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10/13/2008
Councilman Weiner is organizing community meeting; $1.7 million, 5-year NCC public safety system upgrade would require 4% tax increase - News Journal

Councilman Robert Weiner is organizing a community meeting to help push that discussion along and gather feedback from residents. He hopes to have a time and place for the meeting within the next 30 days.

NCCo will introduce safety plan
$1.7 million, 5-year system upgrade would require 4% tax increase
BY ANGIE BASIOUNY • THE NEWS JOURNAL • OCTOBER 13, 2008

Brookside resident Heather Finn returned home one recent evening to find her security alarm sounding, a sensor accidentally tripped by one of her cats.

She quickly turned it off and was surprised to find a New Castle County police officer knocking on her door almost two hours later.

"The officer said he was on the way and got called for a domestic disturbance and then a fight," Finn said. "He apologized and said this was the fastest he could get here."

To speed up police response times, County Council will introduce legislation Tuesday to authorize spending $1.7 million from the government's cash reserves to beef up the Department of Public Safety.

The plan calls for hiring 145 new officers, detectives, support personnel and 911 call center staffers over five years.

If the council approves the measure when it comes back to the floor for a vote in a few weeks, residents can expect a 4 percent property tax increase for each of the next four years to continue paying for it.

Council members said earlier this month they would shop the idea to residents before committing to future tax increases.

But some council members have already voiced their support for the plan.

"We all go to the community meetings where the most prevalent questions are about policing," Councilman Bill Bell said. "We're reaching a critical time in New Castle County where we've not only got to make some tough decisions, but where it is incumbent upon us to go out and sell it."

Bell may find a tough audience in residents such as Robert C. Smith of Bear.

Smith, 72, said taxpayers are already dealing with a weakened economy and increasing prices for staples like food.

"When I retired in January, I was in good shape," said Smith, 72. "But now my wife and I are just making it. They are talking about raising taxes -- that's all these politicians know how to do is raise taxes. It's time for them to get off their duffs and do something else."

Smith's truck was vandalized recently, so he agrees with the need for more police.

"But they are going to have to do it a different way than raising taxes," he said, "because it's going to be a hardship on too many people."

Other residents said they would be willing to pay more taxes if they were assured the county would spend the money responsibly.

"Sometimes they throw money at a problem and they think it's going to get better," said Jack Davidson, a retired educator who lives in Rosetree Hunt. "I want to see measurable results. I don't want to fund something for five years and, at the end, it takes four hours to get to a vandalism crime."

Finn, the woman whose home alarm drew a delayed police response, said the county should have begun addressing the problem years ago.

"I think they waited entirely too long to get something in action," she said. "It should have never gotten to this point. They should have been progressively hiring more officers and slowly increasing taxes. Four percent is a huge jump."

Public safety is the county's largest expenditure. Currently, 52 cents of every tax dollar paid by residents goes toward police, paramedics, 911 and emergency management.

County Executive Chris Coons said spending choices will continue to get tougher as the government suffers from financial losses, dwindling revenue and increasing demands from its growing population.

"This is the beginning of what I expect to be a six-month-long conversation about what level of county services you want, what level of county services you need, and what level of county services you are willing to pay for," he said.

Councilman Robert Weiner is organizing a community meeting to help push that discussion along and gather feedback from residents. He hopes to have a time and place for the meeting within the next 30 days.

Meanwhile, officials are planning to post details about the plan and "frequently asked questions" online by early next week. The county's Web site is www.nccde.org.

Contact Angie Basiouny at 324-2796 or abasiouny@delawareonline.com.

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