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State lawmakers grab bigger share of realty transfer tax

Delaware Public Media

State lawmakers voted to cut a share of the realty transfer tax given to all three counties Monday, but it won’t take effect until 2016.

Once in place, the move will raise about $20 million, but it represents significant portions of municipal and county budgets – many of which are already in place for the next fiscal year.

The plan would’ve been effective July 1, but Sen. Bruce Ennis (D-Smyrna) amended the proposal to delay implementation.

“I can’t tell you how devastating this will be to Kent County and municipalities in Kent County,” Ennis said.

“I don’t like this at all, but it’s something we’ll have to do if we don’t solve the revenue problem,” said Sen. Brian Bushweller (D-Dover), noting next year’s budget deficit totals $40.3 million factoring in no growth.

That number swells to nearly $170 million factoring in a three percent increase to the budget.

Sen. Karen Peterson (D-Stanton) said counties need to take more responsibility for reassessing their properties, claiming that some hadn’t done that for decades.

“If they need a kick in the seat of the pants to get moving then let’s do this,” Peterson said.

The Joint Finance Committee also cut their funding for state trooper positions in Sussex County, which will now be borne by local residents, saving another $1.2 million.

“We’ve assumed a lot of responsibilities back from the counties without charging them for it and so given that, this is the year we finally need to make those equal,” said co-chair Rep. Melanie George Smith (D-Bear).

In total, the group adopted about $6.9 million in cuts Monday, but will partially fund some items for one year with a portion of  a $25 million settlement with financial giant Standard & Poor’s.

$15 million of that may also go toward extra money to fund capital projects, said Smith.

Co-chair Sen. Harris McDowell (D-Wilmington North) says he also anticipates axing the $3 million allocated to both the open space and farmland preservation funds to net more cash, though that vote would be taken by the Joint Bond Bill Committee.

Another $2 million cut from grant-in-aid is also expected.

“What we have to do here is work with what we’re given and what we’re given is a difficult situation,” McDowell said.

JFC still hasn’t voted to adopt or eliminate Gov. Jack Markell’s (D) proposed cut to a senior citizen property tax credit totaling $12.6 million.

None of another $36 million in settlement money from Bank of America and Citigroup has been divvied up, with McDowell saying he wants to hold it over until fiscal year 2017.

The committee will meet again Wednesday morning to finalize the operating budget. Work will begin on the capital budget soon after, with the grant-in-aid bill finalized shortly before legislators gavel out of session June 30.

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