GEORGETOWN - Sussex County Council, following a public hearing Tuesday, June 22, voted unanimously to approve the proposed $278 million budget for the 2022 fiscal year that begins July 1. By law, Sussex County must adopt a balanced budget by June 30 each year.
The adopted budget keeps county property taxes unchanged for another year, with only minor changes – $4 annually for sewer, $15 annually for water – to public utility rates.
“Once again, Sussex County is in a very strong financial position thanks to a healthy, vibrant local economy,” County Administrator Todd F. Lawson said in a statement announcing the new budget. “This budget ensures the County will be able to meet the needs of our customers in the new fiscal year, and do so in a way that is both appropriate and affordable for local taxpayers.”
The budget, the most significant in county history, is a sharp contrast to the current year’s $177.3 million plan, which, when presented at $157.8 million a year ago, was drastically pared back because of uncertainty amid the coronavirus pandemic. The past year, though, has turned out much better economically speaking as vaccines have rolled out, businesses have reopened, and the local real estate market has swelled with activity.
The overall spending plan is up $100 million from the current year, with much of that amount the product of increased capital construction and an infusion of cash from the federal government’s American Rescue Plan.
The budget is supported by a mix of income streams, including property taxes, realty transfer taxes, sewer service fees, building permit fees, and document recording fees. That revenue, in turn, funds a wealth of local services, including paramedics and 911 dispatchers, public wastewater treatment, building inspection, and public libraries, among other services.
Among the adopted FY2022 budget’s highlights, the plan includes $72.3 million for wastewater infrastructure, such as new sewer mains, increased treatment capacity, and other upgrades to the County’s utility systems; $6.15 million to pay for construction of a consolidated public safety complex that would expand the Emergency Operations Center to accommodate the County’s Emergency Medical Services’ administrative offices and training facilities; increased funding, at $3.7 million, to maintain the County’s contract with the State of Delaware for the 22 supplemental state police troopers assigned to Sussex County; an allotment of $2 million to continue broadband Internet expansion in rural areas; and a commitment of $4.4 million to preserve open space and farmland.
County Finance Director Gina A. Jennings said the budget, while increased significantly due to an infusion of federal dollars and previously planned capital costs, continues the County’s track record of prudent fiscal management and measured increases while keeping pace with growth and rising demand for public services.
Council President Michael H. Vincent said the budget outlook for the year ahead may be optimistic, but the County will continue to move forward with a keen eye on finances. “Fortunes can change very quickly, as we saw in the last year with the coronavirus and the worldwide economy taking a hit,” Vincent said in a statement. “Our job as stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars – the public trust – is to be fiscally responsible, especially when times are good, so we can better weather the not-so-good times. That discipline helped us in the past year, and that’s how we’ll move forward in the year to come.”
Copies of the Fiscal Year 2022 budget, as well as the accompanying budget presentation, can be downloaded from the County’s website at www.sussexcountyde.gov/county-budget