New Castle County residents won’t see a property tax increase this year, but County Executive Tom Gordon also won’t be getting the 19 new positions he requested.
On Tuesday, County Council approved an amended version of Gordon’s $251-million budget request that eliminated funding for those proposed positions.
The approved budget does, however, maintain nearly $4 million in spending some council members had sought to cut from the capital budget, while raising county sewer rates by 3.9 percent rather than cover rising costs with reserve funding, as Gordon had proposed.
The approved budget also maintains funding for 85 currently vacant positions, which several council members said should be filled before any new jobs are added to the county payroll.
“We just cannot afford, in my estimation, to grow as if this economy was the same as it was [in 2008],” Councilwoman Janet Kilpatrick (R-Hockessin) said. “If we get back to that position, and I hope we do someday, then I think things will be different and we won’t have to look quite as hard at savings as what we do now.”
Gordon on Wednesday said he was satisfied with the final outcome and vowed to work within the framework of the final budget approved by council.
“It was a good healthy debate and it was a good compromise,” he said. “I thank all of council for their hard work to pass a good budget that we can all live with … I hope we can continue to work together in this spirit of cooperation.”
Gordon had sought to use $4.3 million in county reserve funding to balance his general fund budget request of $169.2 million.
The elimination of the 19 new positions, as well as council’s decision to cut another $180,000 from a line item identified as “discretionary fire spending,” means that only $2 million in reserves will be used to plug holes in the general fund budget, according to county officials.
In an 8-5 vote, County Council also opted to raise sewer rates rather than approve Gordon’s plan to balance his $72.7 million sewer budget with a $2.2 million infusion from reserve funding.
The approved 3.9-percent rate hike will bring the county sewer rate to 16.87-cents per 1,000 gallons, which county officials said would equate to an average increase of $11 a year for customers.
“It doesn’t sound like a lot when you add up the dollars, but in these continued tough economic times, the citizens of New Castle County do not need any increase in taxes or fees,” said Councilman Bill Bell (D-Middletown) who voted against the increase.
Councilman George Smiley (D-New Castle), who co-sponsored the measure along with Councilman John Cartier (D-Holly Oak), said a small increase now would be preferable to deficit spending that could result in an even larger increase in the future.
Page 2 of 2 - “I understand Councilman Bell’s position,” Smiley said. “The only problem is, if it’s not $11 today, it’s going to be $22 or $33 or $44 down the road. Someone is going to have to do it and I think it’s our responsibility.”
Some of Council’s most contentious debate on Wednesday came during consideration of Gordon’s requested $35.6 million capital budget.
Councilman Jea Street (D-Wilmington South) insisted that council rules had been violated when five council members sought Gordon’s comment on their plan to cut that funding by $3.9 million.
“The view the administration has is that these amendments came from all of council, when they came from individuals on council,” Street said. “We’re supposed to be rule makers, not rule breakers.”
The question even divided County Attorney Bernard Pepukayi, who sided with Street, and Council Attorney Carol Dulin, who said no procedural rules had been broken.
Eventually, council voted 11-2 to keep the propose amendments on the agenda.
However, the measure – which sought to eliminate $2.5 million in farmland preservation, $1 million in security funding and $400,000 for emergency projects – was later defeated by a vote of 8-5.