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Purzycki's Wilmington budget plan increases spending, but seeks no property tax hike

Delaware Public Media

Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki is seeking to raise city spending by nearly 5% in his 2019 budget plan.

Purzycki’s proposal calls for $162.3 million dollar operating budget in 2019.  That’s $7.4 million more than this year.  But the mayor isn’t asking to increase property taxes to pay for it after raising them 7% this year.

Purzycki says about a third of new spending, $2.6 million, covers new labor contracts with city police officers and four new inspectors in the Department of Licenses and Inspections. The rest goes to city debt service ($2.7 million) and an unanticipated contribution to the city’s State-sponsored pension plans ($2 million) .

Purzycki notes the rise in spending could have been higher if the city hadn’t kept the increase in city health care costs under one percent, thanks to larger contributions from city workers.

But Purzycki notes the city still needs to keep an eye on its bottom line going forward.

"Structural financial constraints continue to impede our ability to adequately fund needed capital projects and services for our residents. Aged infrastructure that requires millions of dollars each year in maintenance and replacement drains our resources. Far too many neighborhoods are beset by poverty and crime. And too many of our citizens live in substandard rental housing – a condition that begs to be corrected," said Purzycki.

The mayor also warned budget deficits loom if some issues remain unresolved. One is a new appeals standard prompting reassessment of some city properties by New Castle County. It’s cost Wilmington around 600 thousand dollars in tax revenue in recent years – and could cost the city about the same next year.  

If we don’t find a satisfactory appeals process that is fair to all city taxpayers, the city will bleed to death by a thousand cuts, or a thousand tax appeals. Our goal for the short term is to get a moratorium on the assessment appeals until courts clarify the proper basis for review," said Purzycki. "We will work with the county on achieving a result that protects the city treasury, but if we are not able to do so, we will be forced to seek protection of the courts. In the end, a full reassessment of all county properties is the correct path.

Purzycki is also asking for 4% rate increase as part of his $75.4 million dollar water and sewer budget. That budget is up 6.2 percent or $4.4 million from this year

Purzycki called the state of the city good.

He touted work in his first year to improve public safety under new police chief Robert Tracey, citing statistics that show from January 1 through March 11 of this year, murders in Wilmington were down by 40%, shooting incidents were down 56%, shooting victims decreased by 58%, and overall crime was down 8%.

"It is far too early to declare victory, but we feel very good about the direction of our police department and its management of public safety," said Purzycki.

He also pointed to work on neighborhood stabilization in West Center City, where he launched a pilot stabilization program last year.  He says despite some housing elements being behind scheduled, the initial results are encouraging.

"Members of the community report increased satisfaction with our efforts," said Puzycki. "There have been no shootings in 2018, and crime overall is down 27%. Most encouraging is a significant increase in calls for service, indicating a willingness on the part of citizens to involve our police officers in assisting with criminal behavior."

Purzycki says he plans to seek a second area for neighborhood stabilization soon.

He also hopes to continue work to eliminate neighborhood blight and crime started in his first year.  That includes over $500,000 thousand dollars in new spending for acquiring problem properties and necessary property demolition and maintenance.

Purzycki also committed to spend up to $2 million dollars on construction of an athletic field at Eden Park, City Council's preferred choice for addressing the need for more field for youth sports.

"It was not an acceptable choice from our view because of increased costs. However, in light of Council’s strong feelings on the matter, and after value engineering the project, I am willing to fund the construction of the field at Eden Park, assuming we can keep the budget under two million dollars, which Parks director Kelley informs me is realistic," said Purzycki.

The mayor says he hopes City Council will work with him on delivering a 2019 budget.

"Not in any way intending to diminish council’s solemn responsibility to serve as gatekeeper, I ask council to give us a chance to succeed, or even in good faith to fail. Extend us trust until we break that trust. I ask that you give us a chance to vindicate your aspirational decision to work together for a better future for Wilmington," said Purzycki.

Public hearing on the budget will be held next month with a final budget vote by City Council expected in May.

Tom Byrne has been a fixture covering news in Delaware for nearly three decades. He joined Delaware Public Media in 2010 as our first news director and has guided the news team ever since. When he's not covering the news, he can be found reading history or pursuing his love of all things athletic.