WILMINGTON — Wilmington Mayor John Stanforth said he would direct city department heads to prepare budget requests based on the tax issue failing, rather than passing, a directive he equated to a 20 percent reduction in spending.
“We have to be realistic on this budget,” Stanforth said at a council finance committee meeting. “I hope that tax passes in November, but I can’t do a budget on hope.”
A 0.5 percent earnings tax increase will be before voters in November. Council approved placing the tax before voters to address a $1.3 million deficit this budget year that is projected to reduce the city’s carryover to an initially projected less than $420,000.
Stanforth said all general fund departments, including the city’s general administration, will be asked to limit their spending requests by 20 percent. That directive won’t impact the departments paid for by enterprise funds, such as the water, wastewater and solid waste departments.
Stanforth told the News Journal that he has to “hope for the best but prepare for the worst.”
“This breaks my heart what may happen,” Stanforth said. “It just saddens me. It all comes down to people.”
Wilmington Police Chief Duane Weyand said a 20 percent reduction to the police department’s budget would be about $400,000.
“It’s a detrimental hit,” he said, adding that it would reduce the department’s ability to invest in the infrastructure needed for modern policing and would defer maintenance on the department’s vehicles.
“Everything you do in today’s policing is technology driven,” Weyand said. “We won’t be able to store that stuff, to back that stuff up, let alone to implement it. … We’re going to be going back to pencil and paper.”
Weyand said maintenance and fuel for vehicles would likely be cut, too, “which will, in a nutshell, be taking cars out of service faster. … Our patrolling will be very reactive in nature.”
At the finance committee meeting, Wilmington Treasurer Paul Fear asked if anyone considered freezing raises written into the city’s three union contracts – with police officers, firefighters and police sergeants and detectives.
“I think it would be silly to breach a contract without knowing what voters want to do,” said Wilmington Safety and Service Director Brian Shidaker.
“That’s just going to cost us more money,” said Stanforth. “It’s not going to be pretty though, Paul.”
Earlier in the meeting, Wilmington Auditor David Hollingsworth said he has prepared revenue projections for next year that include a $400,000 increase to revenue based on income tax collections this year.
Despite higher collections and lower expenses than initially anticipated, Hollingsworth said, the city is still using its carryover to fulfill budgetary commitments.
Marian Miller, Stanforth’s executive assistant, and Shidaker said the department heads would be asked to submit their requests by Sept. 9.
Reach Nathan Kraatz at 937-382-2574, ext. 2510 or on Twitter @NathanKraatz.