City budget reflects some small increases

By Lynn R. Parks

The budget for 2005 that the Seaford City Council was expected to approve Tuesday night contains hikes in property tax rates as well as in water and sewer charges. It also contains a nearly nine-percent decrease in expenses. The changes are to make up for 13-percent drop in revenues. “This is the hardest budget I’ve ever done,” said city manager Dolores Slatcher, who has written city budgets for 25 years. “And I hope this is the hardest budget we ever have to do. It is very tight.” Slatcher said that city’s budget woes are “all related to power.” Under a contract with Constellation Energy, Baltimore, effective Jan. 1, the city is paying 28 percent - $1.430 million - more for power than it was. The council has already enacted an electric rate hike effective with the May bills to bring an additional $900,000 a year into city coffers to help offset the price increase. The Constellation Energy contract also meant that the city can no longer engage in peak shaving, through which it used its power plant to generate electricity to offset the city’s costs from Conectiv, its previous supplier. To help to offset its costs, the city is generating electricity for sale on the regional power grid. The city’s director of power Dave Thomas has said that how successful that is will be deter- mined this summer, when hot, humid weather puts pressure on the grid and sends prices high. Included in the proposed city budget is a 4-cent hike in property taxes, from 48 cents to 52 cents per $100 of assessed value. The annual water/sewer charge, which is a third of the tax rate, rose to 17 cents per $100 of assessed value.
Water and sewer rates are also proposed to increase. Water rates would go up by about a half a percent, sewer rates by 1.21 percent. One-time water tap charges would go up 2.86 percent (for a 1.5-inch line), 3.7 percent (for a 1-inch line) and 3.92 percent (for a 2-inch line). Water impact fees would go up 22 percent, from $410 to $500. One-time sewer tap charges would go up nearly 6 percent and sewer impact fees up 4.35 percent, from $1,150 to $1,200. There are no new fees in the budget. On the expenditure side, “we reviewed everything possible,” said Slatcher. “Even if it was $100, if we thought we could give it up we gave it up.” Slatcher said that some of the cuts “caused legitimate concern” among the city’s supervisors. “But we really did want to balance this budget,” she said. Slatcher said that, as the world’s oil market stabilizes and fuel costs go down, the city’s financial picture will improve. In addition, growth in the city that is costing money now will lead to additional money in the budget, she said. Meanwhile, “any hiccup of any kind in the budget will have to go before city council, to see how they want to pay for it,” Slatcher said. “Before, we could anticipate things and write them into the budget. But there is not a lot of room for anything in this one,” she added. And she cautions that the current contract for electricity is set to expire in May 2005. “We don’t know how the next contract will go, or how the market place will be then,” she said. “Prices could go either way.”

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