Concerns as Wilmington City Council reviews budget

With formal budget hearings behind them, Wilmington City Council members will take the next few days for review before a scheduled May 16 vote.

City council concluded a series of seven public hearings concerning Mayor Dennis Williams’ fiscal year 2014 city budget. As council determines its position, Council President Theo Gregory and Finance Committee Chair Charles “Bud” Freel have expressed some of their concerns about the budget as is.

Mayor Williams presented his budget in March, which called for a 12 percent water/sewer rate increase that would kick in July 1. Since city residents are continually being asked to pay more, Freel is calling for the creation of separate budget accounts for water, sewer, stormwater and the fund’s reserve account as a way to give the public the transparency over the fund it deserves.

“For the last several years, we have been increasing rates so that the water/sewer fund can stand on its own, have its own operating funds and we’re trying to build up a 60-day reserve of funds, but at the end of the year if you say, ‘Well where are the reserve funds,’ you can’t point to an account and say, ‘There they are,’ because they’re comingled with the general budget fund,” Freel said.

Chief among Coucil President Gregory’s concerns is the Williams administration’s intention to use money from the city’s economic development and housing stategic funds to balance the budget. Typically those accounts are tapped to promote business growth and improve city neighborhoods.

“The president doesn’t like the fact that the administration is now proposing to deplete these funds and divert attention from important issues like jobs and neighborhood growth,” said council spokesman John Rago.

Freel says previous administrations have also used this budget balancing maneuver, but never as the only way to balance the scales.

Gregory and Freel are also troubled by the mayor’s proposal to give raises to a few of his appointees who have only been on the job for four months.

“We have some employees that have not received a raise in the last 4 or 5 years,” Freel said. “And then to have somebody new come in and be working for the city [for] a couple months, and they’re already being put in for an increase just does not seem right and I just don’t think it sends the right message to the rest of the employees.”

Additional concerns: the city’s plan to improve public safety and a change to the fire department’s rolling bypass system calling for the removal of one piece of fire equipment from service for only 15 days a month. Currently, one piece of equipment is timed out each day. Council says the revision will increase overtime costs for the city, not reduce it.

Council votes on the city’s FY 2014 budget in two weeks.

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