By Terry Harris
At the April 15 Sussex County BOS meeting, Administrator Richard Douglas presented the proposed upcoming budget. Afterward, Douglas described the budget at “very flat” and indicated that overall, there is a less than one percent increase, and that is due to state and federal funding mandates.
“We have had a significant decrease in local revenues we’ve had to work around,” he reported, adding “It’s been challenging.”
One item of note is a proposed 5% raise for county employees across the board, a state mandate.
As for local taxes, Douglas recommended no changes in taxes for this year, but said that moving forward he will strongly encourage a designated public safety tax to cover costs to use towards fire department and other needs.
Douglas also has recommended a decrease in local funding of $250K for Sussex County Public Schools.
Summarizing, he said, “The board tasked me with presenting them a balanced budget, which I did.”
The next steps in the budgeting process include a budget work session at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, April 28 at the Elementary School and then a Public Hearing at the May 20 regular meeting leading toward establishing the final budget.
The full 122-page budget is available through the county website. Following is the bulk of Douglas’s Budget Message, a summary of the recommended budget directed to the Sussex county Board of Supervisors and county residents, which clarifies both his budgeting process and the figures and facts upon which the proposed budget was based and indicates that he welcomes “further discussion on this proposed budget as we move toward the upcoming fiscal year.”
“I am pleased to present the recommended $37.84 million operating budget for the fiscal year 2021-2022 for Sussex County, which overall represents an increase of $180,956, but reflects a significant decrease in local revenues. This budget was prepared in accordance with state budgeting requirements and is based on the following:
Maintaining existing real estate tax rate of 58 cents and no proposed increases in other tax rates and fees
No fund balance appropriation
A decrease in local revenues of $1,232,067, based in part on projected decreases in machinery and tools tax revenue (-$313,917), landfill tipping fees (-$685,489), and court fines/forfeitures (-$185,000)
Exclusion of all capital items and some operational expenditures (approximately $1,319,000 could be funded with American Revenue Plan Act revenue, but these items have been removed from the proposed budget in order to balance expenditures and revenues)
A $250,000 decrease in local school funding, due to projected revenue shortfalls, but an additional $1.127 million in state and federal educational funding
At the start of the budget process, two “big ticket” budget meetings were held by the board of supervisors, where each department head and constitutional officer was provided the opportunity to present capital requests, personnel requests, and requested programmatic changes that would result in new costs. Following these meetings, the county administrator and director of finance met with each department head and Constitutional Officer to review each line of the requested budget and consider each department’s needs (any items meeting the criteria and not presented at the “big ticket” meetings were excluded from the proposed budget). The budget worksheets have been changed to reflect the amount requested by the department head for each line item, so that the board of supervisors can see the requested amounts of funding. In addition, the board of supervisors met during formulation of the budget to review draft revenue and expenditures and to hear organizational funding requests. Given the continued uncertain climate, staff prepared this proposed budget with the goal of maintaining or reducing existing spending levels in each department.
Expenditures within the recommended $37.84 million operating budget are summarized as follows (with comparison to FY20-21 approved budget):
Legislative:$166,733 ($1,384 decrease)
Administrative:$758,355 ($133,746 decrease)
Legal:$150,000 ($150,000 decrease)
Financial:$736,229 ($16,440 increase)
Board of Election:$230,161 ($4,180 decrease)
Judicial Administration:$1,211,738 ($86,914 increase)
Fire/Rescue/Emergency Ops:$1,612,820 ($259,984 decrease)
Sheriff’s Operations/Jail:$4,834.976 ($259,976 increase)
Public Works:$1,015,695 ($502,645 decrease)
Heath/Human Services:$3,539,218 ($307,422 increase)
Public Education:$21,023,999 ($831,928 increase)
Libraries/Recreation/Culture: $250,151 ($10,086 increase)
Planning/Community Dev:$686,714 ($67,506 increase)
Debt Services:$1,489,846 ($68,205 increase)
Non-Departmental/Contingency:$128,000 ($7,000 increase)
Capital Improvements:$0 ($417,132 decrease)
Budget Highlights for 2021-2022:
For all employees, a five percent salary increase, matching increases for state compensation board and DSS employees, is included in the proposed budget, but no merit increases ($179,613 in local funds for increased salaries and benefits). No changes to health insurance or other employee benefits are proposed.
Four positions have been eliminated in the proposed budget (Deputy County Administrator, two buildings/grounds positions, one solid waste management position).
$367,000 worth of capital project requests have been eliminated from the proposed budget.
$952,000 in operational expenses have been eliminated from the proposed budget, including $465,000 in contracted emergency medical services and $163,000 in solid waste convenience site staffing.
Includes a new expenditure of $330,000 for public safety radio system maintenance (half to be paid by DOC).