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Wilmington City Council receives Fines and Fees taskforce report

Delaware Public Media

Wilmington City Council receives a final report from the Fines and Fees task force.

The Fines and Fees Taskforce, created in October 2022 and made up of individuals from diverse backgrounds and organizations, finds “high pain, low gain,” in the city’s fine and fee structure. It notes as fines and fees rise, more people have difficulty paying, causing financial hardship, especially among lower-income residents.

But over the last 20 years, the city has increasingly relied on fines and fees for revenue, with delinquencies and increasing costs of collection impacting the city’s bottom line.

Councilwoman Shané Darby, who sponsored the ordinance creating the task force, says many of the findings focused on water bills.

“We didn’t pass water affordability, we didn’t pass protecting people from shut offs or collections, we didn’t pass and legislation or ordinances that would help protedct people in the community, so I think the next steps is city council presenting legislation.”

The task force advises revising the city budget to better align revenue with sources that have the ability to pay – stopping harmful collection practices like booting and towing and adjusting fines and fees so they are more affordable.

Darby says fees and fines are necessary, but in Wilmington, they are disproportionately affecting black and brown communities.

“Fees and fines should not be projected for revenue," Darby says. "I’m not saying fees and fines should not exist, because in some instances they should, but you should not predict them going up to then fund your budget.”

Darby adds that fines for parking and red light tickets, while meant to be a deterrent, should be reevaluated if they are not working as intended.

“I don’t think people are saying, ‘I’m going to break the law today because it only costs $40,'" Darby says. "Those are not the reasons people are breaking the law, because of how much a fee is.”

Rachel Sawicki was born and raised in Camden, Delaware and attended the Caesar Rodney School District. They graduated from the University of Delaware in 2021 with a double degree in Communications and English and as a leader in the Student Television Network, WVUD and The Review.