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1/4/2017
New County Exec Offers Hope; Weiner: new C.E.'s biggest challenge is maintaining services without a tax hike

County Councilman Bob Weiner, who has served through multiple county executives since the 1990s, said the largest challenge for Meyer will be maintaining government services without a tax increase. It’s a task made more difficult by a looming effort in the state’s General Assembly to shift some county revenues to the state.

“(State officials are) looking to restructure the state budget not through efficiencies and shrinking state government, but continuing the state’s unsustainable budget by punishing the county and municipal taxpayers, forcing us to do a tax increase,” Weiner said.

New leaders offer hope for New Castle County, Wilmington Matt Meyer and Mike Purzycki inaugurated 


XERXES WILSON and CHRISTINA JEDRA THE NEWS JOURNAL January 4, 2017

Regime change has come to New Castle County and the city of Wilmington.

On Tuesday, new top leaders and many new council members were sworn into office. While they bring the promise of new ideas, many of them have little experience in government, raising questions about how long it will take for them to be effective.

County Executive Matt Meyer took the oath of office Tuesday morning. Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki was sworn in Tuesday night. The two face high expectations after defeating incumbents.

Meyer, a Wilmington attorney, former teacher and entrepreneur who had never previously held elected office, thanked those who entrusted him with the job.

“I understand with that trust comes a responsibility, an awesome responsibility to lead and to act in the best interest of all communities in our county,” said Meyer, who defeated three-term executive Thomas P. Gordon in September’s Democratic primary.

Purzycki said the “greatest danger” for the city is “aiming too low and hitting it.”

“We will never aim too low,” he said in his inauguration address.

Former County Executive Dennis Greenhouse, who led New Castle County in the early 1990s, said it will be useful to have new faces leading the two governments.

“I think people are welcoming change,” Greenhouse said. “They are going to bring some new ideas.”

Meyer and Purzycki have each spoken about having closer ties between the city and county.

Fred Sears, a former Wilmington City Councilman and past president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit Delaware Community Foundation, said expectations are high. It’s a difficult spot to be in when many people don’t understand the functions of local government.

“The public believes they are going to come in and make things much better for everyone,” Sears said. “But it is not that easy.”

The county executive is one of the key political figures in the state’s most populous county, responsible for a $300 million annual budget that operates the county’s sewer infrastructure, roads, parks, libraries, land development, housing and social programs, as well as the police department and other emergency response infrastructure.

Wilmington’s mayor holds similar powers over the state’s largest city and center of the state’s corporate economy.

Meyer has said they are analyzing the potential for merging some aspects of city and county government to save money. He said that means looking at combined purchasing. He said he feels there is a need for distinct government services for things like policing.

“You have to look at everything,” Greenhouse said. “Collaboration could ultimately be good for taxpayers.”

The two governments face similar challenges.

On Tuesday, Meyer spoke of the county’s shrinking open space, controversial development code, the scourge of heroin and the trend of violence among young people. He paraphrased former President Bill Clinton to say there is hope for solving these problems.

“There is nothing wrong with New Castle County that we can’t fix with what is right about New Castle County,” Meyer said.

County Councilman Bob Weiner, who has served through multiple county executives since the 1990s, said the largest challenge for Meyer will be maintaining government services without a tax increase. It’s a task made more difficult by a looming effort in the state’s General Assembly to shift some county revenues to the state.

“(State officials are) looking to restructure the state budget not through efficiencies and shrinking state government, but continuing the state’s unsustainable budget by punishing the county and municipal taxpayers, forcing us to do a tax increase,” Weiner said.

Meyer’s election campaign raised expectations that the county may take a more active role in economic development, a government function largely handled at the state level.

“We have an economy in 2017 in our county that looks too much like the economy of the last century,” Meyer said in his inaugural address.

The county recently set up an economic development fund to loan or grant money to small businesses. Meyer also recently appointed a new economic development director for local government, an encouraging sign, said Councilwoman Janet Kilpatrick.

“We need to have new businesses coming in to be able to sustain this county. We need to grow the tax base,” Kilpatrick said. “People need jobs.”

Sears said listening to constituents will be most important for the new leaders, especially in Wilmington, where outgoing Mayor Dennis P. Williams developed a reputation for insulation.

“Purzycki will listen more to the businesses, whereas the old mayor didn’t really,” Sears said. “He has to make inroads in all the neighborhoods, though. Everybody knows one neighborhood got him elected.”

Purzycki, who won only one election district against seven primary opponents, faces challenges earning the trust of all neighborhoods, said former Mayor Jim Baker.

“He’s going to have to show that he is concerned about the issues facing the inner city poor communities, the communities that are stressed, the African-American community, the Hispanic community,” Baker said.

The former Riverfront Development Corporation leader will also have to find cash to cover city expenses, including union raises and unanticipated legal costs incurred by the city last year, Baker said.

“He’s going to have to look at raising revenues,” he said.

Overall, Baker said Purzycki cannot take on the city’s “toughest job” with the same approach he employed at the waterfront.

“(The job is) slow, it’s arduous, it’s costly, and no matter what you do, you’ll be criticized for not doing enough,” he said.

City Councilwoman Loretta Walsh, who began serving the city in the 1980s, said she expects more collaboration between Purzycki and Meyer than in the most recent administration, and both entities will benefit.

“They might understand some of the nongovernmental problems that exist when trying to move something forward,” she said, citing the ability of both men to run businesses. “Our win is the county win.”

As someone who has closely watched municipal government for decades, Sears said he is “excited” to have two new leaders doing a top-down review of government expenses. He said that effort will possibly lead to savings for taxpayers.

“It is a combination of fresh eyes and fresh ideas,” Sears said.



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