asked to help
county meet fiscal problem
which represent a majority of county government employees are being asked to
forego pay raises and agree to furloughs and other cost-cutting
measures in contracts now being negotiated.
"Everybody needs to
be making a contribution to solving this [financial] problem,"
County Executive Christopher Coons said.
In keeping with
usual policy by public entities of holding information about
labor relations close to the vest, Coons did not go into detail
about what the county administration has put on the table in
continuing talks with the unions except to say that an agreement
reached last April with the local representing park- and
sewer-maintenance workers is being advanced as a model.
At a well-attended town
meeting-style 'listening session' for residents of western
Brandywine Hundred and eastern Christiana Hundred, County
Council president Paul Clark said the county administration is
talking with volunteer fire companies how much will be provided
in the way of financial support next year. He indicated it will
be less than the $3.9 million that 19 companies are getting this
And Lynne Howard, acting chief
administrative officer, revealed that the administration "has
started consultation" with state and city of Wilmington
officials about ways that might be used to cut down on
"duplication of services." She said that was in response to
Governor Jack Markell's desire to reduce or eliminate
overlapping government functions.
Asked at the meeting on Feb. 4
for a show of hands to indicate which of three alternatives for
dealing with the county's expected budget shortfall in the
coming fiscal year they preferred, 62 attenders said they would
accept a hefty property-tax increase to avoid having to
significantly cut back county services, 35 wanted any tax
increase to be balanced with service cuts and five opted for no
higher taxes regardless of what effect that has on services.
About 125 members of the general public turned out for the
comments from those at the meeting ranged from Kate du Pont
Phillips saying she was "willing to pay a 50% increase in
property tax to maintain [present] services" to Ann Rave who
said, "I do not want my taxes or any other taxes raised. Our
government[s] have to do what families do in hard times."
One man, who did not identify
himself, said it was not surprising that people who attend such
meetings would be supportive of a tax increase. "The many who it
would really hurt aren't here tonight," he said. A woman said
the meeting had been "stacked with people who want to pay more
With the majority of attenders
apparently accepting the premise that county government spending
"is down to the bare bones," Clark told the audience that "all
the Council [members] have to hear from you to feel comfortable
with [their] vote."
Councilman Bob Weiner, in whose
district the meeting was held, said that he "has never voted to
raise taxes," but indicated that he may be leaning in the
opposite direction. "It's a choice now [of] whether we continue
to deliver parks and libraries and police," he said. Weiner is
one of two Republicans on the 13-member Council, but, in
practice, few if any issues which come before Council evoke
Outcome of the labor negotiations
is critical because personnel costs account for about
three-quarters of the county budget. Last spring the maintenance
workers' union, which had been without a contract since April,
2007, agreed to a retroactive 3.1% cost-of-living increase
for the then-current fiscal year; a one-time payment of $250
this fiscal year; no increase next year; and a 1% cost-of-living
increase in fiscal 2011.
The other five unions, with which
talks are now under way, have been working without a contract
since last Apr. 1. County spokesman C.R. McLeod told Delaforum
that it is most likely their new contracts would cover the
current year and the coming two years. He would not comment on
whether they might include any retroactive provisions.
With personnel costs such a major
factor in county operations, Coons said that volunteers have
begun to an will increasingly have to play a role in determining
which optional services will be provided. That is especially so
with regard to libraries and parks where so-called 'friends'
groups can be instrumental in obtaining financial support and
staffing some activities.
"We have actually expanded
services in a few places where volunteers have made it possible
for us to do so. We will continue [that] where there are
volunteers," he said.
He did not make any response when
Chris Hutchinson, president of the Friends of Rockwood Park,
said his organization believes that the mansion in the park "is
the next [attraction] to go."
Coons did take issue with a
recent newspaper article critical of the way volunteer fire
company manage their finances. "I am impressed by people who get
up at two in the morning, get in a truck, [and] jump on a fire
engine to help people they don't know," he said. "Without a
volunteer service that protection would be provided by a
full-time paid fire service. You [now] benefit enormously." He
said the volunteer companies maintaining sufficient funds to
assure continued operation and acquire equipment is essential.
Attender Patty Miller, of the
Nemours Foundation, said county-sponsored recreation programs
are necessary because they make it possible for "families and
children to be physically active" and combat obesity. Brett
Saddler urged that the administration and Council "do what they
need to do to keep our police and code enforcement fully