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The Lewes City Council is planning to raise parking rates at beach lots to shrink its remaining $35,000 budget deficit.

The clock is ticking to approve the nearly $6 million budget before the 2018 fiscal year starts April 1.

A raise of the parking rate at Beach Parking Lots 1 and 2 would take a big chunk out of the deficit, which was originally around $150,000. The increase was informally decided at the March 9 budget workshop. It won't be finalized until a special session on Monday, March 20, which will be held before the regular council meeting.

The rate increase from $1.50 an hour to $2 an hour is expected to generate nearly $90,000.

The remaining deficit is small, and the city is in good financial condition, Council Treasurer Bonnie Osler said. The city has sufficient prior year reserves to comfortably offset the rest of the deficit, and she advised that the council consider that course.

Weeks of whittling away at the deficit involved a lot of hard choices, including the cancellation of one city project, Osler said after a March 16 budget workshop meeting.

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An unknown factor in the budgeting is the ongoing negotiation with the Teamsters Union on behalf of the city police department. The result could add to the deficit and may force a budget amendment after the deadline.

An unexpected contributor to the deficit was landscaping costs for the new public library, which exceeded projections by nearly 300 percent. The council agreed to see if that cost goes down in the second year of operation before insisting the library board take on a larger share of the expenses.

Still on the table is an increase of the downtown parking rate from $1 to $1.25, which might generate an additional $41,000.

Mayor Ted Becker is for the increase, pointing out that the city recently tacked on a 50-cent transaction surcharge to use the Park Mobile app with the city's parking meters. The increase met no resistance from app users.

Becker clarified that the parking rate has not changed in three years.

Deputy Mayor Fred Beaufort is wary that there may not be enough time before the deadline to adequately analyze the effects of that increase.

The council members generally agreed that any increase must be considered with caution.

Becker, recently returned from a National League of Cities conference, suggested raising the gross receipts tax as has been done in Seattle.

"Our seasonal rentals are serving the same role as a hotel," he said.

Osler, however, pointed out that Lewes' 5 percent tax is already "at the top of the heap," and cautioned against increasing it further.

"I'm comfortable we've got the deficit down to a good level," Beaufort said.

The council might consider removing streets from an upcoming repair contract to free up additional funds. This can be done without requiring new bids on the contract, City Manager Paul Eckrich said.

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