NCCo OKs tax hike, budget - Bob Weiner votes No
By ANGIE BASIOUNY
New Castle County homeowners will pay an extra 5 percent on their property taxes next year as part of a new budget approved Tuesday by council members who hope the hike will take some air out of the county's ballooning deficit.
County Council voted 12-1 for the $230.2 million operating budget, but a separate vote to set the tax rate was divided 9-4.
Council members Patty Powell, Timothy Sheldon, Robert Weiner, and William Tansey voted against the increase.
"You want to talk about guts? How about the guts to make the hard cuts?" said Tansey, who also cast the lone vote against the budget. "None of us run our households like this. When we don't have enough money in our house, we stop spending."
The hike will raise the average annual tax bill by $16 a year, from $326 to $342. County Executive Chris Coons recommended the increase when he proposed his budget two months ago as the first of several small tax hikes needed to help close the gap between spending and revenue.
Although the increase will generate an additional $3.2 million, the county will spend about $10 million from its $80.8 million in cash reserves to make up the difference.
Coons thanked council members as he signed the ordinances into law during a brief ceremony after the vote. "I think we have a balanced, responsible and fiscally disciplined path going forward," Coons said.
The operating budget includes:
• A 2.5 percent increase in the sewer rate, which will raise the average annual bill by $9.36 to about $248.
• Ten new police officers, paid with a mix of county funds and federal grants.
• Two additional 911 call operators, $90,735.
• One new code enforcement officer and equipment, $46,500.
• A lease agreement with Middletown to use part of the town's water treatment plant, $133,000.
Several council members who had taken a strong stand against a tax increase during the two-month budget process, including Jea P. Street and Karen Venezky, changed their positions.
"Regrettably, neither me nor anybody on this council came forward with a better plan," Street said. "The executive's budget is the only one we've got. I'm reluctantly going forward with this."
More needs in south, official says Powell voted in favor of the budget and against the tax increase, using her dissent to make a political statement. Her district lies south of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal, where the growing population lags behind in parks, libraries and other services, she said. "They have paid taxes for many, many years to support the northern part of the county," she said. "But they haven't received any of the benefits."
Two last-minute amendments to the budget helped the county cut another $102,000, but the amount did not affect the budget's bottom line. The changes increased spending in some areas and reduced spending in others, including a $227,557 cut that council made from its own budget.
"If nothing else comes from these two amendments, I think it's important for the public to know that we never stopped working to see what savings could be found," said Councilman George Smiley.
Coons and council said they will form a task force next month made up of council members, administration and an independent consultant to continue examining ways to save money throughout the year, not just during budget season.
The first report will be due in December. "Everything will be on the table; the meetings will be open to the public," Venezky said.
Council on Tuesday also approved a $58 million capital budget that covers 125 projects. The fiscal year begins July 1.
Contact Angie Basiouny at 324-2796 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Back to the News Summary
Have news? Please contact me!