is New Castle one of only 21 to have their bonds rated triple-A,
the top grade, by all three major Wall Street securities rating
firms, but it also happens to have the lowest tax rate and the
most money in reserve accounts, County Executive Tom Gordon told
a County Council special meeting and the public.
is self evident -- New Castle County is the best managed and
best fiscally situated county in the United States," he said.
In a combined budget message and
'state of the county' address on Mar. 25, Gordon emphasized that
a total of $225 million in surpluses in several accounts assures
that the pledge he made when he took office in 1997 that there
would be no property tax increase during his tenure will be
said, the cushion will enable his successor "to avoid tax
increases after we (his administration) are gone." Gordon is not
eligible for re-election after his second term, which expires at
the beginning of 2005.
The surplus total is larger than the
$194.6 million spending plan for the fiscal year which begins
July 1 which he presented to Council. That will be up 2.9% from
$189 million this fiscal year, mostly, he said, as a result of
increases in employment costs and inflation.
While Gordon said he
County Executive Tom
Gordon delivers his budget message to County Council. In
the background is a screen with was used to highlight
points in the talk. The cut-put figures are representative
of the Victorian age, which is the theme of Rockwood Park.
temptation to end his watch by spending on major initiatives and
continued to hold tight rein on county department, he did
suggest the possibility of a sweeping change in the scope of
county government relative to the state. New Castle County, he
said, could assume responsibility for either public schools or
roads "if this [County] Council is up to the challenge." Both
are extremely long-standing state functions in Delaware.
that idea came as something of a surprise, he noted that the
county has been involved recently in some notable
inter-governmental arrangements. It agreed with Governor Ruth
Ann Minner to reverse the proportion at which paramedical
service is financed. The county will now provide 60% of that
expense while the state antes up 40%. Similarly, he said, a
recent agreement with Wilmington Mayor James Baker on
sewage-treatment costs -- once a bone of serious contention
between the city and county -- assures "harmony and fair sewer
rates for five more years."
executive took the occasion of having a standing-room crowd in
the City-County Council chamber to pay tribute to the leaders of
his administration by name. The most effusive tribute was
extended to Sherry Freebery, chief administrative officer, who
is the focus of an investigation by the United States Marshall
in connection with alleged improper political activity. Gordon
referred to Freebery as "the quarterback of the team.".
cue from the federal, state and local emphasis on security, the
most significant new program that Gordon announced was
establishment of a 'Homeland Operations Team' to assess
readiness on the part of county police and paramedics, along
with the volunteer fire service, to respond to emergecies,
whether induced by humans or brought by nature.
cannot stick our heads in the sand. We must be ready, for it is
inevitable, perhaps even more likely now that war has erupted,
that additional acts of terrorism will occur upon our home
soils," he said.
proposed budget allots $100,000 to set up the new section in the
executive's office. It initially will be staffed by persons
detailed from existing public safety and related organizations,
but Gordon left open the possibility of seeking permanent status
budget also allots $950,000 to buy equipment and set up an
emergency notification system for fire-fighters. It is to
replace the present paging system which he said "has outlived
itself and is no longer dependable."
also asked for $9.8 million, a 15.4% increase over this year, is
operating funds for county libraries. There is also $6,5 million
in Gordon's proposed $52.3 million capital budget for expanding
the Kirkwood and Hockessin branch libraries and developing a
replacement for the Woodlawn branch of the Wilmington Institute
library, which will come under county jurisdiction.
capital budget also contains $24.5 million for county parks,
including $10 million for parkland acquisition and $5 million
for open-space and farmland preservation.
largest component of the capital budget is $36 million for sewer
work -- principally rehabilitation of the system in the northern
part of the county and expansion of the system in the southern