Doing more with less was the theme of New Castle County Executive Paul Clark’s first budget address Tuesday night.
After crunching the numbers, Clark, a Democrat, proposed a $164 million budget for FY 2012. A budget, he says, closes the county’s $10 million budget shortfall without sacrificing essential county services and without raising property taxes.
“There will be no cuts in the public safety area, we will have as many or not more police, paramedic and 911 operators on the phone, we will have a sewer system that works efficiently and environmentally sound, we will keep our parks and we’ll keep our libraries,” said Clark.
While the county is seeing its highest level of public safety personnel, other county employees are taking a hit again.
Salaries, wages and benefits account for 75 percent of spending. The budget eliminates 25 vacant positions and defunds 51 others totaling $4.6 million in savings. Also, county employees are being asked to make concessions, once again, to the tune of $2.4 million, or half of the five percent salary rollbacks county employees gave up for the past two years.
Clark hopes to negotiate a compromise with the labor unions without having to resort to layoffs, but warns this is a necessary evil for the county to live within its means.
“I think it’s a little premature to start off with the position that we’re reducing the rollback in half. So I think that’s a little dangerous to do until we’ve really sorted out all the, until we’re through the budget hearings,” said NCCo Council President Tom Kovach, who’s a Republican.
Recommendations in the budget also call for a four percent sewer fee increase, a move Clark says will close a $2 million gap in the sewer budget. So for an average residential bill of $281, that amounts to an extra $10 a year for the homeowner.
Lastly, Clark cut grants to nonprofits and community groups, saving more than a million dollars according to Clark’s estimates.
“I know these are good causes, but a grants budget is something we just cannot afford,” said Clark during his address.
Council President Tom Kovach admits balancing the budget is anything but easy, but worries Clark’s line-by-line cuts don’t go far enough.
“It’s a very tough job… and I applaud the new New Castle County Executive for his cuts, I just think we need to go further and quicker.”
Kovach believes shrinking government is the only way to get the county out from under its budget woes.
“You have to look at what services are being provided in the county where there is redundancy. For example, we have code enforcement officers in three different branches of our government, three different divisions. Well, they’re all serving essentially the same purpose,” said Kovach.
County Council’s finance committee begins budget hearings Monday, March 28th.