Williams vetoes $511K in cuts to Wilmington Fire Department

By Tom Lehman 4:13pm, July 18, 2014 - Updated 5:14pm, July 18, 2014
VIDEO: Mayor Dennis Williams vetoes a bill passed by city council members to cut $511,000 from the Wilmington Fire Department. (Tom Lehman/WDEL News)
Wilmington Mayor Dennis Williams signed a letter Friday afternoon vetoing a bill passed by city council that would have cut $511,000 allocated for eight firefighter positions that are currently vacant.

WDEL's Tom Lehman reports:

Click here to listen

Surrounded by firefighters and council members who oppose the reductions, Williams (D) formally rejected the legislation outside a city firehouse on North Tatnall Street. He said the veto helped live up to a campaign promise to protect public safety departments from cuts.

"I look forward to working with city council in the future, but this time it's something we just cannot do. We can't agree on this, so I guess the battle lines are drawn," he said.

The bill was passed last week with support from eight council members, one fewer than required by city code to override a mayoral veto.

Council President Theo Gregory, who was among those supporting the bill, is considering whether to call for a session to vote on an override, according to a news release issued Thursday.

"Council wants to work with the Administration to make intelligent and practical decisions about reducing expenditures and seeking greater efficiencies in government operations," Gregory (D) said in a statement. "However, the Administration cannot continue the pattern of looking to citizens and businesses for more taxes and fees, while ignoring substantial cost savings from a smaller and more efficient government."

The cuts were opposed by Fire Chief Anthony Goode and the union representing local firefighters, who argued residents would be at risk of longer response times if the positions remained unfilled.

Officials said the department would be forced to employ "conditional company closures," a practice similar to "rolling bypasses" under former Mayor Jim Baker's administration that involves removing one fire engine on a daily, rotating basis.

Goode said both supporters and opponents of the cuts should try to put emotions aside, now that the cuts are currently off the table.

"I mean we have a city to serve and I believe everyone's intention is to serve the city," he said.

If council is called upon to vote against the veto, three members present at the mayor's veto announcement--Samuel Prado (D-District 5), Sherry Dorsey Walker (D-District 6), Bob Williams (D-District 7)--said they would not support an override.

All three voted against the cuts, along with Council members Ernest "Trippi" Congo (D-District 2) and Justen Wright (D-At Large).

"I'm going to stand firm in my convictions that we will not jeopardize public safety," Bob Williams said.

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