WDEL Blog: Allan Loudell

New Castle County Executive Tom Gordon's Budget Address: Ad-lib, unorthodox, lacking in budget specifics

Tom Gordon delivered the first budget address of his new county administration.

Unlike his two immediate predecessors, no texts were provided media or council members. The reason became apparent. By his own admission, Gordon spoke pretty much off the cuff. Consequently, the tone was conversational, and Gordon clearly wanted to project a kinder & gentler persona in contrast to his previous reign as county executive.

The headline of concern to most people: No tax or fee increases. Yet Gordon promises to hire 19 new employees; spend $150,000 for a consultant to revamp the land use code, which he declared had been perverted over the years to favor developers; a Million bucks for improvements to the Public Safety Building; and reviving some of the festivals/amenities which had evaporated. No give-backs from union workers.

Quite a balancing act. Gordon acknowledged as much when he talked about how the city and county had fallen on hard times, with the shuttering of the two automotive plants and cutbacks at major corporations, most recently, Astra Zeneca.

County Council President Reverend Christopher Bullock emerged from Council Chambers in a hopeful mood, telling me it was clear Gordon wanted to "work" with Council. Indeed, Gordon kept saying he wanted to craft the final budget with substantial input from Council members.

It seems Republican County Councilman Bob Weiner, a fierce opponent of both property tax hikes and unbridled development, has become a Gordon ally -- for now. Weiner seems to be finding common ground with Gordon, a sharp turn from the past.

But some Democratic Council members were taken aback by the lack of specificity. Some complained that they had been kept in the dark. They questioned how Gordon could resist tax hikes, yet hire more county employees.

Perhaps anticipating such a reaction, Gordon declared his finance team would prove the math to council members: The cancellation of contracts to outside vendors would cancel the costs of hiring 19 new employees, for example.

Still, Gordon's preliminary budget - the outlines of which came out only AFTER the executive's budget address - offers a general budget of $169 Million, representing a 3.1% increase over the current budget. Here's the bugaboo for some council members: Some $4.3 Million would come out of the county reserves to fill the hole.

It appears Gordon is also looking for a fix from Dover as well. Several times, he condemned what he sees as an imbalance between New Castle County and Kent and Sussex Counties, the sense that downstaters are getting disproportionate benefits from the state without paying their fair share. He talked about going to Dover - with others - to make the case for the state's one metropolitan county.

More than other county executives, Gordon talked repeatedly about Wilmington's problems. He noted how Wilmington's lack of annexation powers had straitjacketed the city. (Factual, but the truth is MOST Northern U.S. cities are similarly constrained, most commonly by a ring of incorporated suburbs. Many cities in the South have much more flexibility. Take a look at some metropolitan maps from around the United States!)

With regard to crime, Gordon expanded on a theme he had brought up during candidates' debates: County police officers will be sworn-in as Wilmington officers within the next few weeks; conversely, city police officers will be sworn-in as county officers. The goal: Improve response to crimes in progress which happen to straddle city--county lines. No more jurisdictional questions when arriving at a crime scene. Gordon insisted it was not the same as a metropolitan police force; it just made common sense.

Remember the soccer tournament shootings at Eden Park last July? County Council President Bullock told me afterwards that was one example where city-council cross-jurisdictional authority might have made sense.

Gordon's speech ended on a rather unusual note: Developing a program (first suggested by Bullock) where city youths learn agricultural practices at one of the county's remaining farms; and the establishment of some farming within the city, with the goal of selling the produce at a farmer's market.

I've covered a lot of county executives, county mayors, etc., in three or four states over the years. Tom Gordon remains an original.

You can hear my interview with the county executive after his speech...

Audio Here

Posted at 7:51am on March 20, 2013 by Allan Loudell

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Comments on this post:

Wed, Mar 20, 2013 7:58am
He did what he has always done. Pandered for votes and acceptance and robbed Peter to pay Paul. My one thought for both the county and the state is there should be a substantial savings over the last two winters due to the lack of snow and snow removal. What happens to those funds allocated for such things?

Wed, Mar 20, 2013 9:31am
Allan - I missed your report on this address yesterday, but my wife told me about part of it. Will it be available as a podcast?

Allan Loudell
Wed, Mar 20, 2013 9:39am
Video of County Executive Gordon's complete speech is already up under our posted story.

Audio of my interview with the County Executive is now posted above and under "Podcasts"...

Wed, Mar 20, 2013 2:09pm
I find discomfort with a Wilmington clergyman on County Council, and Gordon's coziness with the Wilmington political establishment. Under his last watch, we gave 15 million dollars to Wilmington, with no accountability.

Wed, Mar 20, 2013 6:20pm
I listened to about 2 minutes of Mr. Gordon's speech yesterday, as that was about all I could handle. The guy sounds just like a drone.

Gordon's comeback to the county executive seat is about the equivalent of bringing Andy Reid back to coach the Eagles in 2020. I hope the NFL has more sense than New Castle County voters!

Mike from Delaware
Thu, Mar 21, 2013 7:50am
Mrpizza: The one important difference between Andy Reid and Tom Gordon... Andy Reid committed no crimes; the other took a plea deal for his actions, thus getting off the hook.

Thu, Mar 21, 2013 7:42pm

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