Brooks Banta has served nearly 16 years as Kent County Levy Court commissioner, but he said he still finds the job very rewarding, and he’s especially proud of how the county has been able to responsibly balance its budget. And so, he’s filed to run for a fifth term in the November election.
“I always enjoy being an advocate for the people,” said Banta, who said he returns all phone calls. “It’s important to me to be of service. People need to have someone ready to resolve their issues and answer their questions. I just try to help people. That’s my motivation.”
Banta said his duties, which include serving as the Levy Court president in addition to representing the citizens of the First District in northern Kent County, require an average of about 35 hours per week.
A major part of the responsibilities is finding ways to save money in a tight economy.
“It’s important for people to know this administration reduced the budget from about $26 million in 2005-2006 to about $20 million in 2008-2009,” said Banta.
The budget increased as the economy strengthened, but even this year, the county has actually cut expenses.
“The current budget that we are set to adopt in April of about $22 million is close to $500,000 less than last year’s budget,” he said.
However, that includes a proposed 2.2 percent cost-of-living increase for employees and retired workers.
How has the county done it when so many cities, counties, and states are struggling?
“Five years ago, we put a plan in place along with the county administrator for cost-containment measures,” said Banta. “We watch every penny, every expenditure.”
Among the changes:
• reducing the number of employees from about 320 to about 280, mainly through early retirement;
• requiring that county vehicles are returned to county property, instead of allowing workers to take vehicles home;
• attempting to leave every other light in the building off as part of an overall plan to cut energy consumption, which has resulted in about a 20 percent savings in electric costs;
• cross-training employees to work in other departments to increase efficiency, allowing workers to be assigned where the need is the greatest.
“We have a lean machine and that wouldn’t be possible without great employees,” said Banta.
Another county accomplishment that many people may not see was help for the Amish community.
“A major issue about two years ago was that the Department of Transportation would no longer print ID cards without a photo because of Homeland Security requirements, but a photo is against the beliefs of the Amish,” said Banta. “We worked to get an Amish verification card with their name, address, height, weight, hair color, eye color, and fingerprint — but no photo. The Amish have been very happy with that. They can use the card as identification. They can cash checks using it.”
GOALS FOR THE FUTURE
Sports complex - Banta said the proposed county sports complex in Frederica is one of his priorities if re-elected. The county donated 80 acres for the facility.
“Beyond providing a place for sports events, it will bring so much to the economy. Restaurants, hotels, gas stations, and stores will benefit tremendously as moms, dads, and kids visit Kent County for these tournaments,” he said. “One of the things we’re waiting for is the governor to put his blessing on it, and hopefully that’ll happen in the next 60 days.”
Funds for volunteer fire companies - “For the first time since 1998, we’re in the position to give volunteer fire and ambulance services an increase in funds,” said Banta. “The proposal is for a 36 percent increase which is significant. That’s great because I personally feel many residents don’t realize our fire companies are volunteer. The volunteers do an amazing job.”
Approval to handle more wastewater - “One of the biggest challenges we face is the need to get increase the gallons per day that we can process at the wastewater treatment plant,” said Banta. “With all the new developments, we need to increase capacity.”
Kent County treats wastewater from towns and many unincorporated areas that are hooked into the county sewer system. The current capacity is about 13 million gallons per day, but Banta said the county is asking the state and federal government for 20 million gallons per day.
“We’re hoping that will be approved,” he said.
Keep expenses in check - “Out of about 3,300 counties in the nation we’re the sixth most solvent,” said Banta. “Many counties are in financial distress. This county, because of the county administrator and our employees, is in great shape financially, and we’re very proud of that.”
Banta said the county reduced taxes twice last year.
“We look forward to doing that in the next budget cycle,” he said, “and we’re going to continue to watch expenses very closely.”