Wilmington City Council narrowly approves operating budget

     Wilmington City Council approved city operating budget with 7 to 6 vote.

    Wilmington City Council approved city operating budget with 7 to 6 vote.

    The Wilmington City Council approved a $151.6 million city operating budget for the next fiscal year during a council meeting Thursday night.

    The budget, proposed by Mayor Dennis Williams, D-Wilmington, was received with mixed reviews, but scraped by with a close 7 to 6 vote and does not include an increase in property taxes.

    “(The vote) represents collaborative efforts by both Council and my Administration to produce a budget that does not increase taxes, is fiscally responsible and allows the City to continue providing high quality services to our citizens,” Williams said in a statement.

    The budget is a 1.1 percent increase from fiscal year 2015, and produces a surplus of $2.1 million. It includes a council requested $600,000 to improve public safety, as well as $19 million for fire, $52.7 million for police and $9.1 million for parks and recreation.

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    While the operating budget was approved, a proposal of a zero percent increase in the water/sewer fund budget was rejected during the meeting.

    The finance committee held several budget meetings last month to review Williams’ budget for the fiscal year, beginning July 1.

    The original budget allocated $151.1 million to several entities, including police, fire and parks and recreation, but didn’t include public safety funding.

    The city council requested an additional $600,000 for public safety which will be allocated for: funding for the police academy; improved monitoring of neighborhood cameras; a camera assessment and support for the “WIlmington Initiative”,  a program created to stop criminals from returning to the streets.

    This additional financial support for public safety follows the Wilmington Public Safety Crime Strategies Commission’s recommendations to decrease Wilmington’s crimes.

    “We will continue (to evaluate) crime prevention and effective policing strategies in an effort to ensure our city is one where communities are safe, business are eager to invest and people prefer to live,” Williams said.

    Councilwoman Hanifa Shabazz said it was a difficult decision, but that it’s her responsibility to approve a balanced budget. She said improving public safety in Wilmington was a top priority for her and the other council members.

    “We need to address the public safety issues in the community, and make the environment clean and safe,” Shabazz said. “For us not to address (that) would be irresponsible on our part.”

    The revised budget also included $54,709 for the restoration of a parking regulation enforcement officer, while eliminating the same amount of funding for the personnel services line of the Finance Department budget.

    Councilwoman Loretta Walsh said several employees have received pay increases in the budget that were done through the personnel board, rather than through union negotiations.

    She added the Administration should stop overspending on top supervisors, and instead spend more attention on service workers.

    Administrative costs in the budget include $2 million for human resources, $10 million for finance and $1.6 million for planning.

    “We didn’t leave out pay adjustments when it came to certain personnel,” Walsh said during the meeting. “They’re not going to put more money in the toilet that’s flushing quickly.”

    Other council members said they don’t feel respected by the administration, and said it needs to work better with city council so more can get done to benefit the community.

    Councilman Michael Brown said in the meeting he would be willing to hold the vote until a better agreement is made.

    “We all need to be at the table to try and figure out how to help the mayor, help the citizens of the great city,” he said. “Nothing will be perfect, but we can hopefully be on the same page. And we’re not on the same page….until that happens we’re in real trouble.”

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