Higher water fees and a new ticket tax: Wilmington mayor unveils 2024 budget proposal

Purzycki says the additional revenue he wants City Council to approve is needed for when “the bills come due” in two years.

Wilimngton, Del. Mayor Mike Purzycki

Mayor Purzycki said the multipurpose Chase Fieldhouse, which opened in 2019, has been ''an unexpected revenue driver'' for the city. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Wilmington residents wouldn’t face a property increase under the fiscal 2024 budget Mayor Mike Purzycki unveiled on Thursday, but they would have to pay higher water and sewer fees.

Purzycki’s budget plan would also establish a $1 ticket tax for city events such as concerts, plays, and sports, plus an increase in the hotel tax from 2% to 3%.

In his budget address to City Council, Purzycki said the increases will stabilize the water/sewer fund, which will cost $84.2 million to run, and gird the operating budget, forecast at $183.1 million, against potential future deficits.

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The mayor’s office said the typical residential customer using 4,000 gallons of water a month would see their monthly bill increase by $3.70.

Last year, the city raised property taxes by 6%. Purzycki said that’s not necessary this year and that his tax and fee proposals — which include increases for items such as construction permits —  would generate “almost $4 million annually and get us closer to long-term financial viability” if approved.

In the short term, Purzycki said, “we can escape deficits” through the next two fiscal years, but starting with fiscal 2026, which begins July 1, 2025, “the bills come due.”

At that point, “we will simply need every additional source of revenue to balance our budgets,” he said.

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Purzycki, who is midway through his second four-year term and has said he plans to seek a third term in 2024, also cited positive developments for the city during his 20-minute address.

Since the mayor took office in 2017, nearly 2,400 apartment units have been built in the city of 71,000.

“Nearly 1,000 new apartments currently in production continue to bolster the city’s future vitality,” he said. “In doing so, we have not displaced one single resident in this city.”

Hundreds of those apartments are in long-neglected sections of the city, such as the Riverside area in Northeast Wilmington, where a post-World War II public housing development is being razed and replaced with new homes.

Purzycki also cited the success of the Chase Fieldhouse, a multipurpose sports and training facility where the 76ers minor league team, the Blue Coats, play, and where the Atlantic 10 women’s NCAA basketball tournament was recently held.

The facility, built along a gritty but transforming old industrial strip in south Wilmington,  “has become an unexpected economic driver for the city, drawing an astonishing 1.5 million participants and visitors” to the city last year, the mayor said.

He also noted the city’s focus on helping teens continue their education after high school with events that help provide scholarships to historically Black colleges and universities, such as Delaware State University in Dover.

“So, in spite of the challenges we have faced together,” Purzycki said, “we have fostered unprecedented economic development, greatly enhanced the condition of our neighborhoods, improved housing, reduced crime, stabilized our finances, and helped thousands of our children get to college.”

Council is expected to vote on the plan in late May after a series of hearings.

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