A few members of New Castle County expressed concern with NCCo Department of Land Use General Manager David Culver's proposal to keep staffing levels at 118 for the 2014 fiscal year by filling currently open positions in a still weak economy.
The New Castle County Department of Land Use would continue to fund 11 vacant positions as well as add three vacant, unfunded positions, Culver said.
Culver said filling these positions was necessary in order to maintain customer service. He pointed out that the Department of Land Use would still be at the record low of staffing levels since six positions were cut in fiscal year 2009 and another 15 were eliminated in FY 2010.
Culver presented the Department of Land Use's recommended $12.3 million budget for the 2014 fiscal year at New Castle County Council's second round of budget hearings held Monday in the City/County Building. That represents an increase of 4.13 percent, he said.
Of the $12.3 million, 88.6 percent was slated for personnel costs in the customer service heavy department, Culver said.
But Councilman Jea Street (D-Wilmington South) could not wrap his head around Land Use's ability to afford filling in 14 vacant positions given flat revenue estimates. (New Castle County Executive Tom Gordon proposed adding 19 new positions and dipping into the county reserve to the tune of about $4 million for FY 2014.)
Culver reiterated that the 118 total staff budgeted for the NCCo Department of Land Use in 2014 would be the same as the current, 2013 fiscal year.
Councilwoman Janet Kilpatrick (R-Hockessin) said she did not see the logic of restoring the funding for three unfunded positions.
"We unfunded them for a reason," Kilpatrick said. "And I don't see anybody talking about how great funding is [for 2014]."
Culver said Land Use had been operating at record low levels of staffing for the past two years, but the amount of services demanded of his staff had not decreased. In essence, something had to give at some point, he said.
"If not, then phone calls don't get returned and code inspections could be delayed," Culver said.
Despite Culver's partial syllogism, Kilpatrick remained obstinate in her stance.
"I have a problem bringing back unfunded positions," she said. She added that she could see every department asking for more positions to be filled – a veritable Pandora's Box.
However, NCCo Department of Finance staffer Ed Milowicki said the 2014 budget was already efficiently budgeted at 98 percent of the full monetary amount actually needed to run the department efficiently. In comparison, the Department of Finance expected that 99 percent of the 2013 fiscal year would have been spent by the close of the fiscal year on June 30, 2013, he said.
The increase of 1 percentage point for 2014 was done to account for the recent ebb and flow of attrition, he said. Milowicki explained that of the 11 vacant, funded positions, seven of them had become vacant within the past year.
Page 2 of 2 - Councilman Penrose Hollins (D-Wilmington North) said the issue of unfunded positions begged for a special meeting by New Castle County Council to address the issue.
Councilman George Smiley (D-New Castle), the Finance Committee co-chairman, agreed. Smiley said he and co-chair Councilman John Cartier (D- Holly Oak) would schedule a budget hearing for the overall budget once each department and row office had presented their budgets.