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DOVER — Donna Mitchell, who manages the city of Dover, said a property tax increase in the city’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget is necessary to catch up on “much-needed” maintenance work in city parks and aging facilities, as well as filling some staffing positions that have been left vacant for several years.

Mrs. Mitchell broke down her proposed FY20 draft budget for members of Dover City Council in Council Chambers at City Hall on Wednesday night, proposing an 8.6 percent property tax increase as part of a $43.6 million general fund budget for the coming fiscal year, which begins in July.

It will mark the first property tax increase for the city since a 19.9 percent property tax increase was handed down to the city’s residents in 2016.

The city of Dover will also pass on a Kent County water treatment fee increase of 10.3 percent to its customers.

“This budget document reflects a spending plan for Fiscal ’20 that re-establishes critical service levels and starts a path towards enhanced maintenance of our infrastructure to support the city’s taxpayers and citizens beyond FY20,” Mrs. Mitchell said.

“The budget increases staff and helps revitalize programs and divisions that have fallen below prior service levels and have been areas that have been subject to deferred maintenance, such as ditch maintenance, streets, stormwater culverts, catch basins, vegetation and tree maintenance, building inspections and code enforcement.

“The budget considers the growth of the city over the past 20 years and provides for enhanced service levels to support the growth and population, environmental and labor regulations and infrastructure and land mass.”

While members of city council had allocated three meetings to comb through the details of the FY20 budget, it turned out they only needed about two-and-a-half hours of one meeting to advance the budget by a 7-1 vote. Councilman David Anderson cast the only dissenting vote while Councilman Roy Sudler Jr. was absent.

The city’s total financial plan for FY20 is proposed to be $147,799,200. The plan includes an operating budget of $131,756,500 and a capital investments budget of $16,042,700.

Donna Mitchell

The FY20 financial plan represents a decrease of .5 percent over the original FY19 financial plan of $148,398,300, the net result of higher personnel cost and reduced capital projects, according to Mrs. Mitchell.

City Councilman Tim Slavin made the motion to adopt the proposed budget and it was seconded by City Councilman Matt Lindell before going to a vote.

“I think that while we could certainly fill up a few nights of questions, I think we’ve all but exhausted the questions because (Mrs. Mitchell) predicted all the questions we have and packaged this in a way that I think brings confidence to me and I think hopefully brings confidence to others and to taxpayers,” Councilman Slavin said.

“This is a budget that all of the financial policies are met, it addresses deferred maintenance, it addresses planning and capacity for the future, and it has identified approximately $15 million in capital projects. This budget doesn’t do everything we want to do but it keeps us moving forward, which I think is a very important thing to do.”

More discussion needed?
Councilman Anderson said he thought members of city council should return on Thursday night for more discussion. He made an unsuccessful motion to recess until another session could take place on Thursday.

“I am not only not prepared to proceed right now, but I believe that we just received some very positive reviews, some good information which we need to reflect upon,” Councilman Anderson said. “I think we should be able to do as we normally do, as we normally plan mark-ups, amendments, the opportunity to propose amendments to the staff before the next meeting and get feedback and the like.
“There’s questions and priorities that we have to ask.”

For the seven other members of council, Mrs. Mitchell appeared to answer their questions thoroughly enough to proceed forward.
Two public readings will be held at upcoming city council meetings on June 10 and 24 where further concerns can be raised before the budget is formally adopted.

“Basically, I look at this budget as a living thing,” Councilman Fred Neil said. “It is not done even if we say it is. There are public hearings that are going to be taking place.

“I do not take this as a final budget, I take this as a living guideline that still has to go through the public process, so that there can be changes in it.”

Some of the particulars
The proposed property tax increase is expected to take in $1,111,500 in additional receipts for the city, which will help fill several new positions recommended to enhance service levels and quality.

There had been 24 positions requested by city departments to be filled, including four new police officers for the Dover Police Department.

However, during the budget process, the city manager’s office pared the list to 13 recommended positions, including five within the Streets Division of the Public Works Department, with no additional police officers.

“Some of those requests we could probably consider at the mid-year budget review,” Councilman Slavin said. “So just to get something in the budget today doesn’t mean we won’t bring it back in this fiscal year.”
The draft budget also proposes the development of a Stormwater Utility to begin in 2021.

Some of the projects the city will take on in the upcoming year include: improvements to City Hall, such as HVAC replacements; a new roof and other renovations to the Dover Fire Department’s station on the west side of the city; a variety of park initiatives at multiple city parks; several improvements to the Dover Police Department building, as well as many infrastructure improvements that will be made by the Public Works Department, such as addressing drainage issues and other projects.

Councilman Slavin said the proposed budget gives the city the tools it needs to be proactive, instead of reactive.
“When we deferred capital projects (in recent years), we basically extended the life of the existing asset that we have and typically when you do that you get to the end of the usable life and beyond usable life,” he said.
“A good example I think is Weyandt Hall (at 5 E. Reed St., which is now closed for renovations).

“We kind of pushed the systems there beyond where they should be. And that last portion of usable life and beyond usable life that’s when the operations costs swing high and then that creates demands on other funds that we have to repair, rather than to replace.”

Mr. Slavin did leave Wednesday’s draft budget meeting with a feeling of confidence in Mrs. Mitchell and her staff.

“We’ve been at this a number of years and we’ve had some years where there was a lower degree of confidence in the numbers that were presented and there was an awful lot of debate,” said Mr. Slavin.
“I’ve noticed that over the last two or three years our confidence level has

increased considerably when you present the budget because it’s a trustworthy document and I think you present things very well and your team does the hard work and I thank all of them for that.”
Reach staff writer Mike Finney at 302-741-8230 or mfinney@newszap.com.

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.