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Wilmington City Council responds to the Mayor’s State of the City address

Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki’s budget calls for a 9% increase in the water/sewer rate - a hike that’s over 4% higher than originally projected.

Council Member Chris Johnson, Chair of the Finance Committee, says City Council will continue to scrutinize how they can stabilize the water fund.

“We have a water assistance fund we implemented for citizens. We’re always trying new and creative things,” said Johnson. “As I’ve stated many times in meetings: clean water is a right. And so how can we make sure that we can continue having clean water in the city while also funding it. And that’s the challenge that we on council have to tackle along with the administration.”

Johnson has shown support for three ordinances addressing water affordability and access set to be considered at the April 18th Council meeting.

One would ban foreclosures for overdue water bills. Another would bar the City from shutting off the water to a home with elderly, disabled, or children under the age of five.

Purzycki argues those moves would cost the city revenue, and threaten city water quality.

“Any reduction in our ability to enforce collection will only result in less revenue, thereby threatening the quality of our water,” said Purzycki. “Or most certainly, it will shift costs to other customers. Someone has to pay for the water utility and it’s better if everyone pays. I understand the motivation for thinking otherwise, but the City Council should understand the implications of any such action.”

The final ordinance would create a water affordability program - which Purzycki doesn’t see a need for, saying Wilmington’s water is the most affordable in the region.

“Water rates for Wilmington water customers are the lowest in the region. Our competitors are all asking the State Public Service Commission (PSC) for double digit increases such as a 24% hike proposed by Artesian and a 19% increase from Veolia,” he said.

Council Member Shané Darby says there seems to be a disconnect between the Purzycki administration and the residents who are affected by hikes in water rates.

“It’s just sad that we know we’re going to increase the price of water each year, but we’re not going to protect a certain class of people,” said Darby. “We know that one third of our customers are delinquent. So it’s just disheartening that as an administration they’re not looking at how to make the bill affordable so we can get payments from people.”

Water isn’t the only thing that’s drawing a divide between Council and the administration.

In his address, Purzycki said the issue of city hiring needs urgent attention.

Along with filling current vacancies, the city expects to hire 41 positions in a new Emergency Medical Services Division to deliver ambulance service.

Purzycki says City Council’s decision to instate a new employee residency requirement is a barrier to hiring. Darby disagrees.

“The issue isn’t residency, the issue is how we have invested in workforce development in our city,” said Darby.

Darby also argues it's hard to afford living in the city.

The new residency legislation offers moving assistance to help outside hires. It also creates a task force Darby says will examine how to fill current vacancies and future vacancies.

“How do we make sure we’re creating workforce development programs, and partnering with programs in the City of Wilmington to make sure that we have the skills, and we’re also making the city more liveable,” she said.

The city’s budget hearings will take place over the next 5 weeks.

Quinn Kirkpatrick was born and raised in Wilmington, Delaware, and graduated from the University of Delaware. She joined Delaware Public Media in June 2021.