City Council to Consider a Package of Legislation to Reduce Government Spending, Produce Greater Government Efficiencies and Improve Transparency and Accountability Related to City Finances

Posted on  07/02/2014 12:05 pm

Four Ordinances will be Introduced at Council’s Thursday Night Meeting

Wilmington City Council President Theo Gregory said today that it is time to act decisively on what citizens, business leaders and Members of Council said during the recent FY 2015 budget process which resulted in tax and fee increases—City government must look deeply within itself and cut government spending dramatically beginning now.

With the support of the Council Finance Chair Charles “Bud” Freel and Public Safety Committee Chair Michael A. Brown, Sr., Council President Gregory today unveiled a package of legislation to reduce government spending, produce greater government efficiencies, and improve transparency and accountability to the public regarding the management of the City’s finances.

“Council Members were unanimous during the last budget process in stating emphatically that our top priority should be reducing the size of government and cutting expenditures,” said Council President Gregory. “The legislative branch is ready to take steps that may not be popular in some circles but are certainly the right thing to do for our City and for those citizens and businesses that pay taxes and fees to the City.”

Finance Chair Freel said the Council is also heeding an urgent warning from the City’s Economic and Financial Advisory Council (WEFAC) which, after reviewing the City’s projected revenues and expenditures in May, said the City cannot tax its way out of the financial challenges it is facing and urged a significant reduction of expenditures over the next five years. WEFAC went on to say that without an influx of new jobs in the City that would produce new wage tax revenue, the only option for the City in order to achieve fiscal stability will be to reduce expenses by eliminating positions and possibly programs and services.

“Council is not satisfied with waiting until next year’s budget process to begin to control the growth of government,” said Gregory. “Finance Chair Freel is fond of saying that government budgeting is a twelve month Council responsibility, not limited to just a few months of formal debate. There are ways to make changes now and to work in harmony with the Administration to bring about government management reforms that will reduce spending and hold all of us more accountable for controlling expenditures.”

Public Safety Chair Brown said today that City Council has a responsibility to seek out and then act upon information regarding ways to produce an efficient government at a reduced cost. “The Berkshire Report issued in 2012 is a example of City government successfully seeking guidance on how to save millions of dollars while maintaining an excellent level of public safety,” said Brown. “The legislative package we are unveiling today will give us additional opportunities to find ways to reduce government spending. Our actions are not aimed at any one department, but are intended to provide a comprehensive look at how the Administration can conduct government business differently and less expensively.”

With the concurrence of Finance Committee Chair Freel, Public Safety Chair Brown, and the entire Council Leadership Group, Council President Gregory today outlined Council’s legislative proposals, which include:

  • A Budget Amendment Ordinance to reduce the Fiscal Year 2015 appropriation to the Wilmington Fire Department by approximately $447,000. The savings will allow the Department to operate at maximum efficiency while not filling seven currently vacant firefighter positions that are due to retirements over the past several months. One of the positions has been vacant for more than three months, five positions have been vacant for about two months and another has been vacant for a month. According to the 2012 Berkshire Report, such a reduction of staff will not affect the Department’s response time in arriving at fire scenes, will not affect overall firefighting activities, and will not reduce public safety to citizens. The budget amendment also reduces the authorized staffing of the Fire Department by seven positions which would coincide with the reduction of appropriations to the department and thus solidify the intended savings to taxpayers.
  • An Ordinance to clarify the process and criteria by which the City’s Police and Fire Chiefs schedule a training academy to fill vacant staff positions. The Ordinance would require the two Department heads to appear before the Council Public Safety Committee four times a year, instead of twice a year, to review staffing levels. The Ordinance further requires the fire and police chiefs to present a Resolution to Council calling for the commencement of an academy should staffing levels fall below 95% of each Department’s respective authorized maximum staffing total as stated in the City’s Position Allocation List (PAL). Currently, there is no requirement in City Code for the Fire and Police Chiefs to come before Council before deciding to schedule a training academy.
  • An Ordinance to provide a more transparent process by which the City’s Expenditure Review Board looks at spending trends among City departments. The Ordinance would require that the Board hold each of its required quarterly meetings during a regularly-scheduled session of the Council Finance Committee. These public review sessions would also be expanded to include a discussion of departmental vacancies as well as the City’s General Fund and Water/Sewer Fund. Under the Ordinance, the City Budget Director would also be required to notify members of the Council Finance Committee if department expenditures reach or exceed 75% of appropriated funds within a fiscal year. The Budget Director would also be required to notify the Finance Committee in writing whenever the City is projecting a budget shortfall of 3% or more (instead of the current 5%) of budgeted revenues in any fiscal year. In addition, the Ordinance would change the date (to January 31 instead of March 1) by which the City Council must enact legislation reconciling, amending or transferring funds among financial accounts in City departments for the prior fiscal year. The revised date will bring the reconciliation process in line with the availability of the City’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) which is completed by December 31 of each year.
  • Finally, the legislative package includes a $100,000 appropriation from the City’s unassigned fund balance to enable the Williams Administration to undertake comprehensive management and operational studies of the Departments of Public Works and Finance. City Council wants to assist the Administration in any way possible to determine how to achieve greater efficiencies within each department and how to achieve annual cost savings like those suggested in the study concerning the Fire Department.

Council President Gregory, Finance Chair Freel and Public Safety Chair Brown each expressed the hope today that the package of legislation being introduced on Thursday night will be the start of a cooperative and comprehensive review by both the Executive and Legislation branches about the size and management of the government with an eye toward reducing spending. “There are many more serious fiscal challenges coming our way which dictate that we work together to control costs, review government operations and create better efficiencies within the government,” said Council President Gregory.