In the middle of a global pandemic, Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki made an effort to move forward and face the challenges presented by a post-COVID-19 future Thursday night, presenting his Fiscal Year 2021 operating budget during his annual State of the City address.
There's no property tax increase in his presented $169 million operating budget, he announced. At a 1.1% increase, Purzycki said the city was focused on battling the "mounting challenges from the coronavirus crisis," citing the city's economy was currently strong, but uncertainty lies ahead. He warned there may be changes to the final budget before it's passed.
"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...this budget might have to be amended as we look ahead to increasing layoffs in the hospitality sector and other parts of our economy," he said. "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 water and sewage budget totaled $78.9 million, an increase of 1.3%, though no increase in water rates are included in the budget proposal. The administration is already in discussions with an outside financial adviser and counsel for exploring "longer-term potential concerns," the mayor said.
Purzycki said he wanted to be realistic, but not pessimistic, in his budgeting plan.
"In the weeks and months ahead, we will be tested as a city, state, and nation like we’ve never been tested before,” he said. “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."
The city will continue to provide essential services, the mayor said, and he noted each of the city's employees 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."
Budget initiatives for the coming fiscal year include:
- $1 million to support the efforts of the Wilmington Neighborhood Conservancy Landbank
- $500,000 for 20 new neighborhood public safety cameras and $172,000 for additional staff to monitor the cameras to prevent crime and assist with the apprehension of those who commit crime
- $90,000 to expand the Wilmington Police Department’s ShotSpotter gunshot detection system to additional neighborhoods
- $400,000 to support the Beautiful City campaign, which enables local non-profits to hire neighborhood residents to clean city streets and neighborhoods
- $617,000 to complete and implement a new 311 citywide call center to process and resolve all requests for city services
"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...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."