County Council appropriated money for the grant by a six-to-one
vote on Aug. 24, Council president Christopher Coons tacked on
an amendment to the enacting legislation which calls for
working-level city and county officials to meet and produce a
report on ways to eliminate 'overlaps and inefficiencies' in the
delivery of public services in the two jurisdictions before the
city receives the second of three installments of part of the
grant. The amendment squeaked by on a four-to-three vote, with
Council members Patty Powell, Karen Venezky and Robert Woods
then withdrew a proposed second amendment that would begin the
process of establishing a public safety foundation as a vehicle
for raising money from private sources such as corporations and
foundations and securing other government grants. Coons said he
"will return to [that] idea later."
separate but related matter, Coons came out on the short end of
a four-to-three vote when he offered a resolution committing
county government to resuming responsibility for school crossing
guards in the city in an arrangement that, initially at least,
would parallel the way crossing guards are provided in the rest
of the county. Councilman William Tansey joined Powell, Venezky
and Woods in voting against that proposal. Coons indicated,
however, that that idea is still viable.
Discussion at the unusual, if not unprecedented, Council session
and an earlier meeting of its finance committee was almost
entirely conciliatory. William Montgomery, Wilmington Mayor
James Baker's chief of staff, described the grant as the
culmination of a pattern of city-county cooperation emanating
from monthly meetings of their respective officials. City
Council president Ted Blunt referred to "a very pleasant
relationship over the past four years" forged by the two
Council normally takes a vacation recess during the entire month
of August. Rationale for scheduling an August session this year
was the need to act on an increased number of purchase orders
and contracts as the result of temporary legislation giving
Council greater oversight of the county administration's fiscal
and personnel actions in light of charges of alleged corruption
now before federal court. As it turned out, the grant
authorization was the dominant issue at the session.
dissenting vote on the authorization legislation was cast by
Councilman Robert Weiner. Although he did not participate in the
discussion leading up to the vote, he said in a written
statement given to media representatives afterwards that he did
so because he regards the grant as part of an political effort
by Sherry Freebery, the county's chief administrative officer,
to secure votes in her bid to win the Democratic nomination to
run for election to succeed Tom Gordon as county executive.
Freebery has been promising county taxpayers' dollars all around
the county. ... She is putting her political interests first and
county taxpayers second," Weiner's statement said. Freebery did
not attend the Council session.
previously reported, the idea of the grant grew out of a meeting
involving Baker, Gordon and Freebery which occurred during a
'sick-out' in July by Wilmington police officers seeking a new
labor contract to give them their first pay raise in three
years. First public disclosure of the agreement to provide the
grant came after Powell, Tansey, Venezky and Woods signed a memo
pledging their support of the necessary legislation.
primary sponsor of the enabling legislation which Council
enacted, presented a somewhat less restrictive version than
originally introduced. As enacted, it provides for giving city
government $5 million to set up "a dedicated city fund for
police vehicle needs." The original version would have earmarked
the money for the purchase of additional patrol cars which city
police officers could keep at their homes, as is the practice
with the county and state police forces.
of the grant would be given in three annual increments -- of $5
million, $3 million and $2 million -- "for the sole purpose of
a provision in the ordinance that would require a five-seventh
majority vote in coming years to change or eliminate the grant.
Councilman Penrose Hollins point out that that is not a
fail-safe guarantee, but there was a consensus that it is as far
as a Council can go toward binding a successor Council. Future
appropriations will not be necessary; the only action a
successor Council could take would be to rescind the one that
has now been made. County Council will expand from it present
seven members of 13 after the November election.
Montgomery told the Council session that "it is no secret where
some of the money will go." He did not say where, but later
confirmed to Delaforum that it likely will be used to finance
police raises, which he indicated could be partly retroactive to
make up for the officers having gone so long without one. The
city administration and the Fraternal Order of Police are still
negotiating a contract.
"will buy the city some breathing room," Montgomery testified at
the Council session. But he later told Delaforum that there is
"serious worry about sustainability"; that is, the ability to
continue to pay at the higher rate after the grant money runs
Chaffin, a city police detective and a director of the police
union lodge representing city officers, told Council that higher
pay is necessary to staunch the outflow of officers. "We're a
training facility for other police forces. The major reason is
better pay," he said. "We're losing the best and the brightest
young officers -- an average of one a month."
Marge Ellwein, who is president of the lodge which represents
members of the county police force, said that department has
manpower problems as well. The amount of money spent on the
grants could be used to put additional officers on county
patrols. Woods, who chairs Council's public safety committee,
said there is "a difference of opinion on what staffing we
need," but added that the committee intends to delve into the
Holloway Jr., a former state legislator, said the grant was
necessary "to help build a confidence of safety for our city
residents [and] county residents and those up and down the state
who visit the city every day."
Carter, who lives in Townsend cited "a fear of coming into the
city" on the part of many suburbanites and residents of rural
areas. Changing their perception through stronger policing
should be a priority objective, he said. "For this one, raise my
continues to be a general agreement among both county and city
officials and other observers that any long-term solution to the
city government's financial woes lies in the hands of state
said his idea in requiring a county-city effort to identify
service areas where support and cost-savings measures can be
applied and having the county take over the school crossing
guard function were to set an example and "challenge" state
government to get involved. He said he has written "in my
capacity as a private citizen" to Governor Ruth Ann Minner
asking her to reconstitute the taskforce she convened in 2003 to
study possible ways for the state to channel financial
assistance to Wilmington.
noted that Delaware and Mississippi are the only states that do
not have some form of state revenue sharing with cities and
said the amendment requiring county and city officials to meet
was not intended to attach a string to the grant but to keep the
momentum of cooperation going. "I want to see that everything
people today want to see happen actually does happen," he said.
Woods argued, however, that "it sends a wrong message" to the
effect that the county and not the state will be the primary
sources of financial aid. Coons replied that joint efforts
regarding some public services is what he has in mind, adding
that the amendment was "not intended to open up a discussion
about revenue sharing."
crossing guard proposal met rather strong opposition, primarily
on practical considerations. His raising the subject, however,
may have spurred an effort to 'reform' a well-established
arrangement with apparent inexplicable flaws.
unincorporated areas, county police have responsibility for
overseeing the guards' operations but school districts determine
how many are needed and at what intersections and other
locations they will be posted. The guards are paid for by a
separate county-collected tax pegged to the resultant cost. In
Wilmington, but not other incorporated municipalities, school
districts have similar authority, but the cost is paid from
general tax revenue.
unincorporated areas are paid considerably more -- on a scale
which ranges from 14% to 37% higher, according to county police
Major Stuart Snyder -- but the compensation is still relatively
low and annual turnover is as high as 20% to 25%. County
practice, Snyder testified, is to assign regular police officers
when possible to cover absences. There evidently is no such
coverage in the city.
county police officers going into the city to fill this
functions? If an intersection is not staffed and a child is
struck are police at fault?" Snyder said. At present, he said,
guards' only means of calling for help is by using personal
questioned what she termed 'inequity' in how the county would
finance city guards if it takes them over. The cost would be
shifted from city taxpayers to all county taxpayers, including
those who live in the city. But residents outside of the city
would have to continue to pay the separate tax, she said.
Morris, the county's chief financial officer, put that into a
broader context in urging that the county lawmakers scrutinize
the financial effects of assuming the crossing guards function
or taking over any other city service. "Before we commit to any
long-term support or revenue sharing, we should look at our own
fiscal situation," he said.
million policing grants are to be financed, according to the
appropriations legislation, from the county's operating surplus.
Morris and others have said, however, that the surplus built
during several years without any county tax increase, will run
out in a few more years.