New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer
FY2024 Budget Address
Tuesday, March 28, 2023
“Good evening. It’s great to be back here in Council’s chamber in the City/County building to propose a budget with historic investments in our county workforce, sports fields, open space and preservation and a budget that will reduce the amount of taxes residential property owners pay for the first time ever.
Tragically, yesterday there was yet another school shooting, this time in Nashville, TN. I would like to begin this evening with a moment of silence to honor the victims of the Covenant School, both the children and the educators and to think about what more we each can do to reduce gun violence in our community.
I also want to acknowledge the loss today of New Castle County’s longest serving Sheriff – former Sheriff Mike Walsh served in that role for 30 years and we extend our condolences to his family and his former colleagues who are here tonight.
The state of our county finances is strong. Tonight, you will hear how, in spite of historic pressures of inflation and rapidly increasing costs, we are in a better position than ever to withstand an economic downturn.
Thank you to County Council President Karen Hartley-Nagle for the invitation to address you this evening to discuss the state of our county and share highlights of the Fiscal Year 2024 budget that we propose for County Council’s consideration. Thank you to each and every member of County Council. You have continued to demonstrate leadership in addressing legislative and constituent matters for the residents of the county, regardless of the challenges of the past few years. We have heard your recommendations and incorporated many of them into the budget we propose tonight.
Thank you also to other fellow elected County leaders – please stand - Sheriff Scott Phillips, Register of Wills Ciro Poppiti, Recorder of Deeds Mike Kozikowski and Clerk of the Peace Lisa Darrah. Your sound financial management is an important part of our ability to sustain and grow county services through good times and bad.
Thank you to all of our county employees, would the union leaders please stand. The dedicated leaders of County departments – your continued efforts to serve the residents of New Castle County and your fellow employees are critical to what I will discuss this evening.
We are announcing historic investments, in public safety, in our libraries and parks and housing. We managed to acquire one of our county’s largest hotels and convert it into the Hope Center, among the most comprehensive emergency shelters in our state’s history, providing emergency housing to 2,259 of our most vulnerable friends and neighbors and providing services that have helped 227 households move to permanent housing. And we did all of this without a dollar of additional expense from your property taxes.
An accomplishment like this is truly a collaborative effort. I want to thank our federal delegation for their support of the Hope Center, most recently with three quarters of a million dollars for roof repair and transportation funding. We also owe thanks to the Cities of Wilmington and Newark, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Molly Magarik, the Bridge Clinic, Christiana Care, Friendship House, Delaware Center for Homeless Veterans and many non-profit organizations who have organized donation drives, corporate partners most recently like TD Bank, Uber and others, and so many members of the public.
Through strong fiscal management and efficiency improvements we’ve made over multiple years, our financial reserve balances have grown to historically high levels. Our reserves have increased 400% since when I first came into office six years ago. Our total general fund reserve balance that was $35 million in 2017 is projected to be $156 million by the end of June of this year. This shows a combination of the Tax Stabilization Reserve (blue bars), Revenue Replacement (light blue bars), Real Estate Transfer Tax Reserve (grey bars), the Reassessment Reserve (yellow bars), plus the much smaller Strategic Economic Fund Reserve (aqua) and Library Reserve (green).
This healthy revenue balance is the consequence of years working together to create efficiencies across our government - investments in IT, benefits savings and savings in risk management – as well as a healthy real estate market. For example – in our most recent sewer billing we received 10,000 fewer checks than last year. Now, normally, if you hear something like, you would think we have a crisis in collection. But this actually is a good thing, something that saves the taxpayers money. This past year we made paying your sewer bill as easy as paying for your Amazon order. And when you pay by online check or Venmo or Apple Pay, your county government realizes savings, savings that tonight we propose to pass along to you.
As a result, we are also investing in county government services and infrastructure like never before. Even with such investments, we simply do not need to collect as much from you this year.
And so tonight I propose a one-time residential county property tax credit of 5% – for the first time ever.
We are able to propose this tonight due to the hard work from departments across the county to improve efficiencies while continuing to provide the highest quality service to our residents.
Three and a half years ago, we hired Nicki Capello, a recent Del Tech grad, as a paramedic. She is a star. Last year she had the most self-initiated paramedic responses as a single responder, assisting on hundreds of calls from Delawareans in your most vulnerable and scariest moments. She saved the lives of two individuals whose hearts literally stopped beating, individuals who walked out of the hospital within days. Last Wednesday, she took a 15-mile practice ride with our Paramedic Bike Team and then while preparing to go to the hotel Dupont to receive the Kiwanis Club Paramedic of the Year award, she received notice of a cardiac arrest in the neighborhood where she lived. She ran to respond, still barefoot, to assist with this cardiac save. Thank you, Nicki, for your service.
Lori Williams retired two years ago after decades of selfless paramedic service. When she retired on Facebook Live, Lori told me how she had so much service left to give, how she loved old paramedic programs like Vial of Life and bystander CPR. So we brought her back. And she is providing county paramedicine better than ever. You should sign up today for Bystander CPR. Others are. And it is saving lives.
Last week I met Jacqueline Del Campo, who suffered cardiac arrest and was clinically dead for 10 minutes before being revived by a combination of bystanders, paramedics and firefighters from Cranston Heights and Longwood Fire Companies. Ushers in church were the first to administer CPR. Ten days prior, Lori and paramedics Ashley Tylenda and Jorge Vasquez led a hands-only CPR class that included those ushers. Thanks to their work, Ms. Del Campo is still with us. You can take two steps today to help save your family and neighbors. FIRST: Visit newcastlede.gov/CPR to sign up for a free CPR class. SECOND: Download the PulsePoint app to get alerts when someone nearby needs help.
Our Emergency Communications operators do extraordinary work every day saving lives. There is a national standard that it should take 2 mins 30 seconds from when someone calls 911 about a cardiac arrest to when CPR compressions begin. Because of the amazing work of our 911 operators and so many members of the public trained in CPR, the median time in NCC is 12 seconds faster than that standard– 2 mins and 18 seconds. This literally keeps our friends, neighbors and family members alive.
Officers across our Police Department regularly encounter challenges beyond traditional public safety responses. During a recent home invasion investigation, Sgt. Michelle Burrus learned that the victim had multiple unmet needs at his apartment. She used her personal time and resources to collect and deliver furniture and clothing, with the assistance of fellow detectives and Behavioral Health Unit officers. Thank you, Sgt. Burris.
Our fire companies come together in times of emergency, and also in times of caring. A staff member from Nemours Children’s Hospital wanted to fulfill a dream for one of their young patients and reached out to Kevin Keating from Mill Creek Fire Company. Last week, Kevin organized a parade of fire trucks with 41 fire companies from across Delaware, Wilmington Fire, Air National Guard, and the Dupont Company Fire Brigade.
We are making historic investments in Public Safety employee compensation, which is aiding in recruitment and retention in these critical fields. For the third consecutive year, we ran both Police and Paramedic Academies to bring these new first responders into our Public Safety ranks, and we will continue to recruit, run academies and work to train and retain these heroes.
Many fire companies have experienced decreased volunteerism, increased costs, and decreased revenue from ambulance runs as residents struggle to pay their ambulance bills. NCC has committed over $7 million in additional funds to the fire companies since the start of the pandemic (CARES Act $6.2M SPENT plus ARPA $1M budgeted). With our proposed budget, we plan to invest $200,000 in a fire service study to better understand the root causes and identify more sustainable funding options. We understand that some of these issues go beyond our county, so we have been in communication with leadership of Kent and Sussex Counties about the possibility of expanding this study state-wide.
We must prioritize the accountability and the safety of our police and first responders. What is the number one way that police officers nationally get hurt on the job? Vehicles. For decades we have scrambled to find a place to train new officers and retrain existing officers in emergency vehicle operations. In partnership with the state, we will begin construction this year on an Emergency Vehicle Operations Course – a training space for all public safety agencies across the State to use.
We completed construction and opened the Appoquinimink Library – now a busy community hub! In the first eight months since opening, we’ve had over 83,000 visits more than double the visits over the same time last year in the former Appo Library. The group study rooms are in use most hours of the day. Teens gather after school to game and craft together in a space they can call their own. Guests of all ages are using the Maker Lab and the Video and Audio Studio to create their own projects and content. And story times are highly attended by our youngest library guests – the readers of tomorrow.
Tonight we are announcing a proposed investment in our next library project – a replacement Newark Library, again, in partnership with the state, proposing to County Council that we kick off the design phase in the coming months. We welcome the community’s input on this next enhancement to our library system.
In addition to exciting new facilities like these, we are also investing in critical maintenance and upkeep needs for our existing libraries (Note:$1.4M in maintenance and upkeep - ARPA RR)
The pandemic highlighted the importance of safe outdoor spaces for families, which was reinforced during our parks town halls across the county last year. Tonight’s proposed budget includes historic investments in county parks and maintenance.
On a foggy day last November, we broke ground on the Southern New Castle County Park. Thanks to Councilman Carter’s drone footage, you can see our current progress in developing the park. We look forward to opening phase one of the park this summer. Our proposed budget also includes additional funding for maintaining this park and also preliminary planning for a nearby park on Bethel Church Road.
We are investing in active recreation like never before. I heard from you about the importance of these opportunities. We plan to:
- Improve our softball facilities at Delcastle Park.
- Improve Surratte Park and Pool
- Build a second turf soccer field at Banning Park
- Build 25 new pickleball courts
- Continue to invest in basketball and tennis court sealcoating, like we have done this year in Collins Park, Sczerba Park, Sparrow Run and more
- We will also kick off the master planning process for Prest Park to serve the Red Lion area.
- And we will collaborate with other funders and invest a million dollars to build the state’s first competition-level indoor track. Demand from local high schools and club teams is high and teams currently travel to other states to compete. A local indoor track is also projected to bring increases to hotels and restaurants that will benefit the county for years to come.
With public spending on projects at historical highs across our country and state, we have an obligation to spend public money equitably, across all communities. Going hand in hand with these additional investments will be the launch of our Small Business Enterprise program – intended to increase participation by small businesses and businesses owned by people of color in our procurement processes. New Castle County suspended this program back in the 1990s due to a single Supreme Court decision. With our new infrastructure investments, we plan to spread our government contracting opportunities across the community in an equitable way to make sure all businesses have a fair chance to participate in County procurement.
We are facing a national housing affordability crisis with local consequences. Rents are up 32% in the last five years and 14.5% last year in Delaware alone, the fifth highest increase nationally. With mortgage interest rates higher than they have been in 15 years, affording a new home is more difficult than in recent memory, especially for our low- and moderate-income residents. That’s why I am so proud to have partnered with County Council to create a $31 million Affordable Housing Fund. I also want to thank the members of the Housing Advisory Board and Councilman Penrose Hollins for your partnership in directing the spending from the Housing Trust Fund. These critical investments are helping create, renovate and protect affordable housing opportunities right here in New Castle County. In addition, thank you to Councilman Jea Street for your partnership in expanding the senior home repair program to include outdoor home repairs and tree removals.
We’re not just building and renovating more affordable housing; we’re also making it easier for residents to use their housing vouchers. Just last month, we signed an agreement with the City of Wilmington government making it easier for residents to use their vouchers to relocate from Wilmington to New Castle County and vice versa. Thank you to Mayor Mike Purzycki for your partnership with New Castle County on yet another important initiative to streamline access to affordable housing.
Intergenerational poverty cannot be addressed with increased police presence alone, which is why we developed a community-based approach to reducing violence and increasing community engagement through our Building Better Communities (BBC) Initiative. We’re supporting boots-on-the-ground organizations with one-time federal funding opportunities. For example:
Project SEED is creating a new playground in Rosegate, providing mental health workshops in Sparrow Run, and more. Supporting Kidds is providing grief support & individual therapy services at several schools in the county. The committee is investing already in Knollwood, Sparrow Run, Rosegate, and Richardson Park – with other neighborhoods to follow. I want to share a big thank you to Vanessa Phillips, CJ Bell, and each of the BBC Committee members for their dedication and service to this effort.
As part of our NCC@2050 Comprehensive Plan, New Castle County set a goal to preserve 30% of our land as open space by 2050. That’s why I’m proud to include a $1 million investment in open space preservation in my recommended budget. In addition, we are doing more than ever to collaborate with the state farmland preservation program to keep farms from becoming strip malls. My budget reflects that intention, with a $1.5 million investment in farmland preservation.
We also include in our budget a one-time investment toward the preservation of historic resources through the Delaware Preservation Fund and an investment in strategic planning for the programming at Rockwood Park and Museum, a beloved county facility.
For the first time in 19 years, New Castle County and Wilmington have agreed on a wastewater treatment contract. Thanks to the partnership of Mayor Purzycki and his team, we are collaborating like never before, ensuring that our sewer system runs efficiently for our residents for years to come.
We are continuing to invest in our wastewater management system, replacing aging infrastructure in Holloway Terrace, in Claymont, and in the Brandywine Hundred areas.
The county for the first time was awarded a Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to assist with the complete rehabilitation of the county’s most critical piece of infrastructure - the Christina River Force Main, which services the majority of homes north of the C&D canal.
In addition, with the help of County Council, last year we added to the legacy of GreeNCC by updating our drainage code to reduce water pollution and flooding in our county.
Tonight, I propose a total Operating Budget of $331,422,408 and a Capital Budget of $75,098,163. Thank you to CFO Michael Smith and Vicki Ford and Joanne Finnigan for leading the process to prepare this year’s budget. Thank you to Council Finance Committee Co-Chairs Smiley and Cartier for hosting public budget hearings with our department leaders over the next month to discuss the details of this proposed budget. Let me be honest, the tireless work of County Council and our finance department along with the incredible collaboration among Michael Smith, Vicki Ford, Councilman Smiley and Councilman Cartier is what puts us in this strong position today. Let’s continue to work in this strong vein.
We understand times are tough for many – with increasing prices and wages not keeping pace.
What we’re doing with this budget is continuing to invest heavily in critical local services AND reducing the cost to you and your family.
Thank you again to County Council President Hartley Nagle and to each of the members of Council for this opportunity to address you this evening. We look forward to your questions and comments in this collaborative public budget process.