By Jim Hilgen, Tom Lehman 7:51pm, March 21, 2013 - Updated 10:37am, March 22, 2013
Wilmington Mayor Dennis Williams delivers his budget and state of the city addressSaying "It's a new day," Mayor Williams presented his budget proposal to City Council.
The $147 million dollar spending plan held good news.
"No tax increase! Not one city employee laid off," says Williams.
And some bad for city residents.
"I have no recourse but to raise our water and sewage tax 12%. This will continue to support our infrastructure and our clean drinking water. I want to thank my predecessor and City Council for working to bring this organization, the water board, to the point where we had to face these increases," the mayor said.
Williams says the needed rate increases are the result of years of bad decisions in the past.
"I do not like it. I repeat, I do not like it, but leadership comes today with a price and making tough decisions. That is a leader," said Williams.
He says the city of Wilmington is at a crossroads.
"My vision for Wilmington is simple, developing city employees into true public servants, uniting and energizing neighborhoods, motivating parents and children to shape their futures, creating economic prosperity, job retention, new jobs coming in, business incentives," Mayor Williams said.
On the upside Williams says no city employees are facing layoffs and tax rates will remain the same in FY 14.
He says the budget includes funding to retain 14 police officers and 13 firefighters added under now defunct federal grants.
Williams says the Fiscal Year 2014 budget is a 2.8% increase over the current spending plan.
He says most of those increases are a result of higher pension and medical benefit costs.
Council members react to proposed spending plan
Councilwoman Loretta Walsh says the mayor's budget address was "short and sweet," even if she thought it was a little light on specifics.
"In fairness, those details can be told to the people at the budget hearings, so maybe the mayor thought, 'why waste words?'" Walsh says.
Walsh noted that both Williams and County Executive Gordon, who talked about working with the City of Wilmington in his budget address earlier this week, talked about cooperation between both governments, particularly in regards to public safety.
"There's kind of a bromance going on between the county executive and the mayor it seems, because they did their road act during the campaigns and now it's continuing into their terms," she joked.
Although Williams says he didn't communicate with Gordon about their addresses, he did note the similarities while speaking with WDEL's Allan Loudell after the address.
"Sometimes I think he's hiding in my closet because of the things I say...he sounds just like me," Williams laughs.
Among those eager to hear details during upcoming budget hearings is Councilman Bud Freel, who heads the city's finance committee.
"We were looking at a projected deficit of about $5 million for this year, so I'm interested to see how they came up with the numbers they came up with to address that deficit," Freel says.
Freel says he'll be interested to see whether Williams wants to continue reducing the size of the municipal workforce. He says there are currently around 80 vacant positions.
"I'm going to be looking to see if they are trying to still continue down that path to reduce the number of positions, because we know we can't afford the size of our workforce we have today," he says.
Many council members said they had not seen any information about the budget until Thursday night's meeting.
Council President Theo Gregory says he's pleased that Williams did not ask for an increase in property tax, but also noted that it was early in the budget process and difficult to properly assess the plan.
"There's much more to this budget that the public should know, and will know as the council moves forward with this review of what the mayor has proposed," Gregory says.
Cross-jurisdictional policing favored by some council members
The idea of swearing in Wilmington and New Castle County officers to each other's jurisdictions, a concept proposed by County Executive Gordon and Mayor Williams this week, has support from some city council members.
Councilman Mike Brown, who heads the council's public safety committee, says he likes the idea, but wants to vet it more closely.
"I would have liked to have known how the unions felt, FOP unions, how the government council members felt," Brown says.
Former Wilmington police officer and first-term councilman Bob Williams says the measure would improve public safety.
"My theory is this: That the criminals have no boundaries, and why should the officers?" Bob Williams asks.
Despite the plans for cooperative policing, Mayor Williams said in his budget address that a metropolitan police force was not part of his plan.
Walsh believes cross-jurisdictional policing would be a good idea, but says a metropolitan police force doesn't appear to be something that city and county governments are interested in.
"I don't think the people in the county don't want to hear about metropolitan government and the people in the city certainly don't want to hear about metropolitan government," she says.
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