Media Courthosue

Delaware County Courthouse.

MEDIA — It has no proposed tax increase - for now - and only one member of the public voiced concerns with the $358 million county budget being presented. But some county council members found issues of perceptual concern.

The 2020 spending plan got two airings Wednesday – one in the morning at the county council meeting and then another public unveiling at night, where only one member of the public voiced his concern before the 16-minute hearing was adjourned. The total county tax bill would be 0.54 cents on each $100 of assessed value, or $540 for a $100,000 home.

That one member was Zurdi Dobi of Tinicum, who, as he has annually as far back as 2011, voiced his concern about the county's portion of an agreement signed with the Philadelphia International Airport to settle the legal battles surrounding the facility's proposed runway extension. It guaranteed $1.8 million annually to three taxing agencies - the Interboro School District, Delaware County and Tinicum. Based on the agreement, the funds were to be split evenly three ways.

Dobi felt that was unfair and that the school district, which receives the larger portion of real estate taxes on a property, should get more.

So, he took his case to council as he has many years in the past.

"I'm here to protest your receiving the unjust enrichment of $621,000 in the airport agreement, which means that you're ... receiving overpayment of more than $381,000 each year for the five years that you have been receiving it, which means a total of more than $1.5 million," he said. 

Then, Dobi dipped into more recent issues, noting the "corruption tax" referenced by county Councilman Brian Zidek.

"He said that there was a 5 percent corruption tax," Dobi said. "Five percent of your budget is more than $17 million ... so I want to know if there's a corruption tax that if you're going to address that because you had a year to address that issue and identify any area in which $17 million could be cut from the taxes."

Dobi asked Zidek to present information related to that next week.

For consideration is the county's operational budget of $358 million. A large bulk of human services provided are funded by federal and state funds to the tune of $326 million, separate from the county's operational budget.

The bulk of the county's operation budget is funded through property taxes.

"Almost 50 percent of our revenue, actually 48 percent of the county's revenue, comes from taxes," county Executive Director Marianne Grace said, adding that that is anticipated to be $171.8 million in 2020. 

Other funding comes from $90.5 million in federal and state grants, such as Medical Assistance and Medicare received for the care at Fair Acres Geriatric Center; $40.4 million in other income from court costs and fines, commissions for tax claim, $7.5 million in gaming revenue and DUI program costs; $32.2 million in departmental earnings; and $23.2 million from the unassigned fund balance, which got quite a bit of attention earlier that day along with the pension fund.

That morning, during the county council meeting, Zidek addressed the potential pension increase being considered by the county's Pension Board, which won't vote on the measure until Dec. 12, after the county budget has been adopted.

County Director of Budget Management James P. Hayes explained how that increase would effect the general budget.

"In the 2020 budget, you'd have to add either $1.47 million spread over five years or $500,000 spread over 10 years," he said.

"Obviously," Zidek said, "granting a cost of living increase is a great thing for the retirees of Delaware County, not such a great thing for the taxpayers of Delaware County. It's a zero-sum game."

Then he and county council Chairman John McBlain got into a tiff over whether Zidek supported or opposed a cost of living raise for the retirees, which county council Vice Chairman Colleen Morrone said hasn't occurred since 2005.

"What I'm pointing out is that it's a zero-sum game," Zidek said. "If we give a cost of living increase to the retirees of Delaware County and perhaps one should, it comes at the expense of taxpayers. I know you as a soon-to-be-retiree obviously may have a vested interest in having this cost of living increase."

To which McBlain responded, "I appreciate you not making those types of comments or accusations ... I will retire and this cost of living increase would be for those retirees from 2018 prior. You constantly want to try to paint something that I'll vote to benefit myself or somebody (I know)."

"I wish I didn't have that feeling," Zidek said. "It's just a recurring feeling I have. Perhaps I need therapy, I don't know."

That was followed by debate about how much of the pension fund is funded with two different valuations - a market valuation and an actuarial valuation, which placed the funding at 107 percent.

"The way actuaries do it is they come up with some odd smoothing method where they say, 'Let's take a look at the decrease in value over the past five years and we'll smooth it out,'" Zidek said. "When I look at my account, I don't say, 'Well, geez, it has $100,000 in it but I know the stocks went down but I'm not going to realize all of the decrease in that until five years from now.'"

McBlain retorted, "When I look at my 401(k) accounts, it's a very simple statement. I'm sure yours are much more complex and you have many more consultants that deal with your millions of dollars but I don't have that. All I can do is base what I do based upon the reports that we receive from the county's actuaries for the pension fund."

Regarding the fund balance, Hayes said the reserves stand at $64 million and a minimum of 10 percent of general fund revenues is required to be set aside, which would be approximately $26 million.

McBlain noted that using monies from the fund balance has been a regular practice and that one time in the last 10 years, there was a deficit. Last year, he said, county officials used $17 million from the fund balance to fuel the budget and then $10 million was returned to the reserves.

"So the alternative to budgeting the use of any fund balance ... ," McBlain said.

"Would be a tax increase," Hayes said as both he and Zidek continued, "or a reduction in expenditures."

"We always talk about how the only option we have is to raise taxes," Zidek said. "That's not the only option that we have. We can reduce expenditures."

McBlain then asked Hayes if he had received any proposed expenditure reductions from council members or Grace. Hayes said no.

Both McBlain and Zidek have Juris Doctorates. 

A final hearing on the county budget is scheduled at the regular county council meeting 10 a.m. Wednesday in the county council meeting room at the Government Center at 201 W. Front St. in Media.

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