the best value for their investment,” Sussex County Administrator Todd F. Lawson said. “It recognizes the growth and change in our community and how we can best meet the public’s needs in the years ahead, but it does so in a way that is balanced and affordable to our customers.”

With adoption, the county’s property tax rate will remain unchanged at 44.5 cents per $100 of assessed value. This marks the 30th consecutive year with no county tax increase.

Among some of the major highlights in the adopted budget, the plan includes:
• increased funding for the county to maintain its contract with the state of Delaware for supplemental troopers assigned to Sussex County, as well as added funding for local law enforcement operations;

• $1 million to cover design costs of an expanded public safety complex that would house the Emergency Operations Center and Emergency Medical Services offices and training facilities;

• $2 million to continue efforts to expand broadband service throughout the county;

• a $1 million set-aside for farmland preservation;

• and nearly $35 million in capital funding to pay for various sewer improvements and expansion projects to fulfill the county’s 20-year forecasted demand.

The budget, like those before it, is supported by a mix of income streams, including property taxes, realty transfer taxes, sewer service fees, building permit fees and document recording fees, among others.

That revenue, in turn, funds a wealth of local services, including life-saving paramedics and 911 dispatchers, environmentally beneficial public wastewater, critical building inspection and culturally enriching libraries, among other services.

Overall, the budget is up $6.8 million, mostly to do with transfers. “We’re transferring money into the capital fund and pension fund,” said Sussex County Finance Director Gina Jennings.

In her brief capsule presentation, Ms. Jennings said the state police budget for the additional troopers assigned to Sussex County is up $200,000, while funding support for local law enforcement is up $100,000, which translates to $30,000 annually for each department, up from $25,000.

While next year’s adopted budget keeps current property tax rates, building permit fees, and wastewater service rates the same, there are slight increases in Register of Wills fees, private road plan review and inspection fees, and new sewer assessment rates in the Dewey and Henlopen Acres service areas.

Fees for Register of Wills outlined by Ms. Jennings are tied to safeguard storage in the office, online access and subscriptions as well as a $2 fee to look at a will and $5 for a change.

County council president Michael H. Vincent said the adopted budget represents that county’s continued commitment to protecting the public, safeguarding the environment, expanding economic development opportunities and ensuring a high quality of life.

“The public depends on this budget to meet their everyday needs, whether they know it or not. It pays for police, paramedics, 911 operators, wastewater technicians, and other public servants who work to ensure the public’s health and safety every day,” Mr. Vincent said.

“I’m proud that, through a lot of hard work from many people, including our financial team, the County is able to honor that responsibility in an efficient and cost-effective way.”

Following budget adoption, Mr. Vincent publicly acknowledged Ms. Jennings, and Kathy Roth, deputy finance director for their hard work on the county’s FY20 fiscal plan.

Copies of the FY2020 budget, as well as the accompanying budget presentation, can be downloaded from the county’s website at www.sussexcountyde.gov/county-budget.

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