Community News 3/24/06: Weiner Calls For Full Budget Review
Members of council said they were looking forward to reviewing the budget, but appeared split on the issue of a tax increase.
Councilman Penrose Hollins (D-Wilmington North) said the council was “all over the map” when it came to their positions on tax increases.
Hollins said he was happy to hear Coons discuss multiple strategies, and said he was surprised to hear that all first-time homebuyers in the county received
a transfer tax exemption.
“That seems crazy to me,” he said. “Why should we be giving an exemption to someone buying a million dollar home?”
Councilman Robert Weiner (R-Chatham) said Coons appeared to have a balanced approach and said he would discuss the budget with his constituents before deciding on how to vote.
He said he would like to see the county revisit the step increases given to county employees in future years.
“There can be no sacred cows,” he said. “I am pleased to see that revisiting the way we compensate our employees is on the table.”
Councilman Timothy Sheldon (D-Pike Creek) said he hopes to find more areas to cut costs before raising taxes. “I think the county executive made a good case, but we need to look at this budget line-by-line and see what we can find before we raise taxes,” he said.
Councilwoman Karen Venezky (D-Newark) agreed. “I am going to devote myself over the coming months to work on ways to further cut this budget,” she said. “We owe it to taxpayers to take an extensive look at this budget.”
Councilman William Bell (D-Middletown East) said he opposed a property tax increase this year. “I’m optimistic that through deliberation over the coming weeks, that we can avoid a property tax increase,” he said. “I’m not going as far as to say I wouldn’t support one in future years, but I’m not sure this is the right time for one.”
But Councilman John Cartier (D-Penny Hill) said he thought Coons made a compelling case for his proposal. “I think he clearly laid out the challenges facing county government in 2007 and for the most part I agree with his strategy,” he said. “Homeowners in this county have seen property values increase dramatically and I think it’s fair to ask them to dedicate a small portion of that increase back to the county so we can continue to provide high quality services.”
Council President Paul Clark (D) said a tax increase was inevitable. “If not this year, it’s going to happen in future years,” he said. “We can cut, and we should cut, but there’s no way we’re going to be able to cut far enough. For every dollar we get in revenue, we have to supplement it with 26 cents from reserves to pay for services. We can’t keep doing that.”
But Clark said he expected the council to be “very divided” on the tax issue.
“Look, several members of council are up for election this year,” he said. “It’s going to be interesting.”
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