Greenwood faces tough decisions on raising revenue

Greenwood faces tough decisions on raising revenue
Greenwood town hall on Thursday. 

The town of Greenwood has lost a key part of its income and now faces some tough decisions on its budget.

With a fiscal year that follows the calendar year, Greenwood works out its budget details every year around this time, and the town council had a workshop Thursday evening for the purpose.

The biggest reason for the town’s budget crunch is the loss of sewer revenue after Sussex County took over the wastewater. The town had partnered with Bridgeville on wastewater, Mayor Donald Donovan said, but the system needed expensive work done and the county agreed to take it over, a move town leaders say Greenwood didn’t have much of a choice in.

Last year’s budget counted on $340,000 in sewer revenues. This year’s tally: $0.

Council members were in agreement that something would have to give but not ready to decide on what that would be, although some suggested a tax or fee increase would be needed.

“We’ve got to make up this money somewhere,” Town Manager Janet Todd said.

“Where’s the money coming from?” Vice Mayor Willard Russell asked at one point. “We don’t have it. Unfortunately, we’re not the federal government, we can’t print it.”

“I’m as against raising taxes as anyone else in town,” Council member Mike Moran said, “because I have to pay it too.” But he conceded that the council might have to go that route.

The town will have to deal with the shortfall “sooner rather than later,” Donovan said, especially because it is about $140,000 in the red with this year’s budget.  

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Greenwood, a town with an estimated population of around 1,200, does not have a large budget compared to many municipalities. Its annual budget has actually declined since 2014, when it was $1.2 million, staying fairly steady but below that point since. It was $1.1 million in 2020 before a significant bounce to almost $1.7 million in 2021, a bit of an anomaly with more than $400,000 in extra grant money. That was for water main work, Town Manager Janet Todd said.

For comparison, neighboring Bridgeville’s net revenue in Fiscal Year 2020 was around $2 million per its financial statements, and its expenses were about $1.7 million. Bridgeville has more than double Greenwood’s population.  

One major expense for Greenwood, like in other towns and cities, is the police department. In 2020, Greenwood budgeted around 40 percent of its income on policing. For comparison, Blades, a similar size to Greenwood although closer to a larger community in Seaford, planned to spend about 30 percent of its budget on police in Fiscal Year 2021.

The historical cost of running Greenwood's police department is difficult to pin down from past budgets, because before 2020 the town's recent budgets did not include a specific breakdown of police department costs. In the last two budgets, the projected costs were about $480,000 and $420,000, respectively. Of that, payroll and benefits are a large factor.

For Greenwood, police income from fines, tickets, state grants and the like actually covers a chunk of the expenses of running the department. It had a projected shortfall of only $160,000 in 2020 and $70,000 in 2021, per town budgets.

Greenwood’s police department, like others in southern Delaware small towns, has for a long time been legendary for its competence at pulling over drivers on their way through town who do not hew very closely to the posted speed. It’s still a familiar sight to see the flashing lights on Market Street behind an unwary driver, often in a car with out-of-state tags. (This reporter, in fact, learned to drive during the department’s speeder-busting heyday and still remains cautious when driving through towns pretty much anywhere, just in case they have the same exacting standards as Greenwood, Ellendale or Felton officers.)

If you don’t see quite as many flashing lights anymore, it may be because the department has shrunk in the past few years, from five officers to three including Chief Brent Raughley. (It could be, too, that word has gotten around in the speeding community.)

The projected income in the budget for the police department is a little lower than it has been in past years, and police are not raking in millions on speeding tickets if you were wondering. The department’s projected income in budgets since 2014 averages around $370,000. A sizable chunk of that money does come from fines, but there’s also a good bit from other sources like grants each year.

Blades didn’t come nearly as close to funding its department with police revenue. It had a projected shortfall in FY 21 of about $262,000. The two towns are close when it comes to total budgeted police expenses: About $420,000 for Greenwood in the past year’s budget, and almost $340,000 for Blades.

“(This is) one of the cheapest police departments in the state, if not the cheapest,” Chief Raughley told the council. He said he doesn’t know how he could shrink the deficit any more, and even the cost of the paper for tickets has gone up.

For the coming year, the police department suggested three funding options for Council to consider, from $427,000 up to $472,000. The plan with the lowest price tag would not give police a cost of living increase in wages or cover a new part-time officer.

The proposals for next year would leave the town with a projected shortfall of $92,000 to $137,000 with regard to the police department.

The council will consider the budget again at its meeting next week.

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