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Wilmington gets slimmer budget for next year, may revise in fall

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Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media
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The City of Wilmington has a budget for next fiscal year — at least for the time being. 

Wilmington City Council narrowly passed a revised, $163 million budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 Thursday.  It is significantly different from the version Mayor Mike Purzycki proposed in March — when the economic impact of the pandemic was first becoming apparent. The new budget has no tax increase or layoffs, but millions in cuts.

“We are still delivering quality police, fire, public works, L&I [licenses and inspections], parks services to our citizens,” said Council Finance Committee Chair Bud Freel. “I’m not sure there’s more that we can do right now than that.”

City revenue projections fell by more than $13 million as a result of the virus. So Purzycki and Council found $5.6 million of cuts and projected healthcare savings — and will take an additional $5.4 million from the City’s tax stabilization reserve. The City also loses the more than $2 million surplus originally projected.

The cuts affect most City departments. Ten of twenty proposed neighborhood surveillance cameras were slashed, along with vacant or new positions in several departments and temporary salaries in the Parks department. No cuts were made to the Department of Real Estate & Housing or the Treasurer’s Office. 

“The revised budget represents the most accurate look at this time as to how devastating COVID-19 has been and will be for the local economy,” said Mayor Purzycki in a statement Thursday evening. “We are meeting many of the initial challenges brought on by this virus, but we have many more to go.”

Councilman Freel emphasized uncertainty remains in the amount of property and wage taxes the City will be able to collect.

“This is my guess, the Council will need to revisit this budget after the first quarter, some time probably in October,” he said. 

Six council members opposed the budget. Several objected to the fact that body cameras for City police are not included. 

“We have let our community down once again by approving a budget that doesn’t have body cameras in it,” said Councilman Vash Turner. “We did a good job by cutting some things, but we needed to cut some more and also add some more to protect our community.”

Some members also objected to spending in Council’s own budget. 

Councilwoman Linda Gray argued pay for two consultants should have been cut. “I think that money could have been better used to hire an attorney on a contractual basis,” she said. 

Gray was among several council members who bemoaned the loss of some of the neighborhood surveillance cameras from the budget. 

“When we revisit the budget, I’ll really push to get more cameras, because it seems to be a really, really important issue to a lot of people out here,”  Gray said. “The crime is still going on, and unfortunately it may get worse as people get more desperate.”

Council also authorized the police department Thursday to apply for a federal grant to fund part of a body camera program — which it failed to secure last year. 

Despite the ongoing challenges with this year’s budget, Mayor Purzycki said his Administration aims to help the City emerge from the pandemic in a better position than when it began.

“There are a lot of people hurting right now,” he said in a statement. “That means our government must stay strong and efficient to provide quality City services for residents and businesses and to help our most vulnerable residents receive information about COVID-19 testing and protective materials such as masks to keep them and others healthy.”

 

“When it is safe to do so, we will re-start our economy and get people back to work and our children back into a classroom,” he added. “Our goals also include making sure our business community has an opportunity to thrive again.”

 

Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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