Proposed New Castle County property tax increase would be the first since 2009

New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer is hoping a three-prong approach to the 2019 budget will break the previous administration’s reliance on reserve funds to balance finances.

On Tuesday, March 27, Meyer presented his proposed budget $200,620,549 for the 2019 Fiscal Year to county council – a 2.32 percent increase over 2018’s budget.

The proposed 15 percent property tax increase would add roughly $68 per year to the average $433 bill

The proposed 2019 sewer fund operating budget includes a 12 percent rate increase to fund increased personnel and benefits expenses, and repair and rehabilitation projects. 

That increase would amount to $30 more per year, to an average sewer bill of $250.

That’s a combined average yearly total of $683 in taxes and sewer fees per household, when adding the $68 for property tax, and $30 for sewer.

Meyer said that expenditures for community services continue to increase, leaving the county to rely on a previously $25 million reserve fund that Meyer said would be depleted within 18 months.

“The prior administration handed us over $70 million in unpaid bills without the revenue to pay for them,” Meyer said on Tuesday night. “The county budget I propose reflects difficult choices to fund our first responders, police, parks and libraries, sewers, and other services that save lives and drive our quality of life into the foreseeable future.”

Meyer’s proposed budget focuses on savings through “smarter governance,” a revamped state revenue package, and the property tax increase.

Having reduced governance spending by roughly $6.5 million in his first 14 months in office, Meyer’s plane for FY2019 would continue to reduce government spending through attrition, elimination of vacant positions, reductions in overtime and seasonal positions, reduced workers compensation costs, lowered operational costs, and enhanced use of technology.

The county will also petition state government for the ability to charge a 3 percent hotel tax, which the City of Wilmington is already enabled to do.

Meyer also plans to ask the state to restore its reimbursement of paramedic services to 50 percent, and pass legislation that allows the county to impose a cap on the first time homebuyer tax exemption.

During his presentation, Meyer said that without the fiscal chances, the budget gap would be closed through “drastic” spending cuts leading to reductions in public services.

Examples given include: compromised public safety by increasing 911 wait times, reduced paramedic response times, and less proactive policing and police engagement with neighborhoods; the possible closure of two major county parks and 12 county district parks, and end mowing operations in all 200+ neighborhood parks; and dramatically reduced library services through the closure of one of the largest libraries, along with a smaller library like Elsmere; and either close Rockwood Museum or end financial support for the county’s sports leagues

Councilwoman Janet Kilpatrick, District 3, said Meyer’s proposal is the first presentation of a balanced budget with revenue equaling expenditures that she’s seen since joining the council.

“For nine years we have been living off of our reserve stabilization fund,” she said.  

Kilpatrick said that because of Delaware home rule exceptions, the county needs permission, in the form of enabling legislation, from the General Assembly, to raise certain taxes. 

“Over the years we have asked for new revenue streams such as the availability to have a cell tower tax and hotel tax and we have been turned down each time,” she said. “The inability to creatively scope out new revenues without permission from the General Assembly, and the cuts that [the county] has had from the General Assembly … has placed a tremendous hardship on [the county].”

She also said that while she is not in favor of any tax hike, she will look at the issues surrounding the financial situation in the county, and make a decision at the appropriate time.

The public is invited to participate in a series of town hall discussions regarding the budget, which will be posted online at the County’s Facebook page.

The next two are Thursday, March 29, 6 p.m. at Shue-Medill Middle School, hosted by County Council member Tim Sheldon; and Thursday, April 5, 6 p.m. at Hockessin Memorial Hall, hosted by Kilpatrick.