Sussex County Delaware

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Sussex County Council ...

No Tax Increase in
Proposed County Budget

By KERIN MAGILL
SC Online Content Editor

GEORGETOWN -- Sussex County's expenditures will increase nearly 20 percent in Fiscal Year 2004, but there will be no tax increase if the proposed 2004 budget is approved, Sussex County Administrator Robert L. Stickels said during the regular council meeting on Tuesday, May 20, 2003.

"The county is in the best financial shape it's ever been in," Stickels said.

The proposed 2004 budget tops $100 million for the first time ever, totaling $106,908,130, Stickels said. The large increase in expenditures is due to unusually large appropriated reserves expenditures and a $1 million economic development stimulus program.

The jump in appropriated reserves, from $2.5 million in 2003 to a proposed $6.2 million in 2004, is due to revenue expenditure savings from the 2002 budget, Stickels said.

That year, the value of building permits alone in Sussex topped those in Kent and New Castle combined. "With continued growth in property assessments and population, it is inevitable that the percent of budget expenditures will exceed past budgets," Stickels said in his 104-page budget "letter", which lays out the county's 2004 spending plan.

The county's budget committee has recommended funding from the appropriated reserve account for the following projects in 2004:

  • Sewer project grants, $3 million;

  • Capital improvements for public safety, $2.2 million;

  • $625,000 for the Sussex County Land Trust for open space preservation; and

  • Community improvements, $149,250, including the Blades Marina; the Bridgeville Historical Society; the Delaware Community Foundation; the Delaware Soybean Board; the Delaware Vegetable Growers' Processor Incentive Program; Dry Dock, a 12-step program; the Georgetown Train Station; the Greenwood Historical Society; the Indian River Soccer Program; the Center for the Inland Bays building program; the Nutter Marvel Museum; the Milton Historical Society; the Rehoboth Historical Society and the Seaford Historical Society. In addition, $75,000 has been set aside for computer replacements for county libraries and $75,000 for local library funding, as well as $110,000 for furniture and equipment for the Milton Library.

The economic stimulus development program would be used to help Sussex towns through low-interest loans for development of economically beneficial programs. Funding for the program would come from the realty transfer tax.

If, however, House Bill 157 passes and reduces the county's share of the realty transfer tax by 25 percent, or nearly $3 million, Stickels said budget reductions would be necessary. Proposed cuts would include all open space funding and community improvement funding, plus:

  • $906,000 from the county's contribution to Delaware State Police staffing throughout Sussex;

  • Transformation of the former Bridgeville Visitors' Center to a public safety building including a new office for state police Troop 5;

  • $135,000 in revenue sharing for Sussex towns which collect less than $20,000 in realty transfer taxes yearly; and

  • $46,751 in human service grants.

Sussex County will maintain a "rainy day fund" of $8 million, according to the proposed 2004 budget. That falls in the range recommended by a public finance ratings consultant, Fitch Ratings, according to Stickels. County Council President Lynn Rogers said he feels the reserve is "a necessity," and characterized the overall budget as "a tighten-the-belt kind of budget."

County Council member Vance Phillips, however, called the $8 million an "inappropriate" amount for a rainy day fund.

Phillips said he sees the surplus as "an opportunity to look at ways to put money back into the peoples' pockets through tax rebates. It seems like just an appropriate time to refund some of the money to the folks who live and work in Sussex County."

Council member George Cole suggested, as an alternative, that the county reconsider exempting outbuildings from property taxes. "A chicken house doesn't use the library," Cole said.

Fellow council member Dale Dukes said he doesn't favor a tax rebate. "The state government decreased taxes, and now they're $300 million in the red," Dukes said. Dukes added that taxes are already lower in Sussex County than in surrounding areas. "If you can't afford to live here, you can't afford to live anywhere," he said.

The average single family homeowner in Sussex County has paid $89 yearly in county taxes since 1990. The average manufactured home owner pays $37 a year. The tax rate remains at 44.5 cents per $100 of assessed value. The average Sussex County home is assessed at $20,105; the county has not reassessed properties since 1975.

Council Defers on Two Developments

Sussex County Council deferred votes on two proposed developments on Tuesday, May 20 -- one near Roxana with 74 homes and one in the Clarksville area with 75 homes.

The developers of the Roxana project, slated for 72 acres at the intersection of Sussex roads 388 (Deer Run Road) and 387 (Hudson Road) are seeking to add the Residential Planned Community designation to the existing agricultural/residential zoning.

Tom Ford of Land Design, representing the developers, said the county's Land Use Plan designates that area for low-density development, which would equate to 1.3 units per acre, or 96 units on the proposed site. The proposed plan calls for 1.1 units per acre.

County officials expressed concerns about the safety of a borrow pit on the site that the developer plans to retain. County Council member George Cole asked if the developer could add a slope around the perimeter of the pit. Cole also said he would have liked to see "more creativity" in the design as well as amenities such as streetlights. Ford said the developers are purposely designing the development to be "low key." Developer Donald Conaway said the homes would be clustered together to give the development "quite a bit of open space."

The council deferred their vote because the Planning and Zoning has not yet made its recommendation on the application, which is scheduled to be discussed at the commission's May 22 meeting.

The other project, located on Iron's Lane north of Holt's Landing Road, brought concerns about growing traffic on the rural roads as several new developments get under way.

The development's density would be 3.3 units per acre -- it would be adjacent to the larger Seagrass Plantation development. The level of service for Iron's Lane, with the developments already slated for the area, is a "C." Sandra Dechurch, president of the nearby Greens at Indian River, said she is concerned about the entrance into the proposed development, as well as the conditions on Iron's Lane, where the posted speed is 40 mph but drivers routinely travel faster than that. There are no plans to widen the road or add turn lanes into the new developments.

"We are not against the development," Dechurch said. "Our concerns are the access roads. We feel that DelDOT needs to address these concerns before we can support the application," she said.

Again, the council deferred action until after the Planning and Zoning commission has made its recommendation. The commission is scheduled to discuss the application on Thursday, May 22.

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