Wilmington’s budget message Thursday is a bitter pill to swallow for some members of city council.
Mayor James Baker delivered his budget plan to Wilmington City Council Thursday night in a speech that started with a recap of some of the worse plights the city has seen over the last few decades. Baker said, “Believe me when I tell you, Wilmington has seen bad times before. But despite whatever challenges we’ve faced, this city has never stopped trying to bring prosperity to its residents.”
That dire recitation of some of the city’s lowest points, including occupation by federal troops following race riots in the 1960’s, prepared city lawmakers for Baker’s proposals to cut spending and increase taxes. Those ideas didn’t sit will with some City Council members.
Councilman Stephen Martelli (D- 8th District) says, “My immediate reaction is I can’t support a tax increase.” He says the 15% property tax increase will be especially hard on residents in his district with higher property values. “I have probably one of the wealthier districts out there, with some of the biggest and most expensive homes. That’s going to be a significant impact upon that constituency out there, and it’s going to really impact the entire city.” Martelli says it will be a tough proposal for any council member to support.
The tax increase and the increase in water and sewer fees is also troubling for Councilman Kevin Kelley (D- 6th District). He says he’s also concerned about some of the cuts Baker has proposed. Kelley says he especially has issues with the decision to cut the Summer Youth Employment Program from 250 jobs to 60. “No summer jobs, cuts in the parks department. It’s tough to be a young person in the city of Wilmington.” He says, “As a council, we’ve got to look at the budget and see what other cuts can be made.”
The councilmen have different opinions on the proposal to reduce the number of police patrol positions by six. Martelli, who was a member Wilmington Police Department for 14 years, says “You hate to see any positions to be eliminated.” But, he says the impact of the cuts won’t be as damaging because of the recent addition of 16 officers to the force. He says the city needs to reexamine the way the city’s police force is run, “We need to really look at the way our police department is deployed and maybe reassess the way things are done today.”
Kelley agrees with the need to reexamine the way the police department is run, but he thinks Baker should have gone further with his proposal to reduce the size of the department. “I don’t have problem with reducing six positions. I’d reduce more.” Kelley says, “I think the police department needs to be managed better and deliver its services better to the city.”
City Council will host a series of budget hearings over the next two months before voting on Baker’s budget proposal.