Baker goes on the offensive in budget address

While detailing his $140-million budget proposal for Wilmington, Mayor James Baker told council members he would fight them “tooth and nail” if they don’t want to work together with the administration.

Well known for his shoot-from-the-hip, plain speaking style, Baker stayed true to form Thursday night as he presented the budget and a report detailing his administration’s accomplishments over the past 10 years to members of City Council.  “This tension between Council and adversarial issues between Council and the administration has to stop.  And I’m willing to stop, but I’ll fight you tooth and nail if you want.  Doesn’t matter to me.  Either you make peace or you don’t,” Baker said.  Baker went away from his prepared remarks and warned of war with Council for the remainder of his term if they didn’t work with his administration.  “You want to have war for 600 more days fine.  We will have it,  and you will have it beyond the 600 days when I’m finished.  You can shake your head, i’m just telling you.”

Before going off of his notes and blasting Council, Baker presented some brief bullet points of his budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2012, which is more than $7 million less than the current budget.  The proposal includes a 5% property tax increase and a 16% increase in water and sewer fees.  Baker’s plan also includes the elimination of the city’s Fourth of July celebration, and it also cuts out three city holidays including Good Friday and Columbus Day.  

In order to raise some revenue, Baker is trying to get state lawmakers to pass legislation to allow the city to use speed enforcement cameras against drivers who violate the speed limit it school zones and work zones.  Baker is also proposing that union employees increase their out-of-pocket contribution to their annual health care costs, just as non-union City employees did in FY 2011.

Baker told city lawmakers that time is running out. “The next mayor coming in, if we don’t fix these things, is going to have a hell of a problem on their hands.   Now, that won’t bother me, but it certainly will bother you.  [It] certainly will bother the next mayor.  And if we don’ t do these things, there is a question mark about how long the city can keep playing games over its own survival.”

City Council President Norman Griffiths took exception to Baker’s demeanor and the way he slammed his hand on the lectern.  Griffiths says  he’s willing to work with everybody to make Wilmington a better place, “But that comes from talking and that comes from thinking.  That doesn’t come with slamming your fist on something or breaking pencils.  You can’t get anything done with violence, and I just think that we were totally disrespected tonight.”  

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