Wilmington city council can’t override Williams veto over fire cuts

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 (Shana O'Malley/for NewsWorks)

(Shana O'Malley/for NewsWorks)

The City of Wilmington Fire Department will get to keep $500,000 in their operating budget.

Earlier this month Wilmington City Council passed an ordinance to remove the money from the fire department’s budget which would cut eight vacant positions.

Council members in support of the ordinance claimed the cuts were needed to reduce government waste and save money in thecity’s budget.

The department cuts were recommending in the Berkshire Advisors Report, a management and operational study which was conducted within the fire department.

However, Mayor Dennis Williams said public safety was not the best place to make such cuts and vetoed the ordinance.

Tuesday’s meeting was not a regularly scheduled council session.  On July 12th there was an 8-5 vote to cut the fire deparment.  Williams vetoed the measure 10 days later as the 5 council members opposed to the cuts stood behind the mayor.  At the Tuesday night’s city council meeting nine votes were needed to override the mayor’s veto. The final vote was 7-6 vote.

“That’s the problem is trying to agree where you’re going to make cuts,” said Council President Theo Gregory. “Everybody wants cuts but the challenge is agreeing where you make your cuts.”

Gregory added that he thought council was in agreement to override the veto and said he was “disappointed” in the last minute change.

“Up to the last minute folks said they were going to vote for it but that’s their right and I have to respect the fact that they voted the way they did,” he said.

The ordinance has brought out strong opinions from the firefighting community. Council chambers were packed with spectators and firefighters who cheered as the override was defeated.  

Wilmington Fire Chief Anthony Goode said his department has already made cuts and is working with less. The department cut their current fiscal year budget by $347,000. They were able to get back $225,000 in state and county assistance.

“For the city of Wilmington Fire Department, this means a lot because right now we’re running at a strained level as it is and to be able to maintain these positions and hire some new blood to fill them is going to help us out.”

Gregory said council is going to go back to the drawing board and will continue to look for ways to trim spending.

“We’re going to study the budgets from the last three to five years,” Gregory said. “We’re going to see some trends and where we can find cuts, we’ll see what we can do in the next budget cycle to make cuts.”

He also addressed criticism for flying Councilman Michael Brown back to Wilmington from his Florida vacation so he could vote on the measure.

“We looked at how many [council members] would be out on a certain day,” he explained. “We had some days where two were out, some days where one was out and we picked a day when we thought we could get the person back and we got them back on city business to do city business to vote on the veto override.”

The trip cost taxpayers nearly $1,000.

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