Sussex County approves a 15% smaller $158 million budget

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Sussex County government adopted a downsized fiscal 2020 budget on Tuesday.

A release described it as a “lean, no-frills budget, one that keeps services intact while limiting spending as Delaware and the rest of the nation take the first steps out of the shadows – and the cloud of economic uncertainty – cast by the coronavirus pandemic.”

The nearly $158 million budget comes without a property tax increase. The county is aided by continued housing growth that boosts property tax revenues and does not have a county police force for unincorporated areas. The county does allocate millions of dollars to pay for state troopers.

By law, Sussex County must adopt a balanced budget by June 30 each year.

The County expects a dip in income, particularly among real-estate-related revenues, in the months ahead. To offset the projected revenue downturn, the County trimmed departmental spending, canceled new major capital projects, and capped its grants programs while maintaining services such as libraries and public safety.

“To say this is a bare-bones budget is an understatement. The COVID-19 crisis forced the County, just as it did the State and federal governments, to re-evaluate funding and spending priorities, and plan accordingly,” County Administrator Todd F. Lawson said. “This budget reflects the new realities in a post-pandemic world.

“But there is reason to be optimistic,” Lawson added. “If the pandemic continues to level off or subside through the summer and into the fall, and revenues begin to pick up again as businesses and construction resume, then we can supplement this budget to fund projects and initiatives later in the year. This budget allows the County to take a wait-and-see approach, all while maintaining our day-to-day services the public depend on.”

The overall proposed budget is 15 percent lower from the current year, is designed with revenues projected to be down to 65 percent to 85 percent of their fiscal 2020 levels, reflecting the financial downturn caused by the global pandemic. The revenue, in turn, funds services, including paramedics and 911 dispatchers, public wastewater treatment, building inspection, and public libraries.

Among the adopted FY2021 budget’s highlights, the plan includes $1 million to cover engineering costs of a previously planned public safety complex that would expand the Emergency Operations Center to accommodate the County’s Emergency Medical Services’ administrative offices and training facilities and maintains funding, at $3.4 million, for the County’s contract with the State of Delaware for the 22 supplemental state police troopers assigned to Sussex County.

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