City Council Overrides the Mayor's Veto; The FY 2014 Budget Originally Approved by City Council on May 16 is Now Officially Law

Posted on  05/30/2013 6:18 pm

Wilmington City Council tonight voted 10 to 3 to override Mayor Williams’ veto of a budget that was originally adopted by the Council on May 16 by a vote of 10 to 2 with one Member voting present. With the override of the veto now official, Wilmington has a FY 2014 balanced budget in place for the new fiscal year that begins July 1.

Council President Theo Gregory tonight thanked Council Members for standing together to defend the authority and powers of the legislative branch of government. He also thanked citizens who have called or emailed urging Council to stay united. “This has been the most concentrated attack in recent memory on Council’s legal duties, responsibilities and obligations as prescribed in the City Charter,” said the Council President. “Not only did we stand together and stand strong to resist false and misleading criticism of our character and integrity as a body, but, most importantly, we took the high road in a very distasteful political fight. We had the fortitude to resist the negativity and craft a new budget that is balanced, fiscally responsible and reflects the interests and values of the citizens we represent.”

“It is also important for citizens to know that in spite of the false claims of the Administration, the budget approved on May 16 and affirmed tonight is balanced,” Gregory said. “The Administration has the authority to shift funding within the Finance Department if it feels that the department’s audit or collection efforts are in any way underfunded. Its claim that the approved budget will cause a drop in revenue and therefore create an unbalanced budget is inaccurate and unfounded. The Administration also has the authority to approach Council at any time during the upcoming fiscal year to present a budget amendment should the City face an unexpected expense or occurrence for which there is not sufficient funding.”

Gregory said City Council’s professional approach to its work on the budget has produced a plan that will benefit the City in a variety of ways. “I am concerned that details of the new budget, which received overwhelming support from a majority of Council, may not be known to some in the community because of the fact that the political and legal wrangling with the Williams Administration has taken center stage in recent weeks.”

President Gregory, on behalf of Finance Committee Chair Charles “Bud” Freel and all Members of Council, tonight reiterated the many important elements of the FY 2014 budget:

Council’s budget fully funds the police, fire and emergency management functions of government as originally proposed by the Mayor. In addition though, Council added $25,000 to enable the Williams Administration to move forward on establishing a new stand-alone crime prevention/crime reduction website that will offer citizens an opportunity to report criminal activity anonymously, track crime trends in their own neighborhoods and communicate about crime directly with police and among neighbors or neighborhoods.

Council’s budget fully funds the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development as originally proposed by the Mayor. In addition though, Council restored $500,000 to the City’s Economic Development Strategic Fund which is used by the Office of Economic Development to attract jobs and businesses to Wilmington and to help existing businesses grow and thrive. The Mayor had originally proposed that this money be used to balance his original budget plan, but Council disagreed and restored the money. City Council also appropriated additional funds for the City’s Minority Business Development Program to provide business development loans for existing minority businesses or to assist a new business that is minority-owned. Finally, Council appropriated addition funds for the Wilmington Economic Development Corporation (WEDCO) which provides loans to small businesses in Wilmington that are growing but unable to secure financing from conventional financial institutions. WEDCO partners with a bank to provide a portion of the total funds needed or works directly with the borrower and provides the total funds needed for the project.

Council’s budget fully funds the Departments of Planning and Real Estate and Housing as originally proposed by the Mayor. In addition though, City Council restored $250,000 to the City’s Housing Strategic Fund which is used to support the development of homeownership, rental housing projects and other housing-related and community and neighborhood building projects throughout the City. The Mayor had originally proposed that this money be used to balance his original budget proposal, but Council disagreed and restored the money.

Council’s budget fully funds the Department of Public Works as originally proposed by the Mayor. In addition though, Council appropriated $250,000 to enable the Williams Administration to move forward with a revised trash and recycling collection program covering both residential and commercial properties in Wilmington. Such a program would increase recycling rates, significantly reduce landfill costs by lowering the amount of trash deposited into the landfill and produce new revenue for the City.

Council’s budget contains a 12% increase in water, sewer and stormwater rates as originally proposed by the Mayor, with Council agreeing with the Mayor that such an increase is needed to keep the fund solvent and to ensure that funding is in place for planned or emergency infrastructure repair and improvement. In addition though, Council appropriated $30,000 to enable the Administration to move forward with a comprehensive study of the City’s water and sewer utilities by the highly-regarded utility and finance management firm Raftelis. The study would provide recommendations to the City Administration, City Council and the Wilmington Water/Sewer Citizen Advisory Board about whether, for example, water and sewer operations should be managed as a separate unit of government with its own Director or Commissioner. Council feels that there is a need for greater public accountability of the City’s Water and Sewer Fund especially because citizens are continuously asked to pay higher rates to support expenditures to produce potable water and provide sewer and stormwater runoff services. The study would look at whether a restructuring of the fund would enable the City to better track the dollars in each section of the Water/Sewer Fund including available cash on hand for any expenditures that may arise. The future viability of the fund is a critical priority for the City and Council feels that such a study would provide valuable and useful information.

City Council, under its authority in the City Charter, appropriated $250,000 for Council discretionary spending. Even though the Administration has claimed that this fund is illegal and even labeled it a “slush” fund, Council exercised its legal authority to appropriate funds to assist the community. There is at least a 20-year history of Council exercising its authority to make funding available related to various needs or concerns in the community. Under the City Charter, Council may appropriate funds to examine or study community needs, or provide one-time or time-limited support for community efforts that focus on needs or concerns among City residents. Based on available City records, the practice of setting aside funding for community needs began under the Administration of former City Council President James Baker and continued more recently under the terms of Presidents Ted Blunt and Norman Griffiths. Such a discretionary budget line is neither illegal nor inappropriate. The objections of the Administration are not based in law or practice.

City Council reduced the Mayor’s office budget appropriation by $28,000 to eliminate pay raises that the Mayor proposed for three of his office staff who had either already received an increase in salary earlier this year or just started working for City government in January.