Finance Committee is, at this moment, the most important and temporarily powerful body in the city. It has also shown itself to be the most inept. This week’s meeting may have been the most disappointing, with the committee rehashing the same discussion they have had for the last four months, with almost no progress. Here are some highlights:
- Finance Committee spent almost the entire 30 minute meeting discussing what kind of special meeting to have. Chairman Mark McKay started the meeting by requesting a special Finance Committee meeting next week because he wanted to make sure they could spend enough time on the issue and that it was the only thing on the agenda. This appears to be a stall tactic. There were only a couple of other small, quick agenda items that took less than ten minutes before they got to the budget discussion.
- President of Council Randy Riley essentially took over the meeting, pushing for a whole group special council meeting next Thursday to discuss the budget. He openly advocated towards coercing members of council to not take any vote or make any motions towards a vote on anything regarding the budget.
- Eventually, a workshop was decided upon, with the administration presenting expenses of the city. Does Finance Committee not have that information? Did they not pass the budget?
- Nathan Kraatz, reporter for the Wilmington News Journal, asked Finance Committee if they wanted the administration to present 15% in cuts that would need to happen to balance the budget. Chairperson McKay first asked where this number came from and then requested that it happen; subsequently, the administration said they would not be able to pull that off. City resident Mark Rembert asked why finance committee would not be recommending that. There was no real answer. There was also no statement as to why Finance Committee hasn’t taken any actions on the numbers it got almost two months ago from the administration as to potential cuts.
So what will happen at next week’s council “workshop?” It certainly sounds like this is not the public forum that Finance Committee was hoping for at the beginning of the year, but is more of an education for City Council itself about the budget. Finance Committee is under the gun to take action, but Chairperson McKay seems to think they are ahead of the game because it is only May. I hope that Thursday’s workshop will give Council and the Finance Committee enough information to act, but after this last Finance Committee meeting, I am skeptical.
One item that I have purposely not written about here is the matter of the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau funding. The reason I haven’t is because, for some reason, this funding has been tied to the Parks and Recreation Department, where my mother is the director. However, I wanted to give a quick overview of what happened at the meeting. I want to state, firmly, that I do not believe this money should be tied into parks in any way. I believe that this is about making sure General Fund monies are being spent wisely.
The CVB, through Executive Director Debbie Stamper, released a statement on the potential for losing some funding. In it, she said that the hotel lodging tax was “not public money.” She reiterated most of this at the meeting, but backtracked a little. Councilman Matt Purkey and Mayor John Stanforth were quick to say that this was wrong. The CVB argues that this money only comes from transient guests, and that it should be spent on these purposes. In the letter to Council, the CVB took the bold stance of telling Council how to spend its tax money, specifying that any money that the City withholds from the CVB should be spent to improve the City parks to attract tournaments (essentially, to increase the amount of revenue from lodging taxes).
Judiciary, especially Councilman Purkey, did an exceptional job of trying to separate the issue from Parks and make it about tightening up. Purkey pointed out the CVB Christmas cards as an example (I could point to many more, including a party for local people) of waste by the CVB. I could not agree more that there is bloat in the organization. The CVB has avoided much of this for years, but it seems that now might be the time when there is political will to make sure that General Fund monies are being spent in an appropriate and closely-watched manner.
City Council meeting
City Council was highlighted by the community fluoridation public forum. I will be doing a podcast on this, and encourage you to listen to that. It was certainly a good discussion, with both sides presenting arguments without getting nasty or angry. I believe that all of the concerns brought up, from the effect on kidneys to skeletal and dental fluorosis, were well handled by the physicians and dentist that were present. It is important for us to remember that many of these debates are taking place between people for whom these efforts will have minimal benefit-generally, adults that can afford dental coverage. This is sometimes ignored as we look at the benefits of fluoridation, unfortunately, but it must be an important part of the consideration if the issue moves to a vote.
After the public forum, the rest of the meeting went by without much discussion, save for the repeal of the G-1 Gateway Zone. This was met mostly without opposition, except for Mayor Stanforth. The mayor, who has indicated that he supports simplifying zoning in Wilmington, wondered if there would be an impetus to do so if the G-1 was repealed. In my opinion, the mayor makes a good point in that the city has lost some of its bargaining power with those that said they opposed the G-1. Zoning seems to be an important issue for many on City Council, and the Judiciary Committee has promised a Zoning Task Force to lead the way in zoning changes. This is a great start as we move towards a comprehensive zoning plan for the city.
It was an exciting week of Council and Committee meetings. Action was taken on the G-1, while intense discussions were had about fluoridation and CVB funding. I am eagerly awaiting next Thursday’s Council budget workshop to see what information is presented and how discussions go. If you are passionate about Council pursuing a certain revenue source, I hope you will come and make your voice heard.