Wilmington faces $8 million deficit

    Delaware’s largest city is facing an $8 million budget shortfall as the mayor gets ready to unveil his budget plan.

    In one week, the leader of Delaware’s largest city will present his budget proposal.  Wilmington residents should expect both major cuts and an increase in taxes when Mayor James Baker outlines his spending plan for Fiscal Year 2011.

    Despite a number of budget cuts, Wilmington will end the current fiscal year with a deficit of about $8 million.  In a statement, Baker says, “FY 2010 has not been a good year for the city from a fiscal standpoint, and FY 2011 could be even worse.”  Baker says the economy is not recovering quickly enough, and the city will have to take steps to bridge the budget gap.

    Those steps include a review and reduction of all city department budgets.  That review, performed by Chief of Staff Bill Montgomery, resulted in $2 million is savings that will be sent to a special reserve account.  The city is also reviewing every vacant position to determine whether it’s cost effective to hire someone to fill that job.  The city has canceled its spring and fall neighborhood clean-up programs, which will save $70,000.  The city has applied for federal reimbursement in hopes of offsetting the costs of plowing streets during this winter’s heavy snowfalls.

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    Baker says more tough decisions will be announced during his budget address to Wilmington City Council next Thursday.  At two separate events earlier this week, Baker admitted that city taxes will be increased to make up the some of the shortfall.  Speaking at an event in front of  the Queen Theater on Tuesday, Baker said, “I’m raising taxes so you might as well know that, because we’re busted.  We ain’t got any money.”

    Baker added that he doesn’t mind admitting that the city needs to raise taxes.

    “It costs money.  You either want a great country, or you don’t.  You pay for it.  Great nations don’t happen cheap,” Baker said.

    Baker says the budget gap would have been significantly higher if the city had not started an aggressive campaign to collect delinquent taxes, fees and unpaid parking tickets four years ago.  That effort has brought in more than $60 million in revenue that otherwise would not have been paid to the city.

    Last month, the city announced it was considering hiring a private company to write parking tickets because city officials have been unable to improve productivity among ticket writers for several years.  Increased productivity by ticket writers would translate into extra money in the city’s coffers.

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