Final budget adoption due by June 30

New Castle County Council shot down County Executive Matt Meyer’s proposed real estate tax increase at a council session Tuesday, May 22, leaving the administration to either come up with another plan or enforce a series of funding cutbacks.

The budget was voted down 10-3, with councilmembers John Cartier, William Tackett, and Bob Weiner casting the three yes votes for a proposed 15 percent increase to the county’s real estate tax.

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

Council also rejected 11-0 a floor amendment from Meyer to reduce the proposed increase to 12 percent, with Weiner and Councilwoman Janet Kilpatrick abstaining.

Council narrowly approved Meyer’s proposed 12 percent increase to the county’s sewer rate 7-5, with councilman Bill Powers absent from the vote. That rate takes effect as of July 1.

The sewer rate increase amounts to roughly $30 more per year, to an average sewer bill of $250.

Meyer’s proposed increases were part of his efforts to avoid spending county reserve (or, stabilization) funds to balance the budget, as Meyer claimed the previous administration did for at least five years, leaving the county struggling to fund basic government services.

“Tonight, County Council rejected a plan to fully fund police, paramedics, libraries and parks that would cost about an extra dollar a week,” Meyer said. “Council rejected a plan to fix the irresponsible decisions of the past administration and put our great county back on solid footing.”

 Meyer added that in the 20 town hall budget information sessions he’s conducted over the past few months, the public “overwhelmingly supported the responsible budget” rejected by council Tuesday night.

“The results of [the vote] might be severe as we now must consider cuts to critical services,” Meyer said. “As we move forward, I will continue to listen to you. I will continue to fight for you.”

Kilpatrick, District 3, said that while she understands the need for a tax hike, her discussions with her constituents highlight the need to phase in that kind of increase.

“Both Red Clay and Christina school districts have had pretty hefty referendums over the past several years and understanding that the school tax does not help the county it does make a difference to homeowners who pay the combined state and county tax bill,” she said.

She added that the stabilization fund exists to offset taxes in leaner years.

“The money in the stabilization fund is there because we paid taxes.  A stabilization fund is there so that in good years our surplus goes into it and in bad years we take money out of it to balance the budget,” she said. “We can balance the budget and not cut services by raising taxes a minimum and adding our projected revenue and balancing the remainder with an authorization for stabilization fund money.”

Meyers proposed cuts would reduce funding to a number of county programs, including libraries, paramedics, and county park maintenance.