Proposed Wilmington budget grows by 4.8 percent

Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki's $162 million budget for fiscal year 2019 doesn't include a property tax increase, but would increase water and sewer fees by 4 percent.(File/WHYY)

Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki's $162 million budget for fiscal year 2019 doesn't include a property tax increase, but would increase water and sewer fees by 4 percent.(File/WHYY)

Mayor Mike Purzycki’s $162 million budget for fiscal year 2019 doesn’t include a property tax increase, but would increase water and sewer fees in Wilmington by 4 percent.

The spending plan Purzycki presented to Wilmington City Council members is a 4.8 percent increase over the current operating budget. The bulk of that $7.4 million spending increase is due to a $2.6 million rise in city salary costs, he said. That includes funding a new labor contract for city police officers and adding four new inspectors in the Department of Licenses and Inspections.

“We worked hard with the FOP and the captains and inspectors to reach four-year agreements that were overwhelmingly accepted by the membership,” Purzycki said in prepared remarks. “My administration identified submarket salaries for our police officers and command staff as a problem in retaining personnel, and as the source of low morale among the rank and file.”

Fighting crime in Wilmington has been an ongoing battle for years. During his budget address, Purzycki pointed to progress in that fight to reduce crime and violence. “After finishing last year with record levels of violent crime, the trends are encouraging,” he said.

Through the first two and a half months of 2018, overall crime is down 8 percent compared with 2017, Purzycki said. Shootings are down 56 percent, while homicides are down 40 percent.

“It is far too early to declare victory, but we feel very good about the direction of our police department and its management of public safety,” Purzycki said.

He credited Police Chief Bob Tracy with the lower crime numbers. Tracy has implemented a data-driven policing system and a deployment strategy that emphasizes personal relationships and community engagement.

Purzycki warned council members that budget deficits loom, and he stressed the importance of council working together to improve the city’s fiscal condition.

“I ask you to consider that this administration has tried so very hard to put our city on the right path,” Purzycki said. “Government’s fundamental inefficiency sometimes frustrates our highest aspirations … but this is our chosen responsibility and our highest calling.”

While there’s no call for an increase in property taxes, Purzycki is asking for a 4 percent increase in water and sewer fees. That increase, recommended by the Utility Citizens Advisory Board, will fully fund a 60-day reserve for the water/sewer/stormwater budget for the first time.

Purzycki also gave his assessment of the state of the city, calling it “good.” He said the city’s health is improving, but added, “There is still a long way to go to get to what we all imagine our city can be.”

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