Mayor Purzycki Presents City Budget, No Tax Or Rate Increases For Now

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Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki last evening presented his proposed Fiscal Year 2021 operating budget and water/sewer/stormwater budget to City Council as he delivered his annual State of the City Address. The Mayor said the state of the City is currently very strong but cautioned that as the City battles through the coronavirus crisis it is difficult to predict at this time how the City, its residents, and its businesses will be affected, and therefore how much the proposed budget will have to be altered.

“The budget I am delivering today, prepared before the coronavirus crisis had become a factor, projects a surplus without drawing on our tax equalization fund and requires no tax increase or water/sewer rate increase,” said Mayor Purzycki. “Our five-year budget projection is sound, with modest tax increases and little borrowing from the tax equalization fund projected into the future. Now, circumstances have changed, and this budget might have to be amended as we look ahead to increasing layoffs in the hospitality sector and other parts of our economy. We must be realistic about our revenues. While the current Fiscal Year 2020 will see a small erosion in revenue because of the coronavirus crisis, the next fiscal year looks more problematic.” The Mayor said the City has already begun discussions with Wilmington’s outside financial advisor and counsel to explore how revenues and expenditures could be affected and to review longer-term potential concerns for City government and the local economy.

“My judgment therefore tonight is to present a realistic, but not pessimistic, budget with the expectation that we may use some fund balance if revenues disappoint us or if the economic contraction proves to be unrelenting,” said the Mayor. “We can be thankful that we have laid a strong foundation over the past three years to help us weather whatever storm comes our way. Our fund balance has increased from $34 million in FY 2017 to a projected $52 million at the end of this current fiscal year, which represents a healthy 30% of our operating budget. We have budget reserves on hand of $17 million and unassigned cash of over $5 million.”

The proposed operating budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 totals $169 million, which is a slight 1.1% increase from the current budget and requires no increase in property taxes to fund City services and programs. The water/sewer/stormwater budget presented tonight totals $78.9 million, or an increase of 1.3% from the current budget, and it too requires no water rate increase for either City or County water customers as the City continues to provide exemplary water, sewer, and wastewater services to the public.

“In the weeks and months ahead, we will be tested as a City, state, and nation like we’ve never been tested before,” said Mayor Purzycki. “The challenges to our way of life from this deadly biological agent are mounting and most experts are telling us to brace for the worst yet to come. If we stay strong, work together, speak the truth to each other, and care for each other, we can pull through this. Your City government will continue to provide essential services and we will hold to our pledge to do so with as much service delivery excellence and efficiency as possible. The men and women who police our streets, fight fires, provide clean drinking water, operate our sewer and wastewater systems, and collect our trash and recyclables are committed public servants who are battling through the same concerns, fears, and uncertainties we all are. And yet, they are doing their jobs extremely well, and I applaud them and thank them.”

Mayor Purzycki said the City has made great progress in the past three years to reduce crime, strengthen neighborhoods, clean city streets and neighborhoods more than ever before, repair and repave streets, renovate and improve parks providing more recreational opportunities than ever for young people and families, refurbish the City’s only community center, and improve and update Wilmington’s water and sewer system. “We have spent millions of dollars to make the City safer, more efficient, more beautiful, and more enjoyable for our residents,” said Mayor Purzycki. “Wilmington’s education centerpiece—HBCU Week and College Fair—may have started here just three short years ago, but it is gaining national attention, which means more opportunities for our City to make college more available and affordable for our children.”

Mayor Purzycki said Wilmington’s annual crime reduction trends are continuing, which is a tribute to the efforts of Police Chief Robert J. Tracy and the men and women of the Wilmington Police Department (WPD). The Mayor said Wilmington has fundamentally transformed policing—implementing CompStat management systems; adopting intelligence-led policing strategies; and ensuring that every police officer is a community policing officer. “We continue to see reductions in overall violent crime each year,” said the Mayor. “2019 finished with a 3% reduction from 2018 (across the categories of murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, theft, and auto theft), which is an 11% decrease from 2017 and a 22% decrease compared with 2016. Last year ended with a 42% reduction in shooting incidents compared with 2017, and a 29% reduction compared with 2016. This is very encouraging, but much more work is ahead.”

Mayor Purzycki said Wilmington’s financial house is in order. “The five-year budgeting plan I introduced in 2017 worked very well to control spending as we used strategic budget goals. The multi-year budget plan required just one tax increase in four years. Think how important it is for us to be operating today from a strong fiscal position as we now face the uncertainties of a biological war that is affecting our government as well as our everyday lives. We will continue to move Wilmington forward and together we will overcome any obstacles in our way.”

Mayor Purzycki’s budget initiatives for Fiscal Year 2021 include:
$1 million to support the efforts of the Wilmington Neighborhood Conservancy Landbank, which in conjunction with the City, is working to strengthen and preserve City neighborhoods.
$500,000 for 20 new neighborhood public safety cameras to prevent crime and assist with the apprehension of those who commit crime, as well as $172,000 for additional staff to monitor the cameras $90,000 to expand the Wilmington Police Department’s ShotSpotter audio detection system to other neighborhoods.

$400,000 to support Mayor Purzycki’s Beautiful City campaign, which enables local non-profits to hire neighborhood residents to clean City streets and neighborhoods. The campaign, begun in 2017, complements the outstanding work of the street cleaning teams from the Department of Public Works and gives local residents a modest wage for keeping their neighborhoods clean.
$617,000 to complete and implement a new 311 citywide call center to more efficiently process and resolve all requests for City services and to provide information to residents and businesses.

“As we look ahead, our challenges, complicated even more by the coronavirus threat, remain in front of us,” said the Mayor. “We continue to suffer from too much poverty, blight, and crime in the poorest parts of town. There are too many guns on the streets. Our school system must be challenged to be responsive to our kids and their special needs. Our housing stock must be improved so our children grow up in a healthy environment. Landlords must be held to account for substandard living conditions – and city council must give us the tools to fight the slumlords. You told us that the original ordinance was too much at once. Fair enough, we will break up the ordinance into three separate ones. We hope to see all three adopted by council.”

“Every successful city has an aspirational self-image. What is ours? If we aspire to a brand, it is no longer to be the chemical, corporate, or credit card capital, but simply to be what Harvard professor Toni Griffin calls a “just” city — one that is prosperous but fair to all its residents. One where doors to prosperity are open to all. Where the city is designed to create access, not isolation. One where funding for schools is adequate to teach children who come to school carrying every imaginable burden. One where our poorest neighborhoods are as well maintained as our best neighborhoods, and where our parks and facilities are the very best, not only for those with means and money, but for our poorest children as well. A just city where our housing stock is maintained, and no child grows up living in squalor. Where the streets are clean, where the streetlights shine at night, and where there is optimism and hope during the day. This is what a just city looks like to me.”

“It is why Stephen A. Smith came back to Wilmington with his ESPN show, First Take. When he last visited as a guest, he saw a City that cares for the kids who historically lived on the margins. He saw 3,500 of our local students at the 76ers Fieldhouse applying to HBCU colleges, placing our City in the vanguard of cities that support our young leaders of tomorrow. Because, maybe he felt Wilmington was indeed a just city.”

“As I said earlier, things are changing at light speed. We have no idea what will have happened to the economy by the time council considers these budget ordinances. While this document presents a baseline of planned expenditures and projected revenues, it should be our expectation that we work together to meet the challenges ahead and that we remain as aspirational as we can be while dealing with the financial realities as we find them. I continue to be most appreciative for the opportunity to lead this City and will do my best to continue to rally our residents and businesses to do what is best and right for Wilmington.”

Wilmington City Council will hold public hearings on the Mayor’s budget proposal during the month of April. Council is expected to vote on a new budget for Fiscal Year 2021 in May.

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