Wilmington passes budget with property tax hike, but mayor says it doesn’t do enough

Wilmington approved the city’s first property tax hike in five years, but Mayor Mike Purzycki says it doesn’t do enough to raise revenue and could lead to layoffs.

A street with cars in Wilmington, Del. is visible.

File photo: Market Street is seen with minimal activity on Thursday March 26, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. (Saquan Stimpson for WHYY)

Wilmington’s $177 million budget approved by City Council Thursday increases property taxes for the first time in five years. Property owners will see their tax bills increase 6%. Water and sewer rates will rise by 5%.

Council used $12 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to balance the budget, in addition to eliminating 15 positions in city government, including seven vacant spots in the police department.

“As a city, we still face many of the long-term structural effects of COVID, however, I believe as a city we are poised to continue rising above and building back a stronger Wilmington,” Councilman Chris Johnson said in a statement. Johnson, who leads the council’s Finance and Economic Development Committee, said the budget “signifies the city’s commitment to doubling down on neighborhood revitalization and also creative solutions to public safety.”

Purzycki’s budget proposal delivered to Council in March included a 7.5% property tax increase, which was lowered to 6% in the final budget.

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Council President Trippi Congo was unhappy with the budget plan and urged the rest of council to delay action on the budget before the vote Thursday night. “We don’t have to vote on this budget this evening,” Congo said. “I wish that my council members understood how powerful we are right now. This is the one time we have the power.”

He said Council doesn’t wield its control over the city budget enough. “We just shut this budget down, get back together with each other, figure out where we can. We can put money in different departments.”

Congo was one of three council members to vote against the spending plan.

Following the budget vote, Mayor Mike Purzycki questioned whether lawmakers went far enough to increase city revenue.

“The approved tax increase was less than what I asked for and will be inadequate as we face stiff budgetary headwinds in the foreseeable future,” Purzycki said in a statement. “My arguments for a higher tax increase will be vindicated in upcoming budgets when we confront the reality of either having to drastically cut positions or find other revenue sources.”

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“This was a very challenging budget this year,” said 5th District Council Member Bregetta Fields. “It required a lot of negotiation with the administration to get to a budget compromise, but I believe this budget will move the city forward considering the declining revenues.”

Despite his criticism, Purzycki said the tax increase, even though smaller than he wanted, still buys the city time to adjust to what could be more difficult budget challenges in the coming years.

“While we didn’t do enough in this budget, we have at least bought ourselves some time to formulate the strategies necessary for a sound fiscal future.”

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