Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Part II: Wilmington’s proposed budget includes additional $20k for council member travel

City Council approved changes to the city's policy regarding paid time off if the city closes due to natural disasters (Port City Daily photo / File)
City Council will have to approve the city’s new budget by June. (Port City Daily photo / File)

WILMINGTON — The City of Wilmington’s proposed budget of approximately $206.6 million is going to City Council next week for public hearings, and by the end of June, the city will have adopted a budget. Priorities like affordable housing, remaining competitive with pay to retain employees, and maintaining core infrastructure are all listed as essential needs for the city.

Related: No tax increase in Wilmington’s proposed budget

In Part I of this series an overview of some of the revenues and definitions of different funds were presented, now, it is time to look at how money is being spent.

The City of Wilmington, like all governmental bodies in the state) is required to have a balanced budget each year. All this means is that the amount of money brought in through taxes and other revenues is the same as what is spent.

So what exactly is the city spending more than $200 million of taxpayer money on?

General Fund Expenditures

The General Fund is the city’s main account where the majority of funding comes from for different things around the city. (Port City Daily/City of Wilmington)

The General Fund is the city’s main account where the bulk of the money comes from. There are other funds, like the parking fund and other enterprise funds that, in general, are used only for their specific causes.

The bulk of general fund expenditures goes to paying for public safety, in fact, 48% of taxpayer money goes to it. By comparison, the next highest percentage for expenditures is for ‘sundry’ expenses and community services both at 9%.

Public safety provides things like the Wilmington Police Department and Wilmington Fire Department, but what exactly is ‘sundry’ spending?

This category is a bit more miscellaneous than other, more well-defined parts of the budget. For example, the Wilmington City Council will have $20,000 set aside in ‘sundry’ spending for additional travel for council and executive staff.

This is new, additional funding — the Wilmington City Council already is allocated almost $30,000 for travel expenses and training each year.

“This money ($20,000) is on top of what is already allocated. It is a contingency should travel needs arise for council that are beyond the original budget. One example of when this fund was tapped was the year that Hurricane Florence hit. There was additional travel to Washington DC to advocate for federal funding on various recovery issues. When and if this fund is to be tapped, it must be approved at a regular council meeting,” City of Wilmington Spokesman Dylan Lee said.

The basics annual allotments for travel are $4,900 for the mayor and $4,150 for each councilmember.

Other items included in sundry appropriations include medical insurance, the Wave Transit subsidy, and employee parking.

Paying competitive wages

Cities around the country have struggled with the retention of employees, from police officers to code enforcement to office staff. One of the biggest reasons for employees to leave their roles is to get a better paying job, oftentimes, in another city.

That is why the city has made it a priority to pay employees market wages to ensure retention.

“As a priority, this recommended budget reflects the continuation of a multi-year compensation strategy that pays market wages to employees doing similar jobs. The success of our compensation program hinges on our ability to appropriately compete with external labor markets, to recognize and reward exceptional performance and to maintain a shared sense of internal equity and fairness. With limited revenues to support on-going costs, the number one priority in this economic environment was ensuring employee compensation and benefit needs were met,” according to the budget presentation.

Laura Mortell, budget director for the city, said that the recommended budget includes more than $2 million in a compensation merit package. She is also recommending an increase in health benefits for city employees.

“To this end, a package is recommended in the budget to include a merit package for performance. We have increased health insurance rates funded in the city,” Mortell said.

There are also a number of social causes that the city is spending money on in this year’s budget. These include things like funding for nonprofits, workforce affordable housing, and reducing youth violence.

The upcoming budget recommends $623,000 be allocated by the city for affordable housing opportunities including: Homeownership Opportunity
Program ($470,000); Rehabilitation Programs ($103,000); Minor Repairs up to $10,000 and Owner-occupied housing rehabilitation programs up to $75,000.

For a full breakdown of the budget, you can watch Mortell give her presentation to City Council. The budget will be voted on in June for it to go into effect July 1.

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