After months of arguments and deliberations, the Town of Smyrna has a budget for the fiscal year 2012. Following an evening full of debates, Town Council voted 4-3 Monday in favor of approving the $22 million budget, which includes a 14.8 percent tax increase.
The property tax increase of 3.74-cents per $100 of assessed value puts the tax rate at 29 cents, up from 25.26 cents and ties Smyrna with Seaford for lowest tax rate among full service towns in Delaware.
Town Council met last week in a special meeting to discuss the budget but decided to postpone moving forward until they received the results of the arbitrator’s report. Town Manager Dave Hugg announced the arbitrator voted in favor of the town, therefore, the proposed budget wasn’t affected. If the arbitrator had voted in favor of the employees, Town Council could’ve faced significant cuts to the budget.
Yet, the approval of the budget didn’t come without heated discussions over the possibility of a tax increase and at one point put Town Council in a deadlock causing Mayor Pat Stombaugh to say the town would have to cut another $380,000 from the budget if they couldn’t come to terms on a balanced budget featuring a tax increase.
Councilman Jeff Flairty wasn't in attendance at the meeting but called in to participate in the meeting. Councilwoman Valerie White also had to join Flairty in the conference call until she was able to get to Town Hall for the meeting.
Could we use the rainy day fund?
At the special meeting, Councilwoman Regina Brown suggested the town borrow from the rainy day fund so council wouldn’t have to raise taxes. “You have two choices – borrow from the rainy day fund or raise taxes,” Brown said.
This suggestion didn’t sit well with Councilman Anthony DeFeo and was eventually advised against by manager of accounting/business services Gary Stulir.
DeFeo said he was against the idea in case the town was actually hit by a disaster, citing Hurricane Irene and how the storm was originally predicted to cause major damage to the town.
“If Hurricane Irene had stayed on its proposed track, we wouldn’t be discussing this now,” DeFeo said.
Town Council would’ve had to amend the ordinance regarding the rainy day fund in order to borrow money but the motion was voted down 5-2.
Debating the budget
After originally voting down the proposed budget as is, which included a 3.74-cent tax increase, a few changes were made resulting in an approved budget with the suggested tax increase.
The tax increase pays for salary increases, however, the budget also had to pay for inflation.
It wasn’t just a proposed tax increase that garnered debate but also what to include in the budget.
Eventually two items were cut from the budget – a new police car and equipment for in-house grass cutting – in order to add items into the budget. With the approval of the budget, council approved $45,000 to go towards part-time staff in town hall and the library. The staff at the library will allow for more hours. The council also approved $10,000 for park restoration and decided to move money from a line item for police interns back to be used for lifeguards at Lake Como.
Following the meeting, Mayor Stombaugh said she wasn’t happy with the approval of the budget as she felt some council members pushed for their personal interests.
“I’m just very disappointed with council,” she said.
Email Jennifer Dailey at email@example.com.