Public safety, clean water and economic development were the highlights of New Castle County Executive Tom Gordon’s proposed Fiscal Year 2015 budget address.
Gordon’s $254.6 million budget is 2.3 percent higher than the current year’s budget and contains no tax increases. In fact, Gordon announced that the county actually has a projected surplus for FY 2014.
“I am happy to report to County Council that as we enter the final quarter of the 2014 fiscal year, we have erased a projected $2 million deficit and, in fact, are in a position to close the books with an $8 million surplus, a financial turnaround representing a $10 million swing,” said Gordon.
Among his proposals for 2015, Gordon said public heath and safety are among his top priorities.
While he said the county cannot afford to hire additional police officers, county cops are utilizing more technology, such as predictive policing software, to combat crime. Since implementing the software, the county experienced a 10 percent decrease in overall crime. Gordon said he will continue to work with Wilmington Mayor Dennis Williams and the Wilmington Police Department to reduce crime.
To complement law enforcement strategies, one area that could see new funding is the county’s Heroin Alert program. Gordon is requesting $500,000 to fund a public service campaign targeted at youth.
“Tragically, we are experiencing an alarming national trend,” Gordon said. “As many of you know, the heroin crisis in our county has reached epidemic proportions. The streets are flooded daily with highly concentrated heroin.”
Another project largely targeting youth is the proposed Community Library and Innovation Center along Route 9. The total cost of the center is approximately $22.4 million; Gordon is requesting $12.8 million to begin the project in FY 2015.
“Our vision is that this library will spark the economic development of the Route 9 Corridor,” Gordon said.
The county also received a $500,000 grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh for a Neighborhood Stabilization Program, aimed at revitalizing the Route 9 corridor.
“It’s an underserved community with great people,” said Chris Bullock, president of New Castle County Council. “Young people will benefit from this, average citizens will benefit from this, and Route 9 is a hope corridor.”
In the county’s capital budget, Gordon proposed $19 million for current sewer rehabilitation projects and $126.6 million in sewer rehab over the next six years.
“Our proactive management and preventative sewer upgrades have protected the county’s drinking water and our environment,” he said. “In addition, the ongoing construction of a $2.3 million, 18-inch sewer line in Southern New Castle County will save this county $100 million over the next 20 years. This will go a long way toward stabilizing our rates and avoiding future increases.”
‘Something promising’ for Delaware
Gordon has also made good on several other promises he made during last year’s budget, such as enhancing the county’s Land Use Department to stimulate construction and development projects while continuing to protect and preserve the environment.
“This County Council had the wisdom to reallocate $300,000 within the 2014 budget to the Department of Land Use to procure a top notch consultant to help overhaul and reform a department that had been lagging behind the rest of the country,” Gordon said. “To that end, my 2015 fiscal year budget calls for an additional $400,000 needed to enhance the Unified Development Code and the Land Use process.”
To continue attracting new business and industries, the county recently held its first Comprehensive Economic Development Plan for New Castle County, which Gordon said is focused on job creation.
“In the coming months, we will work together with our county council, the state and the City of Wilmington to identify our county’s competitive strengths and weaknesses,” he said. “We will strategically target and nurture the growth industries that will drive the economy of the future. We will capitalize upon the economic recovery, creating incentives to draw emerging businesses and job-creating entrepreneurs to New Castle County. We will invest in our economy now and create new opportunities, new jobs, and new partnerships for tomorrow.”
One particular business, Fisker Automotive, remains a top concern for the county. The business promised to bring thousands of jobs back to Delaware after General Motors closed in 2009, but ran into financial trouble and filed for bankruptcy in 2013.
Last month, Wanxiang America Corporation purchased Fisker through a bankruptcy auction and hinted that it plans to manufacture cars in Delaware.
Bullock said that he has “heard good things,” but could not give specifics.
“It appears to be something promising and good for the state of Delaware,” he said.
Wilmington Mayor Dennis Williams will present his budget address on Thursday. Stay tuned to NewsWorks for full coverage.