have a role to play and we need to be strong and healthy so we
can play that role," he said. "I don't want to leave anybody a
city that's broke."
practical terms, Baker's goal is to provide viable and permanent
revenue streams which will enable the Wilmington to stand on its
own and provide the public services expected of it without
having to bounce from crisis to crisis or run hat-in-hand to
Dover to bail it out. Although Wilmington, and scores of other
older cities, have long talked about restoring self-sufficiency,
Baker and the people around him have launched a concerted effort
to see to it that, if it is at all possible, it will happen.
little public notice and less fanfare, the city has hired Public
Financial Management, a consulting firm nationally recognized as
the leader in strategic financial planning for state and
municipal governments, to come up with a blueprint. Its report
and recommendations are due to be published soon.
he insists that the firm's in-depth study is being conducted
totally independent of his own views and those of others in his
administration, Baker has launched a campaign among the movers
and shakers in the business community to garner support for
implementing strategies which emerge from the study. He unveiled
his approach in a recent speech before the influential
Wilmington Rotary Club.
also has begun initial bi-partisan maneuvering with key members
of the General Assembly and the state administration. One of his
first recruits in the political arena is Harry Haskell, who 30
years ago was the last Republican mayor of Wilmington.
but a novice at the game of politics, Baker realizes that he
faces an uphill battle. But he said he feels there is little
time to waste. "Unless it gets done now, it will never get
done," he said.
his Rotary talk he specifically highlighted the consulting
firm's role in the fiscal turnaround Pennsylvania governor-elect
Ed Rendell pulled off while mayor of Philadelphia, Baker
emphatically denied in an interview with Delaforum that his
present efforts have a direct connection with his own political
trying to promote myself. This doesn't have anything to do with
wanting to be governor or anything like that," he said. It is a
widely held view among knowledgeable political observers that
Baker has brought to his office a genuine love for his adopted
city, having spent most of his adult life in professional and
political public-service positions on its behalf.
as it may, he is not approaching fiscal renovation with a blank
slate, awaiting direction from the consulting firm's report.
"Sure I have ideas -- lots of ideas. If I told you all my ideas,
we could be here all day," he said.
the ability to annex land to increase the city's real estate tax
base is one that he offers. "People don't realize how small
Wilmington really is," he said, noting that it also is
restricted by state law, which requires not only owners of the
affected properties but also New Castle County government --
which is understandably loathe to surrender turf -- to sign off
on any physical growth.
treated differently [in that regard] from any other municipality
in the state. Middletown can grow, Newark can grow, but we can't
grow," Baker said. Except for a slight boundary adjustment
involving access to Christina riverfront development, Wilmington
has had no successful annexation within any current resident's
memory, although the city itself owns property outside its
measure which the mayor advocates would require owners of the
42% of property in the city not on its tax roles to pay an
annual fee in lieu of taxes. "If any nonprofit [organization]
has an emergency, we send police and fire[fighters] right away.
I don't think it's asking too much tfor them to help pay for the
services they expect and receive," he said.
believes that enabling the city to offer, either directly or
through a concessionaire, sports betting would be an acceptable
revenue generator. It would be operated along the lines of
off-track horse- and dog-race wagering, but Baker said he would
exclude those sports from the mix. He said he also would not
seek slot machine gambling. "It wouldn't compete with the three
racetacks [in the state] in any way," he said.
rejected any argument that introducing a new form of legal
gambling would tend to become a so-called 'tax on the poor'.
"People gamble because they like to gamble. Nobody makes them do
it; it's something they want to do," he said.
other ways to produce revenue would not be meant to replace the
existing property and wage taxes, Baker said, but would serve as
a necessary supplement to the traditional streams, which have
lost their elasticity. "We're just about at the point where we
can raise taxes any more. We're already taxing people to death,"
appeal for legislative assistance, he added, "is not a gimme."
Wilmington, he explained, can made a strong case for it on the
basis of its contribution to the state economy and its
government's income. "Millions of dollars come out of the city.
We're entitled to some of it back if we're going to continue to
provide the services that keep the businesses that provide those
dollars here," he said.
he explained, is pressing.
talk about how New York reduced its crime. [Mayor Michael]
Bloomberg added 8,000 police officers to do that. We can't add
any officers; we can't offer them a raise or even the salary
they should have. New Castle (the city) starts its police on a
higher salary than we do," Baker said.
"If I had
my druthers, I'd add 100 more to the police force, at least 20
to the fire department, and 20 to licenses and inspections. We
need those people, but we can't bring them on."
described Wilmington as "the Switzerland of Delaware."
the Alpine country serves the business, banking and commercial
interests of Europe in an unique way, Wilmington is the key to
Delaware's reputation for providing a business-friendly
environment. "If we lose our major city, we're going to loose
that," he said.