Thursday, January 6, 2011

Blaskowitz lays out his report

Yesterday, Dace Blaskovitz, who set New Castle County a buzz with his report on county government finances and their dire situation, wrote an op-ed in which he detailed what he believes is the problem with county government.  His report received lots of attention when columnist Ron Williams wrote his own opinion piece agreeing with Dace.  Blaskovitz states that "NCCo government is simply unsustainable" in his report and points out that "from 2005 to 2010, NCCo property tax rates increased 55 percent. Sewer rates increased more than 60 percent from 2005 to 2011."  Despite these increases, New Castle County government outspent revenues and blew through a previous surplus.  "From 2000 to 2009, pension assets increased $9 million, while the county's unfunded accrued actuarial liabilities increased over $140 million."  This includes problems like "The county pension assets currently total about $350 million", and "The retiree health care cost is a nearly $250 million unspoken future black cloud."

Blaskovitz takes particular aim at the county's pension, retiree health care and the number of employees because the county has let things get so out of control.  He cites an example of retired New Castle County police officers who "receive a never-ending, no-cap 3 percent compounding COLA. Therefore, most NCCo police will average...the same compensation in their retirement as when they were employed. For reference, an NCCo police officer with five years experience is paid around $85,000 a year (in salary alone)."  Dace points out that 75% of the county's spending occurs in the personnel field.  The size of county government is astounding, the county employs around 1,500 people and most are full time employees.  This places New Castle County government in the list as the 5th largest employer in the State of Delaware, with more employees than Barclays Bank and ING Direct combined (state government is the largest).  New Castle County has "Almost 100 full-time county employees are paid close to or more than $100,000. With few exceptions, gold-plated health care extends to the grave."

Blaskovitz smacks readers in the face with his honest assessment of the county financial situation (where was this in October when former County Executive Chris Coons was lying to the public about New Castle County I wonder) when he writes, "after years of delaying executive decisions, hoping an economic bounce would magically undo the dilemma, dwindling reserves are now forcing a day of reckoning."  Dace further points out that the unions aren't done asking for more and more county tax payers.  He doesn't just spotlight the county problems, Dace presents solutions that I for one agree with.  He suggests that "citizens should demand a reduction in head-count. NCCo's actuary has pension and health care proposals waiting for action. Salaries have to reflect the balance sheet. Perhaps a spending oversight board would assist in fiscal restraint."  He even calls for the possibility of merging or consolidating New Castle County, municipal and city infrastructure where practicable which is something that Republican County Council President candidate Tom Kovach has pointed to as an area he would work to attack immediately.  While the Democrats who joined Blaskovitz and Republican Wayne Smith on the committee that put together the report issued a suggestion that the county raise taxes AGAIN, Dace suggests that " it is unconscionable for "revenue enhancements" to even be mentioned in our report."  He calls for county government to tighten its belt instead of heaping their bad financial practices on the people of Delaware.

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