Mayor Purzycki’s Annual State of the City Address

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Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki said tonight the state of the City is good, but could be much better if the City could resolve internal and external pressures that are making it extremely difficult to balance annual operating budgets, let alone have money for new initiatives. Generally speaking, the Mayor said we have much to be optimistic about in Wilmington. While presenting a balanced budget for Fiscal Year 2019 beginning July 1, which requires no increase in property taxes, the Mayor warned again tonight as he did last year, that budget deficits are on the horizon and he asked for City Council’s assistance and cooperation to improve the City’s fiscal condition.

In addition to presenting the details of the new budget plan, Mayor Purzycki also used the opportunity of his State of the City Address to talk about:
Improving public safety and strengthening police and community relations
anti-blight legislation pending before City Council and additional steps he is taking to reduce neighborhood crime and blight
new program and service initiatives for City residents and businesses that are supported by the current FY 2018 budget and will be further supported by the proposed FY 2019 budget
property tax reassessment concerns that are adversely affecting Wilmington’s property tax revenue
Administration Budget Goals

Mayor Purzycki said the new budget was constructed to support his Administration’s key goals. These include improving public safety, furthering neighborhood stabilization, supporting new employment opportunities, strengthening economic development and creating a cleaner, more attractive City. The Mayor said he will remain focused on Wilmington a more livable and appealing center of commerce, arts, culture, finance and technology.

FY 2019 Operating Budget

Mayor Purzycki’s FY 2019 operating budget proposal is $162.3 million, which is an increase of 4.8%, or $7.4 million, over the current FY 2018 operating budget. The Mayor said the increase is due to a rise of $2.6 million in salaries, most of which is needed to pay for the new labor contracts with City police officers and adding four new inspectors in the Department of Licenses and Inspections. Mayor Purzycki attributed the remaining increase in the new budget to an additional $2.7 million needed to pay the City’s debt on borrowed money and a $2 million increase, largely unanticipated, in the City’s contribution to the State-sponsored pension plans for City employees. The Mayor also credited the Administration’s success in controlling the growth of health care costs through increased employee contributions as an important factor in helping to balance the new budget. In fact, the Mayor said health care costs are anticipated to increase less than 1% in the new operating budget, which is unprecedented in an environment where health care costs have been rising annually. The City, through its Human Resources Department, is continuing to work with employees on preventive care and healthy workforce options to further reduce the City’s health care costs. The Mayor said other savings have been realized because the police department has been staying within its budget for overtime, which produced the lowest police overtime in five years even through there are more officers patrolling City streets. The Mayor credited Police Chief Robert Tracy and Inspector Cecelia Ashe for their work to audit and control overtime costs and to deploy officers as needed based on daily crime analyses. Mayor Purzycki also cited a half-million dollar drop in projected expenditures for consultants as another cost-saving measure.

FY 2019 Water/Sewer/Stormwater Budget

Based on a recommendation from Wilmington’s independent Water/Sewer Citizens Advisory Board (UCAB), the Mayor is proposing a 4% increase in water and sewer rates to support the proposed FY 2019 water/sewer/stormwater budget which totals $75.4 million. This is an increase of 6.2%, or $4.4 million, over the current FY 2018 budget. The new budget proposal would continue to support initiatives begun in recent years to make the City’s utility financially and environmentally sound. These initiatives include accelerating Wilmington’s Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) mitigation effort and improvements to the City’s water filtration and water supply systems which exceed EPA standards. Mayor Purzycki said a financially and environmentally sound water and sewer utility will contribute to preserving the water supply for all of northern Delaware, especially in times of drought. The Mayor said it is important to note that the minimum usage charge on a quarterly bill is being reduced from 8,000 gallons to 6,000 gallons, based on revised historical usage data, which will help reduce the bills for senior citizens and smaller family households.

Improving Public Safety

Mayor Purzycki said that through his shared vision with Chief Robert Tracy regarding public safety, Wilmington is seeing a small but important trend toward lower violent and overall crime statistics for the first few months of 2018. From January 1 through March 11 of this year, murders were down by 40%, shooting incidents were down 56%, shooting victims decreased by 58%, and overall crime was down 8%. The Mayor said this reduction in crime results from the hard work of the Chief and the men and women of the Wilmington Department of Police in conjunction with the community. He said the police department has cultivated a closer relationship with citizens and relies on their support to combat crime. Mayor Purzycki said it is a priority of the Chief and his entire Department to continue to build trust through transparency to help to decrease crime in a significant way. Over the past several months, there has been an organizational change within the Department as intelligence-led policing and evidence-based policing strategies have been implemented and coupled with community engagement. The CompStat crime analysis tool, which has been successful in other cities, is helping to ensure that the WPD has the organizational discipline, accountability, and communication in place to further legitimize and improve policing in Wilmington. The Mayor said another important aspect of the new approach to policing under Chief Tracy is the emphasis on procedural justice which guides the way our police interact with the public and how these interactions shape the public’s views of police officers, their willingness to obey the law, and actual crime rates. The Mayor said he and the Chief subscribe to the theory that community perceptions of procedural justice can significantly affect public safety. Although the crime results in early 2018 seem promising, Mayor Purzycki and Chief Tracy emphasized that this is only the beginning and that Wilmington must still work hard to institutionalize these successes. The Mayor and Chief said they will not relent on public safety until every person in this city experiences the same sense of safety.

A Property Tax Reassessment Problem

The Mayor tonight sounded the alarm on a matter which is causing Wilmington to lose property tax revenue at an alarming rate. So far, Wilmington has collected nearly $600,000 less in property tax revenue this fiscal year and expects to lose a similar amount in FY 2019 because the New Castle County government is reassessing property values in Wilmington, which is affecting the City’s property tax revenue totals. The Mayor said thus far, the County Government has reassessed at least nine Wilmington properties and he is concerned that other reassessment applications may be in the pipeline. Most disturbing, said the Mayor, is that the City has been unable to obtain an explanation or supporting documents from the County as to why these properties are being reassessed. Mayor Purzycki said the City has questions about the process being used by the County to reduce assessed property values, because applications do not appear to be going through the review process as mandated by the New Castle County Board of Assessment. The Mayor said tonight that Wilmington cannot tolerate this significant loss of property tax revenue, and reserves the right to use all options available to stop the reassessments from happening and to seek a review of those that have already been granted. The Mayor said there has not been a property tax reassessment conducted by New Castle County for Wilmington and county properties since 1983, or 35 years ago. Mayor Purzycki has spoken to County Executive Matt Meyer about this issue and hopes the County will work with the City to resolve it without the need for legal action.

Multiple Efforts to Reduce Neighborhood Crime and Blight

Saying children and families can no longer be allowed to live in sub-standard conditions, and vowing to keep neighborhood stabilization a top priority, the Mayor included funding in his proposed budget to hire four new housing code inspectors for the Department of Licenses and Inspections (L&I). Mayor Purzycki said this will enable the City to re-institute pre-rental inspections and increase enforcement for chronic, long-term vacant and absentee rental property owners. In addition, the Mayor said Wilmington will increase its efforts to identify landlords who are not licensed to conduct business in the City. There are at least 17,000 rental units in the City, and approximately 2,700 licensed landlords. While there are certainly many landlords with multiple units, there are undoubtedly a significant number of rental units being operated in Wilmington without a rental license, limiting the City’s ability to inspect the property. The Mayor announced tonight he will send legislation to City Council to require that any person or entity renting a unit must pay $100 per unit in order to operate a rental business. Mayor Purzycki said this measure will help the City gain more revenue to fight blight.

To further eliminate blight, Mayor Purzycki is proposing that $300,000 be added the to Licenses and Inspections Department (L&I) budget for property demolition and maintenance, and that $250,000 be added to the Real Estate and Housing (RE&H) budget so the City can acquire problem properties when needed, and also fund architectural and engineering services to stabilize the properties once acquired.

The Mayor said the City will also dedicate $500,000 of available FY 2018 funding in the RE&H budget, and at least another $200,000 in federal money after July 1, to assist homeowners with improvements or repairs to their properties. Year to date, the City has received applications from 50 homeowners seeking assistance or minor exterior improvements. Homeowners who are assisted under this repair program would also be exempted from the sheriff sale process based on an amendment to the pending anti-blight ordinance that the Mayor will send to City Council next week.

The Mayor said there are too many people living in dreadful conditions in some of our poorest neighborhoods. “This cannot continue,” said the Mayor. “We have to stop those who are treating families and neighborhoods like their personal profit centers with no compassion for our people or neighborhoods.” He asked Council to continue to work with him to resolve issues that have stalled his anti-blight legislation, saying it represents our best chance to control neighborhood crime and blight, which discourages good citizens who are fighting to preserve their own properties. The Mayor continued, “I know we can get this legislation approved and work together to improve both the lives of our citizens and the conditions of our neighborhoods.”

West Center City Neighborhood Stabilization Update

The Mayor tonight provided an update on his Administration’s first Neighborhood Stabilization Program, which began last May in West Center City. Accomplishments include:
Part One crimes (such as murder, rape, robbery, etc.) are down 27% in West Center City (WCC) based on statistics from January 1 through March 11, 2018, which mirrors the downward trend in crime citywide.
The City has acquired 20 vacant and neglected properties, many through Sheriff Sale, for future rehabilitation and homeownership.
The Wilmington Housing Authority has committed to rehabbing its 19 vacant properties in WCC for eventual homeownership. These projects are scheduled to begin this spring.
$3.3 million in capital improvements have been committed to improve the William ‘Hicks’ Anderson Community Center, which serves the West Center City community. To date, the swimming pool has been repaired, the kitchen remodeled, and a new HVAC system is in place. A new roof will soon be installed, and the entranceway will be re-designed to be made more attractive and welcoming. In addition, a new locker room and gym floor are being built.
The City has acquired two nuisance liquor stores in WCC and new productive uses will be found for these commercial spaces, with an eye toward redeveloping the properties.
Street-level infrastructure improvements, such as the addition of stop signs, the repairing of street lights that were out for long periods of time, the removal of dead tree stumps, the pruning of existing trees, the adding of crosswalks, have all helped to improve safety in the neighborhood as well as foster an increased sense of community pride among residents.
Other Budget Highlights and Administration Accomplishments

The Mayor said the new budget will support the City’s continuing efforts to improve service to citizens. Among the service enhancements are:
An updated Public Safety Camera System, scheduled to be launched around July 1, which will enable the Wilmington Police Department’s Real Time Crime Center (RTCC) to use the technical resources of 80 neighborhood and business video cameras to monitor and prevent crime and to provide more information to officers responding to a crime in progress. The new system includes the latest in wireless technology to elevate and improve Wilmington’s nearly 20-year-old video safety camera system.
A 311 Call Center by the end of the current fiscal year to provide a more coordinated system for receiving and resolving citizen questions, concerns or complaints, and to allow citizens to track the City’s handling of their concerns via the City’s website.

New police officers who are currently undergoing training as part of the 98th Wilmington Police Academy. 24 new police officers are scheduled to graduate this summer, and the new budget will support their salaries and the law enforcement tools they need to do their jobs.

The renovation of City fire stations. Four fire stations – Stations #2, #3, #4 and #6, all built before 1982 – are scheduled to be renovated, including replacing or updating the mechanical systems, updating the sleeping quarters to include accommodating female firefighters, and updating bathrooms, offices, and kitchens. Also, in the next few weeks, work is set to begin on repairs to the deteriorating ramp at Fire Station #4, located at 22nd and Tatnall Streets.

Redevelopment of a former fire station. The City is about to review, in conjunction with neighborhood residents, six proposals that have been submitted for the redevelopment of the former Wilmington Fire Station # 5 on Gilpin Avenue in the Forty Acres community.

Request for new fire apparatus. The City has a request pending before the General Assembly’s Bond Bill Committee in Dover for $1.4 million to purchase a new ladder truck for the Wilmington Fire Department.
A digital plans development submission and review system, which should be implemented within the next three months, to greatly expedite the review and approval of major and minor development projects. The new system will connect the Departments of Planning, Public Works, Licenses and Inspections and Fire Marshal’s Office so they can provide a more thorough and coordinated plans review process
A new, state-of-the-art LED street lighting system throughout Wilmington, which is expected to be launched toward the end of 2019.
Implementation of the Open Government information sharing platform for internal exchanges of information within City government and the sharing of information with the public.
The Administration is spending $6 million to repair and repave City streets. Since March of last year, we’ve milled and paved 108 segments of City streets, replaced 235 curb ramps and micro-surfaced 23 other segments of streets. The City has funding to complete another 59 portions of City streets before July 1.

Wilmington’s Beautiful City initiative will be re-launched in less than a month. This campaign, originally announced in October of 2017, is designed to produce a cleaner, more attractive City. Special attention by the Public Works Department will be given to City gateways and neighborhoods, and the Adopt-A-Block program will be reintroduced to encourage citizens to clean areas within their communities every month.
Wilmington’s government and its citizens are developing a citywide, citizen-driven comprehensive plan that will guide growth and development across the city for the next decade. The plan, known as Wilmington 2028, is being managed by City Planning Director Herb Inden and his departmental team. The comprehensive plan is mid-way to completion, which is expected by the fall. More than 2,300 people responded to a survey, and the initial results indicate that an overwhelming number of respondents feel good about the future of Wilmington and are looking ahead to the next five years, as opposed to looking back on the last five years.

Approximately 1,000 new housing units are under construction or planned in Wilmington, including in the Downtown District, along Pennsylvania Avenue near Union Street and on both the Christina and Brandywine rivers.
Wilmington has a request pending before the General Assembly’s Bond Bill Committee in Dover for $5 million to help with infrastructure investments needed to support these new residential development projects.
Rodney Square renovations will proceed as a public and private partnership in order to improve the attractiveness of the City’s main public square, and to enhance its use and enjoyment by citizens and visitors alike.

Three new hotels have either been built or are planned in Wilmington. The Marriott Residence Inn opened last week at 13th and Market Streets and the other two hotels will be built on the Christina Riverfront.
Later this year, Wilmington will welcome the Delaware 87ers, the NBA G League affiliate team of the Philadelphia 76ers, to their new home – a 140,000-square-foot, multi-purpose sports complex and youth training center along the growing Christina Riverfront. This new sports complex, the 2,500-seat “76ers Fieldhouse,” is designed to be the premier center for youth sports in Delaware while providing thousands of underserved youth with new sports programming and opportunities.
The City is part of a community-based conversation that could lead to the transformation of the Riverside community in northeast Wilmington by providing updated and affordable housing for current residents and new residents who want to live in a revitalized neighborhood.
Wilmington City Council will hold public hearings on the Mayor’s budget proposal during the month of April, and Council is expected to vote on a new budget for Fiscal Year 2019 at its May 17th meeting.

Source: Mayor’s Office

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About Staff Writer

First State Update's Delaware editorial team covers New Castle County, Kent County and Sussex County breaking news, political news, and general news stories. We bring the reader the latest news from the Wilmington, Newark, Dover, Rehoboth Beach and all point in between. If you have news to share, email us at desk@firststateupdate.com.

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