Despite all the challenges presented by a global pandemic, New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer said there would be no tax increase included in his $310 million Fiscal Year '22 operating budget.
With a 2.68% increase in the operating budget, which was presented as $311.6 million, and a 7.5% capital budget decrease over the previous fiscal year to $60.3 million, Meyer said officials are managing their debt load despite the challenges that existed when Meyer took office four years ago.
"You get amazing paramedic service, top quality, fast 911 service, responsive police service, extraordinary libraries, 249 parks that are all free, incredible land use services to ensure zoning laws are followed and buildings are safe, enriching summer camps, an impactful Summer Youth Employment Program, and fun sports leagues," Meyer said. "In return for all of that, you pay, on average, $1.46 a day--that’s less than half of what the smallest size latte will cost you at your local Brew Haha. With your county government, you are getting a great deal. And we will continue to provide these services...for the third straight year, with no increase in property taxes."
There will, however, be a new fee added to sewer service to make it more "similar to how most utilities work," with a usage fee and a fixed fee equating to $2 a month for residential customers, beginning January 2022.
The reserve fund for the county will be stabilized and maintained at $43.7 million for the "foreseeable future." Meanwhile, $7.3 million was slated for investment in open space preservation and farmland preservation.
Full-time New Castle County employees will now make a minimum $15 an hour, Meyer also announced Tuesday night. State lawmakers have also proposed a minimum wage hike to $15 per hour by 2025. The measure has passed in the state Senate and has been sent to the House.
"Let me be clear. I am not announcing a scale that will go into effect some years in the future," Meyer said. "I mean this year...the lowest full-time wage for a county government public servant will be $15 per hour. Paying a living wage is critical to having a strong and vibrant county community."
The announcement hinges on the ratification of a proposed contract with Local 459.
The county will also look to purchase five electric vehicles to bring its fleet up to 10 vehicles.
Other expansions around the county included 15 temporary positions in the paramedic services being converted into permanent positions, and 20 AmeriCorps members being hired to serve in Delaware's community-based and healthcare organizations to "address COVID-19 needs and the health inequities that this disease has made more apparent." The Community Intervention Team will also double its youth programming, with Meyer giving credit to Councilman Jea Street for that initiative.
A Middletown office is also being established for residents south of the C&D Canal so that residents will be able to pay bills and "interact with your county government" without having to cross a bridge or pay a toll.
"We continue to fulfill our obligation to residents...in the Middletown, Odessa, and Townsend areas to provide greater access to county services," Meyer said. "As we proposed several months ago, there will be more police officers available to respond to calls for service south of the C&D Canal, a new library and park and, in a few weeks, an expanded paramedic station."
Meyer also announced libraries would be reopening on April 12, 2021, with COVID-19 safety measures in place.