Budget meetings start June 1
As Dover City Council and staff meet virtually to talk about the city’s budget Monday, June 1, the conversation will likely revolve around revenue losses due to the pandemic.
From January to late May, the city was down more than $5 million in cash payments for utilities and services, a 21% decrease from last year. It has lost just over $100,000 in Parks and Recreation fees and permit revenues for special events like Firefly and the NASCAR race. The cancellation of summer programs meant a 60% decrease in recreation revenues, City Manager Donna Mitchell said.
“The reduced cash affects our ability to pay our employees and vendors. We also have reduced utility usage with many of the businesses being closed,” Mitchell said.
In reaction, the proposed budget leaves out several capital purchases and recommendations to hire new employees.
Councilman David Anderson, 4th district, said the new budget must protect the needs of residents while avoiding a deficit.
“Right now, we have to do the best we can with the money we have,” he said. “We’ve been responsible for decades, and we have to remain responsible.”
When the meeting starts at 6 p.m., viewers can expect to hear a general overview of the proposed budget followed by a breakdown of individual departments.
Councilman Matt Lindell, 1st district, agreed with Anderson that the budget will likely be lean with the hope that more can be added later when the economy recovers.
“We may be passing a budget now, and hopefully things are better than we expect, and we can go back and revisit some of the needs that will better serve our constituents,” Lindell said.
Councilman Ralph Taylor, 2nd district, said he will trust the city manager and assistant city manager to present an appropriate plan.
“I see that the monies coming in are significantly less than where we were last year. I don’t think anyone should panic at this particular point,” he said. “It’s a matter of us just dealing with it and moving forward.”
Taxes and utility rates
Property taxes make up about a third of the city’s revenue.
Property values were assessed this year, and the new assessments are set to show up in July 1 tax bills. Residential and commercial properties generally went up in value, according to a presentation at the Jan. 27 meeting.
To keep Dover revenue neutral, the property tax will drop about 8%.
Anderson hopes the council will consider freezing that reassessment for one year. “It may be beneficial to give people a year to adjust,” he said.
Water and wastewater service fees and rates are proposed to increase, with the exception of water customers who use the lowest amount.
To offset those hikes, city staff recommended an increase in the power cost adjustment, or PCA, credit.
Councilman Fred Neil, 3rd district, plans to ask his fellow members and staff whether it would be possible to delay the service fee increases until January. He plans to ask, “What would it cost us in revenue and what would be removed or delayed in the budget to compensate?”
Anderson is backing a proposal to cut commercial electricity rates to help Dover’s business owners.
While some capital improvement plans will be put on hold. Lindell said projects like maintaining water mains and other infrastructure should remain a priority.
“We do have ageing infrastructure, and we do need to continue to pay attention to that,” he said. “That is central to the needs of our constituents, as well.”
Neil agreed that deferring maintenance could prove more costly long term.
Funds that help protect citizens’ safety must stay, Neil said. “We want to make sure we’re not putting people in harm's way. So, we’re not going to touch the police budget,” he said.
The city plans to spend more than $1 million dollars in a lighting project to convert to LED in 2021. Neil said this project is essential to prevent crime. “I want to maintain that because the system that’s going to be installed will allow us to increase the lighting in case of an emergency,” he said. “Light is the enemy of crime.”
Each council member encouraged his constituents to tune into the meeting and reach out if they have any questions or concerns. Taylor said this helps the council members make the best decisions. “Let their voices be heard,” he said.
More details about the proposed budgets are in the meeting packet at https://www.cityofdover.com/meetings. To contact your council member, visit https://www.cityofdover.com/profiles-for-council-mayor.