April 26, 2005

When the Delaware Symphony swings into the 1812 Festival Overture at the county Ice Cream Festival this summer, the musicians will follow a slightly modified score. The canon shots which Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky meticulous wrote into his composition will have been edited out.

They met their Waterloo in the name of economy, with a bit of consideration for folks who live within earshot of Rockwood Mansion Park thrown in, Anne Farley, general manager of the Department of Community Services, told County Council at a hearing on her department's fiscal 2006 budget request.

Eliminating the canon, along with the brunch and dinner for v.i.p.s attending the festival, will save $51,777, she said. When combined with cuts in other programs, that will enable the department to finance some initiatives that County Executive Christopher Coons proposes while keeping its budget virtually unchanged from this year.

"The department budget streamlines operations so that we spend taxpayers' dollars wisely. The budget proposes ways to operate more efficiently and effectively without compromising overall services to New Castle County residents," she testified on Apr. 25.

Community Services is asking for $17,288,812 during the year which begins July 1. That would be up slightly less than three-tenths of 1% from $17,240,391 which Council approved for this year. In its

proposed budget, the county administration compares the requests to the original authorization without including any supplemental ones added since the year began.

The initiatives Farley listed for financing initially were presented to Council in Coons's budget address. At that time he described them as a scaled down version of what he would have liked to have proposed during his first year as executive. Since taking office in January, Coons has adopted a fiscally conservative approach to county spending.

The just completed visitors center at Rockwood Mansion Park.

Farley, a Coons appointee who also is new to her job, echoed that in her presentation.

While not referring specifically to the former Gordon administration, she made it clear that the "redirection of funds" is based on a different set of priorities. That was exemplified by her reference to "the reunification of the county and the Friends of Rockwood." That support organization, which fell out of favor as Gordon reconfigured the then largely neglected park just north of Wilmington into a showcase, "now [has] an office at the mansion and [is] working to expand volunteer support for the museum," she said.

Councilman Robert Weiner, who has been active with the Friends group, hailed the rapprochement, but questioned the absence of what he indicated was an expected proposal to charge an admission fee at the popular July festival. "If we charged $1 or $2, that's a lot of money that could be generated." The festival draws about 75,000 attenders.

Farley said that charging admission has not been ruled out for the future and said her department is preparing a long-range plan for use of the park and its just-completed visitors center.

Emphasizing that he is not down on Rockwood, Council president Paul Clark questioned its position relative to the overall Community Services budget. It is apportioned just over $1 million in a $17.2 million total department budget and $241,000 is being sought for the Ice Cream Festival, he said.

"You've done a nice job of cutting a little bit of fat off," he said.

In addition to the cuts relative to the festival, the department also is proposing reducing the Rockwood budget for the Butlers Pantry, a cafe-like eatery in the mansion, by $247,000 by increasing food prices, shortening hours of operation and transferring the equivalent of 1 employees to other county jobs. Also at Rockwood, the overnight camping event and the 'rover romp' for pet dogs would be eliminated.

The new programs to be added by the department during the coming year and their proposed costs are:

● An arrangement, to be known as the 'Hometown Heroes Home-buying Program', involving Citizens, J.P. Morgan Chase, and Wilmington Trust banks, to provide interest-free loans to cover downpayments and closing costs to enable 60 police officers, firefighters, paramedics and school crossing guards to purchase houses, $200,000;

● An Emergency Services Corps to train and recruit young people as volunteer firefighters, $300,000;

● A 'Buy from Your Neighbor' program to encourage purchase of locally produced meat, vegetables and fruit, $75,000;

● Summer youth programs to "provide structured recreation programs in the parks [in] high-risk neighborhoods," $135,000; and

● Providing books and other library material off-site for day care centers, organizations that serve home-bound seniors and small businesses, $60,000.

Councilman Jea Street questioned the adequacy of the youth program.

Community Services also will combine with the land use, special services and law departments to deal with run-down and abandoned properties, to have them brought into compliance with county codes of to have them turned over to nonprofit housing organizations to be restored.

Farley said the department plans to spend $11.5 million on library operations. That is in addition to capital budget projects which include completion of the new Woodlawn Library in west Wilmington in about a year, preliminary planning for a $23 million regional library south of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal and expansion of the Hockessin and Kirkwood Libraries.

Councilwoman Patty Powell said that the projected completion date for the southern regional library, now fiscal 2011 is well beyond what she had been told was the target date.

In the other budget hearing on Apr. 25, Charles Baker, general manager of the Department of Land Use, said his department is seeking $13.5 million, a 5% increase over the initially approved fiscal 2005 spending plan. If proposed increases in fees that the department charges are approved, they will generate an additional $1 million, an 18.5% increase in revenue, he said.

Most of the increased spending in the coming year involves personnel costs, including adding two code-enforcement inspectors to implement the residential property rental code that Council is expected to approve.

Baker said that 1,900 new property parcels were added to the rolls in 2004, of which 1,361 were in unincorporated areas and 539 in municipalities. There were 200 development plans involving 1,209 lots recorded. A year end, 284 plans were pending approval.

Street and Councilman William Bell said the department's long-range projection envisioning not having to significantly increase its inspection force in coming years to cope with expected development in the county is unrealistic. "Don't make the budget look good and operations look bad," Street said.

2005. All rights reserved.

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