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5/23/2007
With tax hike in hand, county finance issue heads to Dover

Delaforum
Wednesday, May 23, 2007 

Asked facetiously after Council enacted the $228.5 million operating budget he proposed and a 17.5% increase in the property tax to finance it if he had decided how large an increase he'll seek next year, County Executive Christopher Coons replied seriously, "Hopefully, none."

He stopped well short of couching that as an election-year pledge, adding that it depends upon several things -- the economy, how effective the spending cutbacks he and his administration have made prove to be, how much discipline the administration and Council display in adhering to the spending plan, and the state legislature's receptivity to the request for fiscal assistance it is soon to receive.

The latter clearly is the immediate key factor.

Coons told Delaforum that his staff is completing work on drafts of a five-item package of proposed state legislation soon to be introduced into the General Assembly. It includes extending the tax on land-line telephones to cellular telephones; a 2% add-on to the tax on hotel and motel rooms; limiting the exemption from the real estate-transfer tax for first-time homebuyers to the first $200,000 of the property's purchase price; increasing the state subsidy for paramedics services or permitting the county to charge for them; and a cable-television tax.

None of those will be an easy sell. Lobbyists reportedly are already at work in Dover on behalf of the affected commercial interests in anticipation of county government's efforts.

Coons declined to predict the outcome of the shift in emphasis in dealing with what he and chief financial officer Michael Strine have been saying for more than a year is a financial crisis waiting to happen. "My hope is that members of the General Assembly will respond to the difficult choices we've made," Coons said.

Council on May 22 enacted the budget, essentially unchanged from what Coons submitted in March, by an eight-to-five vote. Council president Paul Clark and members John Cartier, Penrose Hollins, Stephanie McClellan, Joseph Reda, George Smiley, Jea Street and David Tackett voted to enact both the budget and the tax hike. Voting against them were Councilmen Bill Bell, William Powers, Timothy Sheldon, William Tansey and Robert Weiner.
 

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