City of Wilmington Finance Committee irons out details of FY17 budget
Wilmington City Council members have ironed out details of the FY17 budget they are expected to vote on Thursday night.
A $154 million spending plan was advanced out of committee Monday - a budget that is 613,000 less than initially proposed following what Mayor Dennis Williams and Council President Theo Gregory called a "compromise"in a statement earlier in the day.
A large part of the change stems from the elimination of four vacant full-time positions: a senior financial analyst, telecom manager, document management systems administrator and contract compliance officer.
Wilmington’s Human Resources Department Director Charlotte Barnes said at Monday’s Finance Committee meeting that around 60 vacant positions exist in the city, but some are only temporarily vacant due to their seasonal nature.
But questions about positions in the employee benefits and public works departments lingered at Monday's Finance Committee hearing.
The City of Wilmington’s Human Resources Department director Charlotte Barnes made the case to the Finance Committee for hiring an employee benefits manager.
She says historically one position has handled risk management and employee benefits, but ideally a risk management professional would assist the employee benefits manager.
"We are looking for that individual to set the strategic direction for the city as it relates to employee benefits. That is a rapidly changing industry," Barnes said. "It’s very important that we have someone who is engaged with our broker that we contract with to assist with healthcare and it’s very important that we have someone who has their finger on the pulse point as it relates to that."
Barnes adds that she feels the city won’t be prepared to address growing healthcare concerns without splitting those roles - saying it’s unheard of for one person to manage benefits for 1,100 employees and their families.
She also hopes - with council approval - to sign a new contract with a pharmacy benefits manager to assist negotiating discounts from pharmacy providers.
Another position in question was the public works fleet manager, a position being restored in the proposed FY17 budget.
Councilman Bud Freel remains concerned about waste in staff costs. He also wants to make sure $100,000 in proposed funds to study those costs aren’t misused. He’s calling for studies specifically focused on the public works and finance departments.
“I mean going in and looking at every position and trying to determine what positions are needed, what we no longer need, can people be cross trained to do things so that hope that we can start reducing the size of our work force," Freel said. "Because that’s the only way – when you’re dealing with a budget of $150 million and two thirds of it is personnel costs – and then you have a big chunk that’s debt service, the only way you can really start cutting the budget is in less positions.”
Freel is also concerned that failing to increase the sewer and water tax could create unnecessary burdens in future years.
“We’re supposed to be running the utility as a business," Freel said. "It’ got to be self-sustaining. We can’t be running off the general fund. I just think it’s a mistake to not put some sort of increase in there this year.”
He says there hasn’t been an increase in the water and sewer taxes two years in a row, and it feels like the city is ignoring the issue.
City of Wilmington Chief of Staff Gary Fullman rejected recommendations Monday night for an increase in the city water and sewer fees.
The initial recommendations for a little over 9% increase came from many meetings between a citizens committee and consulting group among others.
In 2015, there was a proposed 9% increase, but the city approved only a 5% increase.
There was consensus that a new contract between the city and county could help, but it hasn’t been addressed in over five years. And there was no indication when a new contract might be reached.