of a property tax increase
Paul Clark declared unequivocally that the budget for the coming
fiscal year will not include an increase in the property tax
rate while indicating that fees for sanitary sewer service are
likely to go up again.
With the state and
national economies improving more slowly than during past
recoveries from recession, this is "not a time for [residents]
to be paying more for [county] services," he told Delaforum in
an interview. Instead, he said, "we're going to pull the belt in
as tight as we can."
imponderable in that regard is the outcome of labor negotiations
now getting underway. With about 75% of the budget going to pay
salaries and benefits and the majority of country employees
represented by unions, hard bargaining is a foregone conclusion.
Other than to say
that "everything will be on the table," Clark declined to be
specific about what the administration will propose or to
comment about what he would expect the result to be. He did,
however, indicate that he looks for continuation of the 5%
rollback in county pay scales or its equivalent in cost savings
from concessions in work rules that has been in effect for two
Asked if layoffs
might be in the offing, he replied, "My hope is that we can do
it with work rules and attrition."
On the other hand,
he added that a parallel to reducing cost is to be found in
productivity. During the current run of winter weather, the
county has not shut down, he said. "Every hour that we don't
operate is a loss of $25,000 in productivity," he explained. As
it was, "better than 90% of our people were able to safely get
here" despite weather-related travel conditions.
According to the
most recently available financial report, county government was
running an annualized $3.4 million ahead of budget through
December, the midpoint in the fiscal year. Of that, $3.1 million
was the result of projected lower expenditures. Nevertheless,
County Council's finance committee has been told that available
budget reserves are expected to run out by July, 2013, and, if
current trends and budgetary policies continue, the cumulative
budget shortfall will be $33.4 million through fiscal 2015.
The impact of the
so-called 'Great Recession' on county government has been a
five-year revenue loss of $185.5 million, according to Ed
Milowicki, acting chief financial officer. That exceeds the current $165.7 million operating budget. The bulk of the loss
has been a precipitous drop in receipts from the real estate
transfer tax. The current projection is for the tax to yield
$15.7 million this year, compared to $40 million in fiscal 2006.
In the interview
with Delaforum, Clark ruled out as impractical an appeal to the
General Assembly for support. "Nobody is going to help us; we
have to help ourselves," he said. "I'll be real happy if they
leave us along."
referred to any shift of state-supported functions to county
government as a way to deal with the state's fiscal situation.
It is not considered likely that the Assembly
would grant county government the authority to tap new revenue
sources. Lacking home rule, county government requires state
approval in that regard.
Clark also said it
would be both politically and economically unfeasible to look to
a reassessment of property values -- one of the major
revenue-enhancing moves suggested in the recent report from the
committee he appointed to chart a path for the transition to his
administration. Property assessments which provide the basis on
which real estate tax is levied are pegged to obviously
out-of-date 1983 market value.
additional belt-tightening might produce savings that would
alleviate the situation, Clark gave a few examples along the
lines of the proverbial watching nickels to conserve dollars.
For instance, he said, "Do we need a spare tire in every
[county-owned] car?" Spare tires are seldom needed and, when
they are, they could be obtained from a pool considerably
smaller than having one tire available for each vehicle at a
cost of about $100 apiece.
On a larger scale,
he mentioned the possibility of privatizing some county services
functions. Turning the operation of Rockwood Mansion and
Carousel Parks over to private contractors is under
Clark said the
basic premise on which his administration is constructing its
first budget -- due to be presented to Council in March -- is to
maintain core services at acceptable levels while deciding where
cutbacks can be made. He said core services include public
safety, libraries and parks.
He said he remains
opposed to imposing fees to use libraries and parks, as has been
suggested in some quarters. Instead, he said, the
county will seek voluntary support for those facilities from
'Friends of ...' organizations and through voluntary
from the general public to the nonprofit County Pride, an
organization established to channel donations to county
Clark said he
strongly supports economic development for the county. He denied
that incentives to attract businesses -- particularly major
corporations with large-scale projects planned -- are drains on
the county treasury. "We expect to break even or come out ahead"
on tax and fee revenue they generate, he said. Reopening the
Delaware City refinery, for instance, has already produced a
significant transfer tax payment and the jobs it provides will
have a 'ripple effect' throughout the county economy.
Although it is the largest local
government in the state, Clark said he continues to wonder at
how little the average resident knows about it or, in many
cases, is unaware it exists. He said his administration intends
to mount a major effort to "let people know what we do and how
we do it."
It is planning to hold three or
four public meetings at convenient locations in the spring in
the hope of attracting audiences that are representative of the
general population. They will be followed by stepped up efforts
to use various media "to get the message out," he said.
"We're trying to bring more
people to the table and reach out to different groups. We don't
think the 10 or 12 who usually show up are representative of
what the public really thinks," he said.