Sussex County adopts $139.8 million budget for Fiscal 2011

by Dave on June 22, 2010

Sussex County has a message for those watching each and every penny in this tight economy: keep your pennies. County property taxes will remain unchanged for yet another year.

Sussex County Council, following a public hearing Tuesday, June 22, 2010, unanimously approved the $139.8 million budget for the 2011 fiscal year that begins July 1. Like the budget that ends with the fiscal year June 30, the newly adopted plan calls for no increase in taxes and limited new spending for the County during the next 12 months.

The adopted budget keeps in place the County’s property tax rate of 44.5 cents per $100 of assessed value, making this the 21st consecutive budget in which the rate has remained the same. The average annual County tax bill for a single-family home remains at about $105.

Some increases in sewer rates – for most $8 annually – will occur, though, as the County takes the first steps toward implementing a uniform service charge for the bulk of its 59,000 sewer customers. That annual charge, which now varies among the County’s 22 sewer districts, pays for operations and maintenance of the County’s sewer systems.

The total budget, which comprises the general fund, water and sewer, and capital portions, is up from the 2010 budget by about $11.8 million, or 9.2 percent. Most of the increase, though, is due to capital projects aided by one-time federal ‘stimulus’ dollars. General fund revenues and expenditures, however, are expected to increase by a modest $600,000, or 1.3 percent.

The federal ‘stimulus’ dollars give Sussex a boost in its emphasis on economic development in the coming fiscal year. The County will embark on more than $35 million in sewer construction projects in 2010-2011, thanks largely to those one-time dollars that have kept the projects on track. That sewer construction alone stands to employ nearly 100 people as of July 1.

Budget writers this year had to again be mindful of leveling revenues from the real estate transfer tax – the 3 percent levy attached to most property sales, and split between the State and the County or town, depending on where a property is located. In the current year’s budget, the estimated revenue from realty transfer was $12.7 million. For Fiscal 2011, Sussex County expects to collect the same amount in realty transfer tax, representing no change.

“This budget reflects the continued efforts of County staff to provide services that are essential yet affordable,” County Administrator David B. Baker said. “The budget also makes economic development a continued priority for Sussex County with sewer and industrial park construction projects, as well as tax-exempt bonds through the ‘stimulus’ program for growing businesses in our county. This budget balances our needs and priorities with our means.”

The adopted budget includes no layoffs or mandatory furloughs for employees that governments elsewhere have considered. Also, no reductions in salary or working hours will occur, and benefits such as dental and vision reimbursement, vacation, sick leave and holidays, as well as a zero-employee-contribution pension plan, will remain intact.

The new budget calls for limited spending in County government in the next year, with the general fund – the portion that pays for the day-to-day operations of County government – using no appropriated reserves. However, some items reduced last year are partially restored as expected revenues in 2010-2011 are forecast to increase. Those include grants to local fire companies, local law enforcement and the Sussex Conservation District, for example.

“Once again, Sussex County government has shown the fiscal discipline and restraint necessary to balance the budget without raising taxes, laying off workers or reducing critical services,” Council President Vance C. Phillips said. “Politicians like to score touchdowns with other people’s money, but blocking and tackling is what wins championships, and this is definitely another win for Sussex County taxpayers.”

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