as he delivered a detailed steady-as-she-goes budget proposal on
Mar. 29 to an apparently receptive Council before an equally
appreciative overflow audience of mostly public officials and
civic activists, the underpinnings of his spending plan were
again before the Court of Chancery for a determination of their
Richard Korn, one of two plaintiffs in a taxpayer suit
challenging county government's keeping large reserve accounts
as a hedge against rising costs, told Delaforum that he has no
intention of wavering in the bid to have allegedly excess and
ill-gotten money "returned to the taxpayers." Toward that end,
he and co-plaintiff Andrew Dal Nogare, asked in a petition filed
electronically on Mar. 24 but not made available until Mar. 29,
that the court block implementation of a recently-enacted
ordinance setting up reserve accounts in both the general and
referred pointedly to the lawsuit in his speech: "Could I have
presented a budget that would match expenditures and current
revenues and give the reserves back to the taxpayers? Yes, but
doing so ... would require either drastic cuts in county
services or prompt significant increases in property taxes."
proposes instead that general fund reserve account be used to
fill the gap between spending and revenue. In the current fiscal
year, he said, spending is running $17 million beyond what is
being taken in and that doesn't include the $22 million Council
authorized in the form of one-time grants. While calling for a
halt in county largess to "deserving" organizations for
"worthwhile" projects, Coons said that the budget deficits will
continue to grow but can be controlled by "managing taxpayers'
dollars appropriately and responsibly."
alternative, he said, is to face a situation, in fiscal 2009,
where the shortfall has grown to a point where "we will have a
very difficult decision to make ... either dramatically increase
property taxes -- as much as 60% -- to drastically cut services,
including laying off hundreds of county employees."
proposed a fiscal 2006 budget totaling $214 million, of which
$154 million would consist of general-fund spending, $57 million
to operate the sewer system and $3 million in the street light
fund. A comparison with the current budget was not immediately
available, but Coons said the figures he presented represent a
3.35% increase. The rate of increase, he said, compares to 9% in
the current year over last and 5% and 7%, respectively, in
fiscal 2003 and 2004 over the previous year. The new fiscal year
begins on July 1.
proposed a 37% hike in the sewer fee to make up, he said,
for the fact that customers currently are paying only 85% of the
cost of operating the system.
would have been better, he said, to have increased the rates
gradually during recent years. "But since that did not happen,
we must catch up now," he said. The rates have held steady since
1994 and, because they are based on water consumption and that
has gone down, on average, during the past decade, residents are
actually paying less now than they did in 1994.
increase, Coons maintained, would seem more palatable if viewed
in context with what people pay for sewer service elsewhere. The
average bill in New Castle County, he said, will go up to $234 a
year from $171 now. That, he said, compares to an average of
$340 in Kent County, $347 in Sussex and $293 in Cecil County,
Although there is a now a reserve account, Coons said that
should not be used to prevent or mitigate a rate increase.
Instead, he proposed using $66.4 million of the $81.4 million in
the newly created account to finance the rehabilitating and
repairing the system. That, he said, will prevent having to pay
for that work by borrowing money through the sale of bonds with
the result that the county "will save money every year for the
next 20 years, starting with $4.8 million.
than half of Coons's separately proposed $58.6 million capital
budget would be used to finance construction of sanitary sewers
south of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal.
Richard Przywara, Coons's chief of staff, said the actual budget
is not yet available but will be ready for formal introduction
at Council's Apr. 12 meeting. At the conclusion of Coons's
speech, Council president Paul Clark said he is "looking forward
to partnering with the executive" to adopt the budgets.