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Dover City Council approves property tax hike in split vote

Delaware Public Media

Property taxes are set to go up almost 20 percent in Dover, after City Council approved the hike Monday night. And it might not be the last tough call they have to make in coming weeks.


Dover is using the tax hike, up to 40.5 cents per hundred dollars of assessed property value, to balance its budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. That budget includes spending on new police and municipal improvements, like road paving.


City Council has been working to offset the hike for weeks -- but just before their final vote Monday, some council members felt they weren't finished. Newly elected Brian Lewis addressed city manager Scott Koenig:

"I believe public safety is essential. I know we have to repair the infrastructure. There's other things, though, in this budget, that I think we can nickel and dime to get this tax rate down. Help me out here," Lewis said.

"I think you are nickeling and diming if you're doing that," replied a visibly frustrated Koenig. "And the fact of the matter is, is that you don't get to a significant change to the tax."

Koenig said most residents will see less than a dollar a day increase in their property tax, with a greater impact on businesses. But he said more spending cuts would hurt the city long-term -- and they'd have to cut $300,000 in expenses to get even one more cent off the tax rate.

Even so, councilman David Anderson proposed a two cuts of under $30,000 -- to the grounds budget, and to move bonuses for higher-paid employees to a separate fund. He had Lewis on his side, but the amendments failed 7-2.

And in the end, the budget and tax hike passed 6-3, with 'no' votes from Anderson, Lewis and councilman William Hare, who felt the city should have reexamined its insurance rates to balance the books instead.

Either way, Dover isn't out of the woods yet. They're waiting to see if the state legislature will cut allocations for payment in lieu of taxes, community transportation funds and municipal street aid.

Koenig said the worst case would create a further city deficit of several hundred thousand dollars.

"If that happens, then I will be back to you saying how we're going to close the gap," he told the council. "And that will likely mean operating costs, capital projects, vehicles, all those types of things. And then we'd go to the next step of, do we have to freeze positions?"

They won't know for sure until the state legislature gavels out June 30. After that, Dover City Council's next meeting will be July 13 -- their first of the new fiscal year.

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