NCCo Council sets example with budget cuts - Community News
By Jesse Chadderdon
Posted Feb 25, 2009 @ 11:28 AM
Wilmington, Del. —
New Castle County Council will trim $188,600 from its budget, cutting its traditional staff dinners before evening meetings and its entire grants account as the government looks top-to-bottom at ways to cut into its $40 million operating deficit.
The cuts, which combined will trim about 5.5 percent from the body’s $3.4 million budget, come as County Executive Chris Coons continues to negotiate to get concessions from six unions he says are necessary to avoid layoffs.
“This should be an alert to all the other departments that this is serious,” said Councilman Penrose Hollins (D-Wilmington North). “Don’t think there’s any department or any person that’s going to be exempt from this very painful process.”
Union employees – roughly 85 percent of the county’s 1,478-member workforce – balked at an initial request by Coons to take 24 voluntary furloughs and forgo a pay increase in 2009, but are continuing to negotiate a cost savings plan with the administration. County departments, meanwhile, have been instructed to come up with budgets that are 8 percent smaller than this year’s.
“What you see going on with council today you can expect with every other department that comes before us,” Smiley said.
Cuts to the bi-monthly catered meals begin immediately, and will save $4,000 this year.
Council began purchasing the meals eight years ago when government watchdog group Common Cause, among others, raised concerns about council members dining with developers or others with business before council outside the public microscope.
Next year, they’ll forgo all of it. In December, each council member agreed to cut $5,000 from their $15,000 grant budget. Now they're giving up the other $10,000 – $130,000 in total savings for fiscal year 2009. Several council members also pledged to make no further grants during this calendar year and return the money to county coffers.
“It’s impossible to talk about giving grants when we’re considering furloughing our own employees,” said Council President Paul Clark.
Councilman George Smiley (D-New Castle) said he’s already sent letters to all of the organizations he’s given money to notifying them funding would no longer be available from the county.
Cutting an assistant auditor position – which is currently vacant – will save another $33,000 and relocating the Auditor Bob Wasserbach from the Government Center in New Castle to Wilmington’s Louis L. Redding City/County Building will save another $12,200 in technology and office costs.
Another $3,200 savings will be realized by ending a contract with a courier service.
Clark said the cuts were only the council’s latest effort to trim costs. He said $500,000 in reductions have been made since 2004 by unfunding three positions, cutting newspaper advertising, and trimming council members' office and travel budgets. Last spring, council staffers also took a reduction in planned pay increases from 5 percent every year for 10 years to 2.5 percent every year for 20.
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