News

January 26, 2005

Property owners can expect a 3.5% to 4% increase in their sewer service fee next year, but are still likely to escape a property tax hike until fiscal year 2009, according to Councilwoman Karen Venezky, chair of the finance committee.

She made that comment after chief financial officer Ronald Morris presented at a committee meeting a simplified version of the county's financial situation and a projection of what is likely to happen during the next four years if the present course is followed .

Venezky pointed out that will mean extending to "a fantastic 12 years" the time the county will go without a tax increase. Few if any other counties in the nation can boast a comparable record, she said.

In other matters in committee meetings and its regular session on Jan. 25, Council:

● Heard that the county has what is nationally considered an 'ideal' amount of public parkland and plans to add more while improving what is there.

● Agreed to remove restrictions from the $15 million public safety grant given to the city of Wilmington last year.

● Realigned its committee structure.

Chairman William Tansey told a meeting of the special services committee that he is having legislation drafted that would prohibit the county from buying out any more properties. It currently is purchasing flood-damaged houses in Newkirk Estates and Glendale. Last year, it participated with the state in buying out houses in Glenville. Tansey gave the committee no details of his proposal.

Morris's briefing was in response to a previous request by Council president Paul Clark to explain the county's financial situation in simple terms that the average person can understand.

Morris told the committee that the county began the present fiscal year last July 1 with $112.3 million in general fund reserves, not including a mandatory 20% 'rainy day fund'; will take in about $139.2 million in revenue and spend $148.2 million; and, after transferring $ 21.9 million to maintain capital assets and bring the 'rainy day fund' up to new requirements, end the year on June 30 with $81.3 million in reserve.

Revenues, he said, are expected to grow by 2.5% to 3% annually during the next four years, reducing reserves to $16.2 million by June 30, 2009.

Unrestricted sewer fund reserves, however, have dwindled during the past few years and will be down to $14. 1 million by June 30, 2005 and, if there is no fee increase, a relatively minimal $1.5 million a year later. Without higher fees, expected annual deficits will totally wipe out reserves during fiscal 2007.

Morris's simplified report:

New Castle County's fiscal 2005 projections

Revenues:

Total tax revenues

Total other revenue

Total revenue

 

Expenditures:

Total personnel costs

Total non-personnel costs

Debt service

Total expenditures

 

Revenues over expenditures

 

Total financial reserves

 

$ 103,000,000

36,200,000

139,200,000

 

 

109,400,000

27,300,000

11,558,714

148,258,714

 

(9,058,714)

 

109,146,687

    | Real estate taxes

| Real estate transfer tax

    |

 

 

 

 

 

 

    | Tax rate preservation

    | New facilities maintenance

    | Undesignated fund balance

    | Other reserves

| Subtotal

    |'Rainy day' fund balance

 

$ 70,000,000

33,000,000

103,000,000

 

 

 

 

 

 

$ 54,933,286

2,169,640

10,003,761

14,200.000

81,306,687

27,840,000

109,146,687

Manager Jon Husband, of the Department of Special Services, told Council's special services committee that there are 5,900 acres of county parkland. When approximately the same amount of state parks are added along with Wilmington, Newark and privately-owned parks and similar open-access land, the total amount is 15,300 acres, or 30 acres for each 1,000 of population.

"New Castle County is where it should be in terms of parkland and open space," said Joseph Freebery, manager of the department.

Husband said the emphasis in the next few years will be expanding the park system in the rapidly developing part of the county south of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal. That expansion and further development elsewhere will be accomplished only with open consultations with residents of the areas. "We don't do anything with out parks without community meetings," he said.

He cited the 300-acre regional park being developed at Glasgow as illustrative of public response. There were literally "hundreds of people" on the sledding hill there while the county was digging out of a snowstorm on Jan. 24, he said. Councilman William Tackett, who represents that area, said it also was crowded the previous day -- durng the storm.

Husband said the county has "discovered the secret for attracting crowds -- keep it free."

The public safety grant originally restricted the first $5 million to use to acquire police vehicles. In response to a request from Mayor James Baker and other Wilmington officials, Councilman Penrose Hollins sponsored an ordinance to remove that restriction from half of that amount to permit is use for other police purposes.

"We have a whole lot of more pressing needs than take-home vehicles," William Montgomery, Baker's chief of staff, told the finance committee.

He said that the city police force "is stretched thin' in responding to a spate of shootings. The force is 11 officers shy of its authorized strength of 300 and officers are working an extensive amount of overtime. Although there has been a recent police academy graduation, those officers are still involved in on-the-job training, he said.

"Right now the most pressing need is another [police] academy class," he said. Recruiting and screening candidates normally takes about three months and the training itself takes six months, he said.

After his testimony several members of the committee spontaneously suggested removing restrictions for the entire $5 million. All Council committees are committees of the whole and all 13 Council members were at the meeting. Eventually, Hollins ended up with 12 co-sponsors of a revised ordinance which was enacted at the evening Council session.

A new committee was added and all 13 Council members got leadership assignments under a plan drafted by Clark and approved at an executive committee meeting between the regular session and a special session called to remove auditor Robert Hicks. Present chairs were kept in those positions and vice chairs, which committees did not have before, were added.

The committees and their leaders are: Executive, Clark and Hollins, who was unanimously retained as Council president pro-tem; community services, Hollins and Joseph Reda; the new economic development committee, Clark and Robert Weiner; administration and finance, Venezky and George Smiley; land use, Patty Powell and David Tackett; personnel, Timothy Sheldon and Smiley; public safety, William Bell and Jea Street; and special services, Tansey and John Cartier.

2005. All rights reserved.

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