Wilmington’s Fiscal Year 2016 Budget reflects both sacrifice from city departments and some increases.
In Mayor Dennis Williams’ State of the City address on Thursday, he outlined uncontrollable costs, public safety, education and economic development. As far as the Fiscal Year 2016 General Fund Budget, the mayor announced that there will be no tax increases. The budget expenditures total $151,115,292, a 0.7 percent increase from last year. The proposed budget still has to be approved by the City Council.
“We are committed to reducing violent crime, providing quality services to our citizens and supporting the growth and development of our young,” Mayor Williams said during his third address.
Uncontrollable costsAccording to Williams there were a number of fiscal challenges due to cost increases that just can’t be ignored. Approximately $2 million of the Fiscal Year 2016 General Budget included increases because of three major responsibilities. The mayor noted debt service to fund critical infrastructure projects has increased $1million. Also employee pension and pension health care expenses increased $863,500. Finally, landfill fees to dispose of yard waste and leaves increased $131,400.
“These costs cannot be ignored. We must adequately support our employees, we must protect our environment and we must pay our debts,” Williams said.
For the first time in history the mayor added that the City will even pay for the water services used by City Departments. The details are outlined in the Fiscal Year 2016 budget that marks a four-year phase where the City will charge itself for water, sewer, and storm water services.
“Paying to use our water doesn’t come cheap, it will cost an additional $264,000 from the general fund budget,” Williams said prior to highlighting sacrifices all City Departments made to ensure financial stability in Wilmington.
As a result shared sacrifice of all City Departments allows the budget to stay well below the rate of inflation and keep essential services and programs active.
Mayor Williams also said operating budget will continue to support Delaware’s water supply. In fact there will be no increase to water, sewer and storm-water rates. The mayor also addressed City employees who haven’t had a pay increase in six years.
“While there is no cost of living adjustment included in this proposed budget, I am proud to share that we are currently in negotiations with several of our labor unions, and will, in the near future, initiate negotiations,” Williams said.
Public Safety issues While Wilmington has been tagged by many a dangerous city, the mayor during his address reassured people that public safety remains a top priority.
“Building strong and safe neighborhoods requires all levels of government, the business district, religious leaders and members of the community working together,” Williams said.
To date, the Wilmington Police Department has partnered with the New Castle County Police Department to tackle crime and implemented ‘Operation Disrupt’ which increases police presence in crime invested communities.
“We are headed in the right direction,” expressed Williams who said the launch of ‘Operation Disrupt’ brought homicides down 40 percent.
Despite multiple shootings in January, the mayor highlighted a number of crimes that are down due to the recent initiative. The mayor said shootings are down 62 percent, robberies are down 61 percent and burglaries are down 26 percent compared to the month of January.
Bottom line, Williams said, he made it a point to remind people that things are in place to address crime. He pointed to the city’s first homicide unit, the police Citizen Advisory Group charged with identifying community concerns regarding public safety and law enforcement and the Cease Violence initiative.
Cease Violence staff members also known as interrupters are considered mediators and are sent to hospitals to talk at-risk youth out of gun violence retaliation and much more.
“The violence interrupters have mediated 18 altercations and resolved each of the conflicts before any gun-related violence or retaliation occurred. By resolving those 18 conflicts, we potentially saved 18 lives,” said Williams who also announced that 34 new police officers will join the Wilmington Police Department.
Economic Development and Education
Mayor Williams also spent some time talking about economic development and the importance of education especially when it comes to the youth. Downtown Wilmington and the Riverfront are two areas where corporations are investing in Wilmington as well small business owners the mayor said.
“The opening of the Stratosphere Trampoline Park, Horizon Riverfront Ice Skating Rink and new dining options support existing attractions like Penn Cinema IMAX theater and Kalmar Nyckle to continually attract residents and visitors to the Riverfront and downtown Wilmington,” Williams added.
In regards to education, it’s no secret that city schools are considered high-poverty, which is why finding the funding to address a wide number of needs associated with poverty is a must said Williams.
The Department of Parks and Recreation is offering more programs including services in the summer but there still has to be some community involvement.
“We are challenging businesses and community stakeholders to work with us in strengthening our mentoring programs,” said Williams who thanked several men and women for taking the lead to help revitalize the city.
He thanked17-year old James Zarate who was recognized for mentoring children at the Fraim Boys and Girls Club as well as Malcolm McCants, one of 21 recipients for the 2014 Office of the Mayor Scholarship Award.
“If the City looks to move forward, it starts with each one of us acting responsibly,” Williams said.