MEDIA — With a bludgeoned economy emptying the wallets of residents and businesses, the Delaware County Council opted against raising property tax revenue for the new year at Tuesday morning’s meeting.
The $355 million budget represents a $2.9 million decrease in the general fund from last year, county Executive Director Howard Lazarus said at the county budget meeting.
Delaware County is completing a court-ordered property tax reassessment.
“We are just getting started, and this new no-taxes budget is the next step in our county’s path forward,” wrote Council Chair Brian Zidek in the county’s 2021 budget presentation.
Cuts from the 2020’s expense lines for this coming year include 241 unfilled positions, reduced budgets to executive director agencies, and courts and criminal justice budget lines.
With a reduced budget and increased goals for the county — including taking over the prison and building a county health department from the ground up — Lazarus noted that Delaware County’s goals would be important in any year, but even more so as the nation continues to reel from the COVID pandemic and racial and economic disparities that have sparked civil unrest.
“Especially this year, as our county and the country continue to grapple with the impact of the COVID -19 pandemic and continues the critical conversation about what inclusion, equity and opportunity means for every Delaware County resident,” Lazarus said in his presentation.
Vice Chair Dr. Monica Taylor said that the effects of the pandemic point to the need for Delaware County to have its own health department, an idea the slate of current commissioners campaigned on in 2019. Currently, the county works with neighboring Chester County’s Health Department.
“This patchwork fix has prevented the worst from occurring, but has limited the county’s ability to target and respond to pandemic-related issues,” Taylor said.
Delaware County plans to have the new health department operational by the end of 2021.
“The County is moving aggressively to implement program and policy changes designed to make government more accessible and accountable, addressing long-standing inequity and creating new opportunities, and building a more diverse and sustainable future,” said county spokeswoman Adrienne Marofsky.
“Among the many changes are a new transparency around the budget and what it contains, as well as expanded opportunities for the public to offer their input. Delaware County residents, workers and business owners deserve the highest standard of county government.”
Since so many businesses have shut down or are in a holding pattern, and government revenues are unknown, one critical element to the budget is really unknown and that is revenues.
“The budget addresses the uncertain financial picture by restoring an uncommitted general fund balance and setting aside contingent monies in the event or shortfalls in local, state and /or federal funding,” Lazarus said.
Planned infrastructure improvements throughout the county for open space, trails and parks, “are important to residents as well as attractive to workers and businesses,” Lazarus noted.
Marofsky said a second reading of the budget will be held on December 16 at 6 p.m., during the regularly scheduled council meeting. It will be held virtually and streamed online.