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5/26/2009
Councilman Weiner: The reduced budget represents fiscal prudence. However the 25% tax increase to finance it did not pass the test. - Community News

"I think the budget itself represents fiscal prudence," he said. "However the tax increase as the alternative to finance it did not pass the test."

Weiner said he's long called for studying merging local government functions with the City of Wilmington and the state. He said he also supports studying privatizing parks and libraries.

NCCo Council approves budget, 25 percent tax increase

By Jesse Chadderdon
Community News
Posted May 26, 2009 @ 10:03 PM
Last update May 27, 2009 @ 12:37 AM

Wilmington, Del. —

After more than two months of deliberations, New Castle County quietly approved a $228 million operating budget and 25 percent tax increase Tuesday night.

Apparently all talked out, the 13-member body voted 10-3 to approve the spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1. The vote on the tax increase was 8-5.

The budget approved by council is virtually unchanged from what County Executive Chris Coons proposed presented to council in his March 17 budget address - balancing $23 million in spending cuts with the tax increase expected to generate $21.2 million in revenue.

The average annual tax bill will jump $100, to $501, following the increase, which is the second highest in the government's history. The cuts, meanwhile, represent the largest budget-to-budget reduction in county history, officials said.

Several council members, like William Bell (D-Middletown), said they carefully scrutinized the budget and were convinced the county cut all it could without impacting core services.

"The vast majority of citizens we come in contact with have a high regard for the services we provide - especially police, paramedics and 911," Bell said.

But Councilman William Tansey (R-Greenville), who ultimately voted in favor of the budget and tax increase, said council shouldn't give itself too much credit.

"It's all rhetoric," said Tansey. "All we did was go after the low hanging fruit. We taxed the taxpayer to recover what we're spending."

In reality though, its sagging revenues that have exacerbated the county's financial woes. Projected at $32 million at the outset of fiscal year 2009, real estate transfer tax revenues are only expected to reach $16 million now that the housing market has become so stagnant. Things aren't expected to improve over the next 12 months.

Of the cuts, nearly $5 million is to be achieved through salary cuts. More than 900 employees agreed to 5 percent salary rollbacks and the administration said it was nearing a contract agreement with Fraternal Order Police that would secure similar savings among its 365 police officers. Nine paramedics - all of whom were in training and not active in the field - were laid off.

Aside from a handful of civic leaders and some representatives of the volunteer fire service, no residents attended Tuesday's meeting, which lasted for only 30 minutes.

At an earlier Finance Committee meeting, Councilman Jea Street (D-Wilmington South) said he wanted to add an amendment to the budget saying the tax increase would be revoked after one-year, but got no support for it.
Joining Street in opposing the tax increase by Councilmen Bill Powers (D-Townsend), Timothy Sheldon (D-Pike Creek), David Tackett (D-Christiana) and Robert Weiner (R-Chatham).

But Powers and Weiner broke with that group to support the budget itself, a move Coons described as "incoherent."

But Weiner said he had no problem reconciling the votes.

"I think the budget itself represents fiscal prudence," he said. "However the tax increase as the alternative to finance it did not pass the test."
Weiner said he's long called for studying merging local government functions with the City of Wilmington and the state. He said he also supports studying privatizing parks and libraries.

Sheldon, meanwhile, offered a host of cost-cutting proposals in an editorial published at communitypub.com last week - from selling Carousel Park to charging patrons who borrow DVDs at libraries.

But neither offered solutions in the form of legislation or budget amendments.

Coons said those who voted against the tax increase without proposing alternatives "are generally not doing their jobs.

"They're not serving their constituents or their community well and they're not moving this county forward."


BY THE NUMBERS
FY 2010 Operating Budget: $228 million
FY 2009 Operating Budget: $240 million
Property Tax Increase:      25 percent
Tax Increase Revenue: $21.2 million
FY 2010 Transfer Tax Revenue Projection:    $14.9 million


WHAT IT MEANS
The average resident's annual tax bill will jump about $100, to $501. But actual increases vary based on each home's assessed value. Tax rates are also different for those living in municipalities, who may rely on the town rather than the county for some services. With the 25 percent increase, the average 2010 tax bills in northern New Castle County are as follows:

District 1 (Elsmere, Newport, Prices Corner) - Councilman Reda:
Unincorporated: $287
Elsmere: $114
Newport: $109
District 2 (Western Brandywine Hundred) - Councilman Weiner:
Unincorporated: $673
District 3 (Centreville, Greenville, Hockessin) - Councilman Tansey:
Unincorporated: $960
Newark: $315
District 8 (Eastern Brandywine Hundred) - Councilman Cartier:
Unincorporated: $386
Arden: $289
Ardencroft: $297
Ardentown: $272
Bellefonte: $181
District 9 (Pike Creek, Mill Creek) - Councilman Sheldon:
Unincorporated: $447.65
Newark: $230.46

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