New Castle County government's proposed capital construction budget would decrease spending by almost 2 percent for the 2014 fiscal year to about $35.6 million compared to FY2013, but, the capital budget would more than double to $78.8 million for the 2015 fiscal year.
The 2014 fiscal year capital budget would essentially maintain some of the austerity spending put in place by the county in the wake of the Great Recession, New Castle County Chief Financial Officer Michael Coupe said. But that could not continue in the near future, according to the budget Coupe presented at the budget hearing held Monday afternoon in the City/County Building.
The New Castle County Council Finance Committee has held weekly budget hearing for each department since County Executive Thomas P. Gordon gave his 2014 budget proposal to council in mid-March. Gordon proposed hiring 19 additional county employees mostly in the construction and maintenance sector to repair deteriorating buildings and facilities.
Over several years, county officials had determined that $934 million in capital costs, including major renovations, were needed, Coupe said. Heretofore, the county had conducted $633 million worth of the identified repairs.
"Over the years, we've seen the capital projects go from being proactive to reactive, reactive to proactive and back and forth" Coupe said. "We're getting back into proactive mode because of all the austerity cuts and the cutbacks.
"Things have really started to go downhill and things like the sewer, buildings and structures are getting old and we've got to spend money," he said.
Coupe said it was comparable to homeowners who had to replace their roofs after 20 years.
The bulk of the capital budget would consist of $17.1 million worth of sewer and stormwater work, $7.5 million for work on parks and $7 million for facilities and equipment, according to the budget document.
New Castle County Councilman George Smiley (D-New Castle) has been critical of plans for upgrades to county facilities juxtaposed with bringing back Sleep Under the Stars at county parks for free rather than charging the public to offset costs. Smiley, the co-chairman of the Finance Committee, said his challenge was to balance need with fiscal responsibility.
Coupe said the capital budget had both.
Councilman John Cartier (D-Holly Oak) said he was glad to see capital money budgeted for much needed sewer projects.
"We have 1,800 miles of sewer in New Castle County that we are responsible for," he said. "And while we might see the light at the end of the tunnel for the Brandywine Hundred rehab, we've got other areas of the county that need sewer investment. I just encourage the administration to pursue those."
That would avoid the situation NCCo got into with Brandywine Hundred whereby the county was penalized by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control for a deteriorated sewer system, he said.
Page 2 of 2 - The $312 million, 20-year project to rehabilitate the county's sanitary sewer system began in 2005 and was precipitated by enforcement action by state environmental regulators. The federal Environmental Protection Agency also considered taking action, but deferred to the DNREC order.
In addition to talk on the sewer work, Cartier also asked for details on the $1 million line item to request for security.
NCCo Department of Special Services engineer Barry Nahe said a few NCCo buildings did not have security systems in place and other buildings needed upgrades to their existing security systems. Some of the systems, including some of the libraries, were not even functioning anymore, he said.
"Hard drives fail; it's just the nature of it," Nahe said. "They're [running] 24-7. They're not going to last more than two years. You replace them and you'll have to replace them again."
Councilman David Tackett (D-Christiana) said he supported the upgrades and he hoped the rest of council would do the same.
The capital funding would come from a mix of 20-year bonds for most capital work and 30-year bonds for sewer repairs, state contributions, developer impact fees and some federal funds, Coupe said. The county has enjoyed a AAA bond rating that has provided favorable interest rates on its municipal bonds, thereby making New Castle County paper prestigious.