New Castle County Executive Meyer Faces Tough Crowd At Townsend Town Hall Meeting

New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer held a town hall meeting on Monday night, May 14 at the Townsend Fire Hall, to announce his proposed budget that features a tax increase. Meyer is holding these meetings at all 12 county districts and faced a tough crowd in the 6th District where many in attendance are not happy with a raise in taxes when they feel the MOT area is not getting its fair share of county services.

Joining Meyer was the 6th District representative Bill Powers and 12th District representative Bill Bell who also serves part of the MOT area. New Castle County Council president Karen Hartley-Nagle was also in attendance and she told Middletown Radio that she was there to hear the opinions of southern county residents. Other elected officials in attendance were 9th District State Representative Kevin Hensley,  Townsend mayor Rudy Sutton, Townsend councilwoman Lorraine Gorman, Townsend town council-elect Edgar Dugan, and Middletown town councilman Howard Young. 6th district county council candidate Dave Carter was also in attendance.

Meyer began by citing his accomplishments in office including meeting national standards on answering 911 calls, developing solar energy, implementing better police technology, increasing collection of delinquent taxes, converting vacant homes to livable ones, and getting more opioid users into treatment programs as well as increasing the availability of NARCAN to revive overdose victims. Meyer said that the county’s problem is that they are spending more than the revenue they are bringing in and cited spending commitments made by the prior administration. He added that by 2019, the county will exhaust its financial reserves at its current rate of spending.  Meyer cited the county’s goals as living within its means while keeping property taxes competitive, reduce debt spending, govern honestly and efficiently, and collaborate with other agencies for services.

Meyer said that despite cuts the county has made, without a tax increase, he says that services such as paramedics would have to be cut, and the county would have to close some libraries and parks. He said the proposed tax increase would cost the average resident around $165 a year. Meyer also wants residents to contact their state legislators to pass legislation that would allow the county to collect a 3% hotel tax, and to reinstate the state reimbursement to counties for paramedic services to 50%. The state has dropped their reimbursement from 60% to 24% over the past several years. Meyer said that even with the tax increase, New Castle County will still have a better tax rate than all surrounding counties with the exception of Kent and Sussex counties in Delaware where Meyer says those counties save money by not having county police forces.

The county had residents participate in an online survey with various questions designed to gauge residents’ opinions on various issues. In answer to the first question on giving one word to explain what you like best about where you live, the two most prominent responses were “growth” and “rural”. A question about how would you balance the budget, around 75% said a combination of cuts and tax increase while 25% said strictly cuts. Finally, in answer to what they would like the county executive to know, the most prominent response was “poor paramedic response” times.

Paramedic and other public safety concerns dominated the question and answer session with residents. Some of the residents expressed concern that Meyer has said he will not build the $3.9 million southern county paramedic station which is unanimously supported by the county council while others defended his response that the county budget can’t support a new station when what the county needs are more paramedics. Meyer said it doesn’t make financial sense to build the station if the county can’t afford to hire the paramedics to staff it. Supporters of the station say that the station would also provide training services which are needed in the state.  While some of the residents vehemently spoke out against any sort of a tax increase, others said they would support an increase if the county could guarantee that the southern part of the county would actually benefit from an increase in services. One resident told Meyers that as county executive, he is paying the price for broken promises from his predecessors.  County Council member Bill Powers, who represents the western part of the MOT area including Middletown and Townsend, said that with the growing population of the southern part of the county and the stagnant growth in the northern part of the county, more of county services should be shifted to the southern half of the county. Many residents said they are paying for services like police that they say they aren’t receiving from the county as some cited that they receive police patrols in their neighborhoods from the Delaware State Police and not from the county police. Townsend mayor Rudy Sutton said that any county tax increase should be used to provide southern residents the same services that northern residents get.

Some residents brought up other concerns and offered possible revenue sources. One elderly resident asked if paramedics could be so involved in responding to opioid overdoses that they wouldn’t be able to respond to her if she has a medical emergency. Meyer assured her that she would receive the help. One resident asked if the county can raise impact fees on new homes and developments to help pay for the demand on services those homes and developments create.  Townsend councilman-elect Edgar Dugan said that the county needs to go after the banks to collect taxes on “zombie houses”, homes that have been foreclosed and abandoned and that the banks should be forced to take the titles and be responsible for the taxes and upkeep.

Photo credits: Keith Thompson

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