amid heated wrangling
As happens each year, New Castle County's operating budget and
the package of related ordinances were approved by County
Council by overwhelming majorities and intact as received from
the administration. What was different this time around was
their serving as a backdrop for a verbal donnybrook as
opposition to Council President Tom Kovach, which has been
simmering since he took office, exploded in a round of barbed
On all but one of
the roll call votes, Kovach stood alone at the short end of
12-to-one tallies. William Powers joined him in opposing a 3.9%
increase in the sewer fee.
of the measures was a foregone conclusion, that didn't prevent
an acrimonious exchange with political overtones.
Kovach lit the fire
when he wrote in a newspaper article published the day before
the May 24 votes that "we cannot continue to increase spending
and future liabilities while failing to take advantage of the
many opportunities to refuel and refocus a government full of
redundancy and inefficiencies."
Smiley responded sarcastically at a budget committee meeting
before Council's plenary session, 'reminding' Kovach that the
committee's standing agenda provides for a 'roundtable
discussion' at which members can bring forward ideas and
suggestions concerning county finances. He said members "should
work with each other and not the [newspaper's] editorial board."
Kovach did not reply to Smiley's comment at that meeting.
At the evening
session, however, Smiley pressed the attack, telling Kovach, "You should
propose something that is workable, not something to get
headlines," and adding, "You don't know what you're talking
"I think we're
getting off the track," Kovach said.
"We're not off the
track; you're off the track," Smiley retorted.
It was Jea Street
who launched a barrage of criticism by inquiring rhetorically if he had "missed something." Noting that, as far
as he knew, no substantive amendments to the budget ordinance
had been proposed during the eight weeks of Council's budget
picked up on the point. "There are no amendments proposed or put
forward where we ought to go if we don't pass this budget," she
Kovach, is a Republican, one of three on the Democrat-dominated
13-member Council. Since Kovach defeated Councilman Timothy
Sheldon in a special election in January to fill the vacancy
created when Paul Clark moved from the Council presidency to
succeed now-U.S. Senator Chris Coons as County Executive, he
taken what appear to be politically conservative positions on
some matters. Council has traditionally functioned in a
Sheldon, who has
steered clear of renewing their pre-election campaign sparring,
got into the budget fray by offering Kovach some 'advice'. "Come
up with some legitimate numbers [but] not at the 11th hour,"
objected to "all this nonsense about what we ought to have done"
coming at the last minute. "If he had some great budget ideas,
he should [have] come forward during the budget process, not on
the night we're going to pass the budget," Hollins said.
One of the key
points Kovach raised was a claim that Clark was proposing a 5%
pay raise for county employees. Smiley pointed out that what
actually was proposed was re-establishing pay scales in effect
before the employees took a 5% across-the-board reduction during
the present and last fiscal years. Moreover, Smiley said, the
budget anticipates concessions from current labor negotiations
that will involve or be equivalent to a new 2.5% cut.
"Is this a budget
that is truly balanced?" Kovach said, adding that it would be
"fiscally irresponsible" to enact a budget that anticipates cost
savings not actually realized.
acting chief administrative officer, replied, "If we are unable
to get that (the concessions), the County Executive will be
forced to consider reductions in force." County government is
required by law to operate with a balanced budget. Clark has
said that layoffs are the alternative to concessions. No-layoff
provisions in current labor contracts expire on June 30. The new
fiscal year begins the next day.
Kovach also noted
that the capital-spending budget calls for exceeding by two
percentage points the 20% ceiling on debt service in the sewer
budget. "Why do we set a 20% ceiling if we're not going to
observe it?" he said.
acting chief financial officer, said the three Wall Street
rating firms which all gave last year's New Castle County bond
issue their highest rating, all were aware of that. But, he
added, that was offset by the fact that county government
operates its sanitary sewer system as a utility with
fee-generated revenue covering costs.
The budget Council
enacted authorizes spending $241.9 million in fiscal year 2012.
Of that, $164 million will
finance general operations and $69 million will go to pay for
sanitary sewer services. An amendment Smiley sponsored transfers
$11,841 from the finance department to the ethics commission to
pay, for the most part, for training. The capital budget is
$46.3 million. The property tax rate remains unchanged at 70.06¢
for each $100 of assessed value in unincorporated areas, scaled
down to 24.36¢ in municipalities in proportion to the amount of
county-provided services they receive.