Wilmington Mayor proposes city budget amid coronavirus crisis
With the economic impact of the coronavirus still unknown, Wilmington’s mayor is proposing close to $250 million for next year’s budget.
Mayor Mike Purzycki’s proposed budget— which he says was developed before the impact of the coronavirus became apparent— would not require a property tax increase or a water/sewer rate increase.
The $169 million operating budget and close to $79 million water and sewer budget the Mayor is proposing are each a little over 1 percent larger than the current year’s. But Purzycki says because of the coronavirus, Fiscal Year 2021 revenue projections for the city are almost unknowable.
“The budget I prepared ten days ago projected a surplus without drawing on our tax stabilization fund,” he said. “Our five-year projection was sound, with modest tax increases and little borrowing from that fund. But as we look ahead to increasing layoffs in the hospitality sector and other parts of our economy, we must be realistic about our revenues. While FY2020 will likely see a small erosion in revenue, FY 2021 looks far more problematic.”
Purzycki says balancing a budget against a worst-case scenario would require “deep personnel cuts or significant tax increases,” which could be unnecessarily damaging to the city’s operations. So he presented what he sees as a “realistic but not pessimistic” budget that may dip into the city’s millions in budget reserves.
Purzycki’s proposed budget contains $1.8 million for up to a 2 percent cost-of-living salary increase for eligible employees.
It also includes a $1 million grant in the Department of Real Estate & Housing budget for the Wilmington Neighborhood Conservancy Land Bank, funding for the police department to expand the neighborhood camera watch program, funding to finish implementing an informational call center, and payment to a contractor that handles red-light camera citations.
The Mayor delivered his budget address through a pre-recorded video played to City Council over a video-conferencing interface — since Council closed its meetings to the public earlier this month to encourage social distancing.
Purzycki touted private investment in the city in the form of new restaurants and developments, changes to the city government’s internal processes, as well as improvements to city parks and community centers.
He said he plans to make a renewed push to tackle blight by reintroducing, in three pieces, his proposed changes to the city housing code which failed to advance through Council last year.
And he said other challenges remain.
“We continue to suffer from too much poverty, blight, and crime in the poorest parts of town,” he said. “There are too many guns on the streets – and sadly, too many carried by children. Our school system must be challenged to be responsive to our kids and their special needs.”
Purzycki also described a new “aspirational self-image” for the city.
“If we aspire to a brand, it is no longer to be the chemical, corporate, or credit card capital, but simply to be what Harvard professor Toni Griffin calls a “just” city – one that is prosperous but fair to all of its residents,” he said. “One where doors to prosperity are open to all. Where the city is physically designed to create access, not isolation.”