Mayor Williams Proposes Fiscal Year 2014 Budget Compromise As City Council Proposal May Violate State Constitution

Posted on  05/13/2013 4:55 pm

With enactment of the Fiscal Year 2014 City Operating Budget scheduled for Thursday, May 16, 2013, Mayor Dennis P. Williams has agreed to a compromise budget which incorporates several changes proposed by City Council. The Mayor’s Chief of Staff John R. Matlusky will present that proposed budget to Council’s Finance Committee today at 5pm.

The Mayor originally proposed a $147 million budget in March that included no property tax increase and no cuts to public safety. Additionally the proposed budget included no layoffs of City employees and no cuts in service to citizens.

The compromise budget includes changes resulting from discussions between the senior staffs of the Mayor’s Office and City Council. The revised proposal to be presented includes:

General Fund

  • An additional $26,000 for Council Members’ discretionary budgets
  • $50,000 for a community outreach pilot program in the Police Department
  • $25,000 for an alleyway clean-up project in Licenses and Inspections
  • $5,000 for a student externship in the Law Department
  • A reduction of $86,766 in salary and benefits in the Finance Department due to the elimination of a vacant Accounting Manager position. This position is partially funded in the Water/Sewer Fund, which includes a corresponding reduction.
  • A reduction of $45,000 in Temporary Agencies in the Finance Department
  • A net debt service benefit of $267,575 resulting from a recent bond refunding

Water/Sewer Fund

  • $77,124 in salary and benefits for a GIS Technician in Public Works. This increase is completely offset by a reduction of $99,000 in Temporary Agencies
  • $30,000 for a consultant to address governance of the Water/Sewer Fund
  • $21,691 in salary and benefits in the Finance Department due to the elimination of a vacant Accounting Manager position. This position is partially funded in the General Fund, which includes a corresponding reduction.
  • $21,525 in salary and benefits for the upgrade of a position in Public Works to honor a mandate from the State’s Office Drinking Water in the Division of Public Health in a Corrective Action Order. This increase is completely offset by a reduction in Temporary Agencies.

As originally proposed, transfers from the Housing Opportunities Fund and the Economic Development Strategic Fund totaled $750,000. During a series of budget hearings held in April, the Council expressed reluctance to support the proposed $250,000 transfer from the Housing Opportunities Fund and $500,000 transfer from the Economic Development Strategic Fund. Despite the routine use of such transfers in recent years, the compromise proposal reflects Mayor Dennis P. Williams’ desire to meet the Council half-way by eliminating in its entirety the proposed $250,000 transfer from the Housing Opportunities Fund. Additionally, the Mayor reduced the originally proposed transfer from the Economic Development Strategic Fund by $125,000, from $500,000 to $375,000.

A major sticking point in the budget discussions included $250,000 requested for unspecified “Council Initiatives - Youth”. The lack of definition for use of these funds suggests that this appropriation may be allocated by Council to a Council-controlled fund and later, this same fund may be administered by Council in support of various Council initiatives. If accurate, according to the City Solicitor, this would likely be a violation of the Constitution of the State of Delaware and the City Charter.

In the budget as originally proposed, Mayor Williams incorporated the full request in the Department of Parks and Recreation’s budget. Council closely scrutinized amounts as little as $860 for Contracted Maintenance in a $146.9 million dollar budget. Despite repeated requests for clarification, Council has yet to provide specifics around use of the $250,000, except to broadly define it as “Council Initiatives”. In yet another attempt to meet the Council half-way, the compromise budget reflects the Mayor’s willingness to move $55,000 of the $250,000 to Council’s budget for grants/externally funded initiatives not directly managed or administered by Council, with the remaining $195,000 ($15,0000 per Council Member) to be earmarked for initiatives as directed by each Council member and included in the appropriate departmental budget.

“Having been a legislator for 17 years, I fully understand the desire of Council to have community-focused, neighborhood-based initiatives,” said Mayor Williams. “The balanced approach reflected in this compromise budget provides Council Members the ability to address specific needs of their constituents while maintaining the doctrine of separation of powers in which the legislative branch appropriates and the executive branch administers.”

“I am asking the Finance Committee and all Council Members to carefully consider the compromise budget. While it does not include all of the 32 revisions proposed by City Council, it very responsibly considers and reflects my commitment to work with Council,” said Mayor Williams. “The Fiscal Year 2014 Budget is a bridge to that will allow my Administration to fully develop and implement its strategic vision and policies. Having been in office for only 120 days in office, we have yet to fully assess the areas where I believe significant inefficiencies still exist. However, in the upcoming year we will undertake a major review of, among other matters, contracts and operations in our departments with the aim to reduce costs and eliminate inefficiencies,” said Mayor Williams.