Williams proposes property tax, water rate hikes

By Tom Lehman 6:57pm, March 27, 2014 - Updated 9:04am, March 28, 2014
VIDEO: Excerpts from Wilmington Mayor Dennis Williams' budget address and reaction from City Council President Theo Gregory and Councilman Bud Freel.
Wilmington Mayor Dennis Williams proposed a $150.5 million operating budget that requires a 9.9 percent property tax increase and utility rate hikes on Thursday.

The proposal, unveiled during the mayor's annual budget address, would increase spending by 3.5 percent more than the current fiscal year, which ends on June 30.

Williams said the city is projected to incur previously unanticipated cost factors like a $1.1 million increase in debt service for capital projects and $876,000 in healthcare and pension obligations.

The spending plan would also allocate money on "carefully considered crime-fighting items," and neighborhood initiatives like the Cure Violence program. Funds would also be spent on demolishing vacant buildings.

However, the mayor said the city would have to raise taxes to avoid laying off 99 city workers over four years.

"Forced to choose between eliminating city services through massive layoffs or raising more tax revenue, I made the gut-wrenching decision to do the latter," he said.

The tax increase will cost the average Wilmington resident $6.54 per month--more than $78 each year--on average and is estimated to bring $3.6 million in revenue to the city.

Williams also proposed raising water and sewer rates by 8 percent and storm water utility rates by 7 percent, as recommended by a citizen advisory board.

In addition, the mayor said city facilities will be billed for water usage starting in fiscal year 2016, a measure that was also advised by the board.

"It is fair. It is equitable, it's the right thing to do," he said.

City council members indicated the tax and utility rate increases would prompt a close look at the budget to identify any possible cuts that would lessen the burden placed on taxpayers.

"We need to see if we can cut more," said Council President Theo Gregory (D). "Certainly if we can't, we'll stay at 9.9."

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Councilwoman Loretta Walsh (D-At Large) said the scrutiny would fall on the administration to justify some expenditures from the current fiscal year during the budget hearings next month.

"Not the mayor himself, but the people who work for the mayor are going to have a lot of explaining to do on what they've done with the current year's budget before they get money for a new year's budget," she said.

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Kathleen Patterson, president of the Ninth Ward Civic Association agreed that council will have to look closely at the budget. She said many residents in her community had already expressed concerns about the tax and utility rate increases.

"We don't really want to cut services but we don't need to be putting a bigger burden on the taxpayers either," she said.

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Councilman Darius Brown (D-District 3) said he was encouraged by Williams' intentions to bring the Cure Violence program to Wilmington and adoption of safe neighborhood suggestions he made last year.

However, Brown noted the increased spending could make things more difficult for seniors living in Wilmington.

"They just don't have that extra $10 a month. They don't have that $100 a year to be putting into property taxes, let alone water and sewer and other things," he said.

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You can read Mayor Williams' budget address on the City of Wilmington's website.

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