City Council Votes to Cut Government Spending by $511,000; Vote Supports Council's Pledge to Taxpayers to Seek Spending Cuts Instead of Treating Taxes and Fees as an Only Option

Posted on  07/10/2014 8:40 pm

An Accompanying Resolution Asks the Administration to Supports Spending Control Efforts by Reducing Firefighter Staffing by Eight Vacant Positions

Acting on a pledge to City taxpayers to reduce the size of government and seek greater government efficiencies instead of viewing higher taxes and fees as an only option, Wilmington City Council tonight approved an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2015 City Operating Budget that reduces government spending by a half-million dollars. Council’s action also heeds a recent warning from the City’s Economic and Financial Advisory Council (WEFAC) which 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, including the elimination of positions, to achieve fiscal stability.

Citing the findings of the Berkshire Report, which is a thorough examination of the operations and management of the Wilmington Fire Department (WFD), Council voted tonight 8 to 5 in favor of a budget amendment sponsored by Council Public Safety Committee Chair Michael A. Brown, Sr. that reduces the FY 2015 appropriation to the department by $511,416. Council also sent the Williams Administration an accompanying Resolution asking that the Administration to send Council an Ordinance that reduces the authorized staffing of the WFD by eight positions. Once the Administration follows through on that action, the staffing of the WFD will total 169 versus 177.

“I am very proud of the Council Members who stood together tonight to begin the process of implementing government spending controls which will greatly help our City’s fiscal condition as well as show respect to the very citizens whose money funds the government,” said Council President Theo Gregory. “We acted decisively and responsibly tonight, in the face of fierce, inaccurate and inappropriate opposition, to do what citizens and business owners throughout the City asked us to do during the recent budget process—stop relying solely on the taxpayers and start cutting government expenditures.”

Council tonight also approved an appropriation for a management and operational study of the Finance and Public Works Departments to determine cost savings through greater management or structural efficiencies. Council’s Finance Chair, Charles “Bud” Freel, has, for many years, championed Council’s call to take a closer look at all government departments for ways to cut spending. “Many of us look at the Berkshire Report as an indication that it is possible to find more cost savings in City government through similarly-structured, objective studies that look at the way we conduct government business in Wilmington. We certainly hope the Williams Administration sees the value in using this $100,000 appropriation for much needed departmental reviews.”

Council President Gregory tonight urged the Williams Administration to join with Council to look even further at additional savings within the Fire Department. Gregory again pointed to the Berkshire Report which included a series of recommendations with projected savings of about $2.5 million. “There is more there that needs to be acted upon and Council is committed to staying on top of this issue,” said Gregory.

Council approved another Ordinance this evening, also sponsored by Council Member Mike Brown, which provides for more government transparency and accountability when it comes to determining when a police or fire training academy is scheduled. The new law requires the Fire and Police Department Chiefs to appear before the Council Public Safety Committee four times a year, instead of twice a year, to review staffing levels. The law also requires the fire and police chiefs to present a Resolution to Council calling for the commencement of an academy should staffing levels fall below the existing threshold of 95% of each Department’s respective authorized staffing total as listed in the City’s Position Allocation List (PAL). Previously there had been no requirement in City Code for the Fire and Police Chiefs to appear before Council for a public discussion about the scheduling of a training academy.

Public Safety Chair Brown said tonight that Council had a responsibility to act on the Berkshire independent study, which will save thousands of dollars without affecting the City’s current level of fire service. “Much like we did with the rolling bypass initiative which has to date saved taxpayers more than $2 million dollars, we resisted inaccurate and inappropriate comments that were sent Council’s way to intimidate us and did the right thing for the people of this City,” said Brown. “Our actions tonight were not aimed at any one department, but are part of a more comprehensive look at how this Administration with Council’s support can conduct government business differently and less expensively.”

Another piece of Council’s government accountability and transparency legislative package has been tabled and will be brought up again later this summer. This legislation would provide a more transparent process by which the City’s Expenditure Review Board looks at spending trends among City departments. The legislation calls for enhanced public review of topics to include 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 by the middle of 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.