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January  20,  2011

Transition committee hands
Clark a detailed roadmap

County Executive Paul Clark promised "a long-term change in the direction of county government that will keep us in business." He made the comment while accepting a voluminous report from the committee he appointed to chart a course for the transition to his administration. He was not specific, but in a letter to members of the committee distributed with an executive summary of the report at an open meeting on Jan. 19 he said: "History will show that this report has not been a sterile exercise. It will be the crucible out of which policy initiatives and service delivery improvements will be made." Attenders at the meeting were mostly county employees. The only question asked during the session had to do with an environmental issue the report did not mention.

Many of the recommendations referred to things that were on the agenda during the previous Chris Coons administration. Most significant was for county government to increase revenue while cutting spending. Three of the six subcommittee chairs referred to negotiations with unions representing the bulk of county employees that are getting underway saying, in essence, that the talks should be collaborative but that the administration should take a firm stance to hold the line against increased costs. Wages and benefits account for about 75% of the county budget. J.J. Davis, chair of the finance subcommittee, confirmed previous estimates that income is increasing between 1% and 2% annually while expenditures are going up 4%. "The county is faced with limited options," she said.

There was a call for a property reassessment from the land use subcommittee and a recommendation that a dedicated fund be established to pay for it. With revenue not meeting operating expenses, it was not clear where that money would come from nor was there any reference to state law requiring that a reassessment be 'revenue neutral' for the first few years. The last general assessment of property values was in 1983.  The subcommittee also recommended a "cover-to-cover" review of the Unified Development Code and establishing new zoning classifications. Economic development should be brought under the purview of the land use department, Terry Reilly, its chair, said, to "eliminate the perception it is difficult to expand or open a new business in New Castle County."

Barbara Meredith, chair of the special services subcommittee, called for reviving the long-tabled proposal to create an off-budget stormwater utility to raise money to maintain the sanitary sewer network and upgrade it to comply with federal and state environmental directives. The public safety committee proposed a joint program and facility to train state, county and municipal police officers. Mike Terranova, its chair, said the county force "is on the low side [in authorized strength] for a jurisdiction of its size. Jacqueline Jenkins, chair of the government operations subcommittee, said the 5% pay cut  which county employees took this and last fiscal years should be continued through the next year.

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