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November 9, 2005

 

None of the major building projects currently in New Castle County government's capital-spending plan are in jeopardy and most will go forward on or close to their previously announced timetables, according to county officials.

Chief financial officer Michael Strine said just shy of 70% of the $93 million authorized for eight major projects in the capital component of the general fund but not yet spent and about 75% of $133 million unspent on nine major capital projects financed from the sewer fund will be likely be spent during the next 18 months.

Included will be completion of the public safety building in Minquadale in early 2007;  the new Woodlawn library in September, 2006; the new Kirkwood library and expanded Hockessin library in September, 2007; the expanded Bear library in April, 2008; and Glasgow Park by the spring quarter of 2007.

Spending on major sewer projects in this and the next fiscal year includes $28 million toward expanding the sanitary sewer network south of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal; $15 million for rehabilitation in northern Brandywine Hundred and $10 million in southern Brandywine Hundred; and $15 million on stormwater mitigation.

After presenting County Council's finance committee a report of a recently completed review of the capital program by a committee of representatives from each of the county's operating departments that he chaired, Strine said residents can expect "modest change ... done through timing" in what they have been expecting in the way of parks, libraries and sewers.

County Executive Christopher Coons is fully committed to delivering on past promises while restructuring the process for deciding future commitments. Strine said.

Coons was quoted in a media statement issued by his office after Strine's presentation describing the review he ordered as "one step we're taking to responsibly deliver services to the taxpayers."

The executive will present his budget proposals to Council in January and Council, in the normal course, will act upon them in May.

Strine told the Council committee on Nov. 8 that an immediate step is to shift $4.3 million out of the general fund budget this fiscal year and to add $1.l million next year. That, he said, can be done administratively. According to the report, those figures do not include "cost increases likely [to be] needed for [the] public safety building or southern sewer [infrastructure], which are significant under-budgeted."

The most significant deferral will be $3.4 million for the planned Wiggins Mill park and $6.1 million for the southern regional library. They are listed in the report as needing additional planning and assignment of  "more realistic" target dates for completion.

That did not sit well with Councilwoman Patty Powell, who represents one of two Council districts covering areas south of the canal. She said after the committee meeting that that part of the county, while acknowledged to be the premier growth area, is the most neglected when it comes to planning public amenities.

Strine said a needs assessment and planning for the library is to begin "immediately" with completion now projected in 2010.

Powell also questioned county government's commitment to preserving farmland through acquisition of easements requiring that future sales of the land be only for agricultural purposes.

The report disclosed that the county plans to go to the bond market in late January or early February to borrow $70 million and to return to the market with another bond issue  in late 2008 or early 2009 for another $20 million. Proceeds will go to help finance capital projects.

Key among several management recommendations in the report is one calling for inclusion of the anticipated fiscal impact on operating budgets of proposed capital projects during the years immediately following their coming on line.

The report said that the study found that it was county government practice since 2000 to "dramatically" increase capital authorizations beyond its ability to deliver or pay for the promised projects.

 General fund authorizations this fiscal year total $336 million to be spent over six fiscal years and sewer fund authorizations are $420 million over the same length of time. The general fund running total declined from a record $343 million in fiscal 2005 while the sewer fund running total increased sharply to an all-time high from $282 million a year ago.

While there are unspent authorization balances in several of the  68 general fund projects and 61 sewer fund projects those balances are concentrated in large projects, the report said.

Debt amounts to six-tenths of 1% of assessed property value in the county. It is 8% of the general fund budget and is $667 per capita. Both amounts are considered to be low.

2005. All rights reserved.

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