county should move forward with short-term assistance for the
city, but has to involve the state in [financing] long-term
solutions to the city's revenue problems," Council president
Christopher Coons said.
representative Dennis Williams, who represents a city
constituency in Dover, put it more succinctly: "Wilmington is in
deep trouble. Stop playing games here. ... Wilmington needs
money, not a lot of bullshit."
that the county administration anticipates there will be a need
to increase the real estate tax rate in about four years, Sherry
Freebery, its chief administrative officer, said New Castle
County "is not the best government to offer [the city] long-term
Hollins, whose County Council district includes the city, said
that financial aid "will have to proceed on two tracks" with the
county dealing with it short-range and the General Assembly
assuming long-range responsibility.
Councilman Robert Woods said that Governor Ruth Ann Minner this
autumn will reconvene the taskforce charged in 2003 with
recommending ways for the state to enhance Wilmington's
continuing revenue streams, Ronald Morris, the county's chief
financial officer, said his experience participating in the
panel's first go-round leads him to question whether that can be
productive. "Never did I see so many people gathered together
not to do what they were gathered together to do," he said. The
governor agreed to and the Assembly enacted measures
considerably short of what the taskforce recommended.
discussion came as Woods extended a scheduled meeting of County
Council's public safety committee on July 26 to consider whether
and how to implement an agreement reportedly reached by city and
county officials meeting behind closed doors in the wake of a
'sick-out' by members of the Wilmington police force. It calls
for the county to provide a $15 million 'grant' that would
include $5 million to purchase police cars and $10 million to
assist with "general law-enforcement needs. Of the latter, $5
million would be given in the current fiscal year, $3 million in
fiscal 2006 and $2 million in fiscal 2007.
police job action was in protest of not having an employment
contract nor pay raise for three years. There has been a general
assumption, based on the timing, that the county money would go
to pay for police pay raises. However, Woods, Hollins and
Freebery raised objections to the county in any way involving
itself in labor negotiations between city government and its
committee session ended, Woods announced that he has no
immediate plans to introduce the necessary legislation to effect
the grant. County Council is scheduled to take its traditional
August recess after its July 27 meeting. This year, however, it
has decided to cut the recess short and meet again on Aug. 24.
Although the prospective grant is not on the agenda, a
resolution authorizing it could be introduced during the 'other
business' portion of the July 27 meeting.
Council takes no action before September, Coons said that he
interpreted the tenor of discussion at the finance committee
session as giving Mayor James Baker and city government "a level
of confidence" that help is on the way.
reportedly had proposed the $15 million grant in a memo endorsed
by three other members of County Council -- Patty Powell,
William Tansey and Karen Venezky. Although no official follow-up
action has been taken, Baker reportedly has 'accepted' the
offer. Morris told the committee that the money would have to
come from Council's tapping the county's financial surplus or
shifting some appropriations in the approved fiscal 2005 budget.
members constitute the majority of County Council that would be
required to enact legislation necessary to implement the
decision. County Executive Tom Gordon, whose approval also would
be required, reportedly was a party to the agreement.
open letter to Woods read at the committee meeting by John Rago,
the mayor's press secretary, Baker referred to the financing
agreement as a "direct outgrowth of the positive working
relationship we all have nurtured" during more than three years
of intergovernmental cooperation between the city and county,
which he described as "inextricably tied."
million will "allow the city to address a number of pressing
short-term needs ... [and] to reduce some of the pressure in
other areas of our city budget." It also will provide "badly
needed breathing room" while a bid for 'structural changes' in
the city's ability to raise revenue is considered by the
gubernatorial taskforce, according to the letter.
went on to say that "more detailed plans" for use of the grant
money will be presented to City Council, which must approve
acceptance of the grant. Councilman Norman Griffith, who chairs
City Council's finance committee, told his county colleagues
that "some issues are still up in the air as to what the
proposal is." He did not specify what they are.
earlier in the public safety committee session said that,
contrary to some media reports, he had not intended to compete
with Woods in devising a way to fulfill the assistance pledge
made at the private meeting. "We have had a significant
misunderstanding" as the result of his being kept unaware of
Woods's memo before Gordon had forwarded it to Baker, Coons
that he thought the agreement would be made public at the
committee meeting and that all Council members would "have the
opportunity to discuss openly any plans to help the city of
Wilmington." Because of the size of the commitment involved,
County Council should "deliberate publicly as a group," he said.
auditor Robert Hicks reportedly has asked the state attorney
general about the legality of Woods's memo vis-à-vis the state's
open meeting law. The memo actually was signed on behalf of the
four Council members by their legislative aides.
Nevertheless, Coons did present his plan to the public safety
committee. It provides that:
county immediately provide $5 million in the form of a one-time
grant, with no strings attached, so that city government can
"complete current negotiations with their public safety unions,
both the city police and firefighters."
county provide additional financial relief by taking on some
governmental functions that are duplicated by the city and
county, such as paying school-crossing guards.
nonprofit foundation be established to deal with "public safety
issues across county and municipal lines," including raising
money from private as well as governmental sources "for
critically needed investments in public safety."
county come up with some form of revenue sharing with the city
while "challenging the state to match" the result through such
things as possibly making payments in lieu of taxes on state
property that is exempt from city taxation.
Councilman William Tansey said he thinks Coons's proposal "looks
like we're going to metropolitan government." Freebery said she
is concerned that the proposed foundation amounts to a step
toward "privatization of the police function." Coons, who lives
in the city, denied both assertions. "It is not my intention to
suggest these governments merge in any way," he said.
cautioned against relying too heavily on county government's
ability to come up with money to finance continuing support for
the city. "We have the money now [but] in four years we are
[going to be] just breaking even ourselves," she said. "Eight
months from now our [union] contracts are up for negotiations."
large delegation of off-duty and out-of-uniform Wilmington
police officers attending the committee meeting, Freebery, who
is a former county police officer and chief of that force, gave
a strong endorsement to the city force and what she said is a
pressing need to "properly train, equip and compensation them."
City cops currently lag about $20,000 a year behind their
counterparts on the county and state force, she said.
to do so, she added, bodes ill for the city. "Folks aren't going
to stay in the city if they don't feel absolutely safe," she
police chief David McAllister said it was possible to dispatch
county officers into the city during the 'sick out' without
"hurting our patrols" in the unincorporated areas of the county,
"but we can't do that on any sustained basis." He disputed
reported objections by the county police union to providing
money to the city on the grounds of alleged shortcomings in
financing the county force, which he said was based on
putting ourselves in a dangerous position if [county] money is
earmarked for police salaries," city resident Maryann McGonegal
testified. She said city police are responsive to calls for
assistance, but noted that many officers "do not want to live in
the city." There have been several efforts to relax city
residency requirements which now apply to all but the
longest-serving members of the force.
called for any moves toward revenue sharing to be comprehensive.
Questioning whether county government "will have the ability to
earmark appropriations for the city down the road," he said not
only state government but also "our major corporate partners in
the city [should] sit at the table too."
that the arrangement by which residents of incorporated areas
pay less county tax because they do not require some county
services is an avenue for providing long-term county support for
the city. Actually, he said, those residents "receive far more
[county] services than they pay for" through their discounted
added, raises the question of the extent to residents of
unincorporated areas of the county will be willing to
'subsidize' city residents. Morris also lives in the city.