Councilman Weiner community meeting consensus: expand police force but not with higher taxes; Weiner pledges to explore other options - News Journal
Residents against tax hike for safety plan
Concern raised at forum; NCCo Council to vote tonight
BY ANGIE BASIOUNY • THE NEWS JOURNAL • OCTOBER 28, 2008
Residents feeling the squeeze from a tight economy told New Castle County Council members Monday night they just aren't ready to pony up more in property taxes to pay for a plan to improve public safety.
Making good on a promise to shop the plan to residents before casting their votes, the elected leaders held meetings in Newark and Brandywine Hundred that drew about 90 people.
"Folks are generally supportive," said Councilman Robert Weiner, who hosted the Brandywine Hundred meeting. "But the overwhelming consensus was that it's a bad time in the economic sphere to ask for a tax increase, and they wanted us to look at other sources of income, revenue or ways to decrease expenses to finance the [plan]."
Council is expected to vote tonight on whether to authorize spending $1.7 million in reserve cash reserve to pay for the first year of the five-year plan to beef up the Department of Public Safety.
To continue paying for it, the county would need to raise property taxes by 4 percent in each of the remaining four years.
"I've heard a lot from people about the economy," Councilman David Tackett said. "Things are getting more expensive for them, but they are also getting more expensive for us."
The money is needed to phase in the hiring of 145 new officers, detectives, support personnel and 911 call center staffers.
Officials said the goals of the plan are to reduce overall crime by 10 percent, cut response time to low-priority calls by 50 percent and give officers more "uncommitted time" to pursue community policing.
Restructuring the 911 center would improve the percentage of calls answered within three rings (10 seconds) from 75 percent, according to the plan.
The amount needed is equivalent to a 4 percent property tax increase, or another $16 on the average yearly tax bill of $402.
Resident George Koumpias, who attended the Newark meeting, said community policing is so important that the county should speed up the timetable and get the plan done in two years instead of five.
"I'm in favor of this," he said. "If I can see a county officer out in my neighborhood talking to my grandkids, I'd give you $100 a year."
Jeffrey Bullock, the county's chief administrative officer, warned residents the request for taxes likely won't stop at the 4 percent for public safety improvements.
Bullock pointed to the county's bleak fiscal picture, including the loss of $11 million in revenue since the July 1 start of the budget year. County spending also remains in a deficit despite millions of cutbacks in the last several years.
"I already thought we were going to have to come back to council next year and ask for a tax increase just to make up for what we've lost," Bullock said.
That worries Albert Deschamps, who also came to the Newark meeting.
"I'm afraid New Castle County is continually raising taxes," he said. "I don't think we can afford to spread the wealth. Things are tough."
Newark resident Evan Steinberger agreed.
"This is not the time to raise property taxes," Steinberger said. "You guys have to find ways to cut funding in other areas."
Councilman Timothy Sheldon said he plans to vote against the increase and advocated the county go to the state to ask for permission to vote separately on taxes for public safety. That way, he said, residents would know exactly for what they are paying.
Councilwoman Stephanie McClellan said she supports the plan but thinks it should be discussed during the regular budget cycle so elected leaders can prioritize spending decisions.
Contact Angie Basiouny at 324-2796 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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