Wilmington City Council Approves the City's FY 2014 General Operating Budget

Posted on  05/16/2013 8:28 pm

Wilmington City Council tonight approved the Fiscal Year 2014 Operating Budget by a vote of ten yes, two no, and one Council Member voting present. The approved budget makes revisions to the budget proposal presented to Council in March by Mayor Dennis Williams. The approved budget restores cuts made in the Mayor’s original budget. Council acted tonight to support City programs that create jobs, assist small and large businesses, improve public safety and support stronger and cleaner neighborhoods.

The approved budget restores funding that Mayor Williams had proposed be cut and then used to balance his original budget proposal. The Council-approved budget addresses public safety by providing start-up funding for a community crime reduction and public safety website; funding for a restructured trash and recycling collection program; and funding for a comprehensive study concerning the future structure and management of the City’s Water, Sewer and Stormwater Fund.

Council also approved a 12% rate increase for citizens who receive City water and sewer services as proposed in March by Mayor Williams. Council did not alter the rate increase request which it accepted as part of a multiple-year plan to stabilize the City’s Water, Sewer and Stormwater Fund. Council would, however, like to engage in a review with the Administration of the practice of not requiring City-owned properties and facilities that use City water to remit water usage fees to the City’s Water, Sewer and Stormwater Fund. Some Council Members feel that a water usage fee for City facilities should be made part of the Administration’s FY 2015 fiscal year budget proposal in order to produce an automatic annual transfer of funds from the General Operating Budget to the Water, Sewer and Stormwater Fund to keep it solvent.

“I am grateful to the Members of Council for their thoughtful consideration of this budget and their overall participation in the budget process which began prior to the Council’s formal budget hearings and led up to tonight’s vote,” said Council President Gregory. “Council Members have given each section of the budget careful review. The new budget is fiscally responsible, logical, fair and forward-thinking.”

Council’s amended budget includes the following initiatives:

  • Restoration of $500,000 to the City’s Economic Development Strategic Fund which is used by the City’s Office of Economic Development to attract jobs and businesses to Wilmington and to help existing businesses grow and thrive.
  • Funding for the Economic Development Office’s Minority Business Development Program to provide business development loans for existing minority businesses or to assist a new business that is minority-owned.
  • Funding 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.
  • Restoration of $250,000 to the City Housing Strategic Fund which is used to support homeownership, rental housing projects and other housing-related and community and neighborhood building projects throughout the City.
  • $250,000 to enable the City 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.
  • $30,000 from the City’s Water and Sewer Fund to enable the Administration to authorize 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 Finance Committee Chair Charles “Bud” Freel urged during recent budget hearings that there be greater public accountability of the City’s Water and Sewer Fund. Freel said because citizens are continuously asked to higher rates to support expenditures for producing potable water and providing sewer and stormwater runoff services, they and the Council should be better able to track the dollars in each section of the Water/Sewer Fund. Freel said this would include tracking the available cash on hand for any expenditure that may arise. The Finance Chair said these changes would provide assurances that water/sewer funds are not being comingled with the General Operating Budget.
  • $25,000 to enable the City Administration to move forward on establishing a new stand-alone crime prevention/crime reduction website that would offer citizens a chance to report criminal activity anonymously, track crime trends in neighborhoods and communicate about crime directly among neighbors or neighborhoods.
  • Restoration of $250,000 to the budget for City Council which was removed from the legislative branch’s budget and transferred to the Department of Parks and Recreation as part of the Mayor’s original budget proposal. Council will use this funding for grants to support youth development, education advocacy and other community projects.

In order to find the revenue necessary to restore funding or establish funding for the initiatives outlined above, City Council revised the City’s budget as follows:

  • Reduced the Mayor’s office budget by $28,000 to eliminate pay raises that the Mayor proposed for three of his staff members who had either already received an increase in salary earlier this year or just started working for City government in January;
  • Reduced one of the Mayor’s contingency reserve budget lines by $300,000;
  • Eliminated three (3) vacant positions (Account Manager in Finance; Systems Analyst in Human Resources and a Marketing and Special Projects Coordinator in the Mayor’s Office) for a savings of approximately $268,000;
  • Council also reduced contingency reserves, consultant fees, funding for temporary employees, fees for temporary agencies and the Materials, Supply and Equipment (MS&E) expenditures in various budget lines.

Council also took the following budget-related actions:

  • Deleted from the Mayor’s FY 2014 Capital Budget a project and program description entitled “Land Acquisition and Site Improvement” which totaled $2 million.
  • Announced its intention to ensure, either through the Capital Budget process or through City Code, that the City’s eight Neighborhood Planning Councils (NPC) come into compliance with policies regarding appropriate community representation within an NPC before any request for funding from an NPC for a project or initiative is approved by the Administration.