Wilmington mayor proposes tax hike for 2015 budget

 (Nichelle Polston/WHYY)

(Nichelle Polston/WHYY)

Wilmington residents might have dodged property tax increases in the past, but this could change once Fiscal Year 2015 begins on July 1. 

On Thursday night, Mayor Dennis Williams delivered his State of the City address, proposing a $150 million operations budget for the coming fiscal year, along with a property tax hike and increased rates for water and sewer use.

“The decision to raise revenue through taxes is never easy,” said Williams, whose proposed budget is 3.5 percent larger than the previous year’s.

Several factors played a key role in the increase: heightened pension and pension healthcare costs, debt service on capital projects, mandated salary increases and higher animal control costs. As a result, Williams is proposing a 9.9 percent property tax increase, which means an additional $6.54 will be tacked on to the average city tax bill next year.

Rates for water and sewage customers in the city will increase by 8 percent for FY 2015. In addition, city facilities can expect to be billed for their water usage beginning Fiscal Year 2016.

“The choices for balancing the budget, in the face of the uncontrollable costs coupled with key strategic initiatives, were clear,” Williams said.

Support for community-based policing

In his address, Williams also spoke about tackling crime through a program called Cure Violence.

Cure Violence is a program designed to reduce street violence by using outreach workers to interrupt potentially violent situations. So far, the program has met with success in Philadelphia and Baltimore.

“We’re definitely going to get that up and started. We put $200,000 in the budget for that,” Williams said, noting that both the number of shootings and the number of shooting victims have decreased citywide.

Other top priorities for the city include youth programs and a public safety policy where members of the police department make a stronger impact. Williams cited a Wilmington police officer’s literacy program that provides books and other reading materials to the community.

“One of the things I addressed when I first came into office, I told our officers that the community is really the police department,” Williams said. “When I was a police officer, that’s how I made detective, because the community supported the police and the community is the foothold.”

“Once the community respects the police and supports the police,” he continued, “half of your battle is over.”

Economic development

While Williams highlighted difficult issues that the city faces, he also pointed to some good economic news that residents can look forward to. According to Williams, Wilmington’s future is bright, thanks to strong investments throughout the downtown area and the Riverfront.

He specifically referenced a plan by Woodlawn Trustees to build 450 new housing units in the city.

“This construction will create jobs and the homes will create countless opportunities to bring more residents to the City of Wilmington,” Williams said, stressing that the city is much better shape overall than it was a year ago.

In response to the address, Wilmington City Council President Theo Gregory said that the next step is to arrange meetings so that city officials can thoroughly examine the mayor’s proposal. Several hearings are set to take place over the next few months.

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