Speech to the Brandywine Region Republican Committee
Dear fellow Republicans,
I want to personally thank each of you for having given me the opportunity to be your voice in New Castle County Council. I have chosen to make my formal announcement of my intention to continue to serve as your Republican County Councilman to all of you because you are the heart and soul of our party. My campaign is all about "making county government work for us." I hope to continue to serve on County Council with a victory in November. My "job" as the candidate has been made easier because of our team's organizational skill level. The Friends of Bob Weiner is fortunate to be blessed with the many and varied talents of each one of you. Dan Bockover, Campaign Chairman, Greer Firestone, Communications Director, Ray Buchta, Treasurer and webmaster, Andy Hopkins, Campaign Manager, Tom Sandbach, Political Director, Jerry Martin, Operations Director and Amanda Konyk, Special Events Coordinator. Most importantly, I want to thank my wife and best friend Cindy for her guidance and constant good judgment.
I believe that my job as your county councilman is to make county government work for all of us. For the last 10 years, I have been doing my best to ensure that New Castle improves the quality of life of all of its citizens, particularly the residents of the 2nd Council District.
During my three terms on County Council, I have tried my best to bring innovative problem solving and creative solutions to the tough problems of our neighborhoods. I have fought runaway development, worked to revitalize the aging county infrastructure that we rely upon to meet our daily needs and helped to create new recreational facilities.
County government affects our lives in so many ways. I thought I would take this opportunity to highlight some of the improvements that have been accomplished over the last 10 years while I have been on Council:
Land use improvements. The Uniform Development Code has dramatically reduced irresponsible development and encouraged better land use, with increased open space, reduced risk of floods and encouraged efficient reuse of existing structures. As a result of my efforts, the county has improved its regulation of home offices, limited the intrusive nature of communication towers and upgraded its rental housing code. The new sign code, and enhanced enforcement that I have encouraged is reducing roadside clutter. In short, New Castle County is making our communities the best they can be.
Recreation. County support for leisure time activities has resulted in many new and improved recreational facilities over the past 10 years. The new Brandywine Library on Foulk Road is one of the finest in the County. Talley Day Park hosts a great many activities, including a very popular "bark park". My initiatives have resulted in the addition of Blue Ball State Park amenities, the future Talleyville Girls Softball League at the Old Mill Lane School site and new venues at the former Channin School.
Claymont Renaissance. As you know, I have been very active in the revitalization of Claymont on the eastern edge of my council district. This is an exciting effort not only to create a modern livable village environment in this community, but the redevelopment of Claymont will also result in upgrading the quality of life for all of Brandywine Hundred.
Improved community involvement. Throughout my career I have insisted upon greater citizen input into the governing process. The development approval process now requires that the opinions of residents be both solicited and considered before new land uses are approved. At my insistence, representatives of critical county agencies, including law and code enforcement personnel, regularly attend civic organization meetings, answering questions and noting community concerns. Ethics legislation that I wrote now requires more transparency and accountability from county government.
These are just some of the ways in which I am working to make New Castle County Government work for all of us. I need your help to continue this effort. When you feel that a neighborhood problem needs to be addressed or that county government is not being responsive to the needs of our community or when you have a suggestion that will improve our quality of life, please let me know of your concerns. I try my best to be accessible to the residents of my district. Your comments are always welcome. The best way to reach me is either by email, phone, regular mail; whatever is the way that is easiest for you to communicate with me. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. My home phone and address is listed in the phone book. I invite you to visit www.bobweiner.com to learn more about my positions and initiatives, or to sign up to be a volunteer, make a contribution or identify a sign location. I also invite you all to the Friends of Bob Weiner Flag Day Fundraiser on Wednesday June 14 from 5:30 to 7:30 PM at the Centreville Inn. Information is available www.bobweiner.com.
I always try to attend as many civic association meetings as possible. Please advise me of the dates of your meetings, not only so that I can attend, but so that we might arrange for county officials to attend and address items of concern to your group.
If there is any way that I can assist you, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Now let me turn to a subject of great importance to all of you as New Castle County taxpayers. If you have read a newspaper in the last three months you know that New Castle County is facing a fiscal crisis of monumental proportions. Our county budget is growing much faster than our revenues. By the current administration's best estimates, if we do nothing for the next 3 years, and spend the surplus that we currently have, a real estate tax increase of 59% would be required to balance the budget in 2009. The law currently provides that real estate tax increases are capped at 5% per year. Living within that cap will mean that county government will face severe service cutbacks and significant employee layoffs. Service cutbacks might include limiting library hours and charging fees to use our county parks. Layoffs could affect our sewer and police service.
One major factor that contributes to the growth in the county budget is an automatic so-called "merit" 5% pay hike that virtually every county employee receives during his or her first 10 years. In addition to the 5% merit increases, County employees also receive an approximately 3% COLA salary increases each year, for total of approximately 8% per year for the first 10 years and 3% for the rest of the time that they are county employees. County employees also receive additional benefits not enjoyed in the private sector, including a liberal paid vacation schedule and comp time allowances, along with a generous benefits package with relative job security.
Tomorrow night, at the same time that County Council votes on its budget for the upcoming fiscal year, I intend to introduce 3 alternative resolutions in the interest of all taxpayers. The County Council meeting is tomorrow, Tuesday May 23, 2006, in Council Chambers, City/County Building, 8th & French Streets in Wilmington. The meeting starts at 7:30 PM
Resolution 06-125 proposes reducing that automatic increase to 2.5% , making it automatic for the 20 yrs it would require to get to the top of the pay scale instead of 10 years.
Resolution 06-126 proposes reducing the "merit" automatic pay hike to 1.25% and take 20 yrs to get to the top of the scale instead of 10 years.
Resolution 06-127 totally eliminates the 5% merit increases.
Adopting even one of these proposals would save millions of tax payer dollars.
There has been an aggressive organized response to the 3 Resolutions that I am introducing on May 23, the same night that County Council votes upon it capital and operating budgets for the upcoming fiscal year. Each Council member has received an estimated 300 phone calls and emails in the last few days urging my fellow County Council members to vote no as to my proposed resolutions. I am advises that some County unions have arranged for bus loads of county employees to come to tonight’s meeting.
Here is an excerpt from one of these emails.
Mr. Weiner, as a dedicated County employee and a taxpayer I just had to write and let you know how upset I am with your resolutions listed above. How can you come up with such a plan when the prices of everything around us has skyrocketed (sewer 40%, taxes are being increased, electric rates up 59% and gas prices up to $3.00 a gallon)?
What are most of these union county employees saying? They are saying that I want the taxpayers of New Castle County to pay their increased 59% electric bill, and while they are paying it, pay mine too! I want the taxpayers of New Castle County to pay their increased $3 per gallon gas for their cars, and while they are paying, pay mine too. I want the taxpayers of New Castle County to pay their increased medical and health insurance premiums, and while they are paying, pay mine too!
While I can appreciate that our County employees have seen their gas prices soar and their electric rates go up 59%, so has the mom from Brandywine Hundred who contacted me. She told me she gets up at 5 AM every morning to make breakfast for her kids and drive them to childcare so she can drive to work while her husband is on active duty with the National Guard in Iraq. Now, she says, it costs her twice as much to fill the car. She said she had to turn the heat down to 65 this winter to save a few pennies. Now she's worried about an increase in County taxes. "Bob," she said, "I may have to sell the house and move somewhere less expensive. I don't want to move the kids away from their friends. Isn't there something you can do?" Yes, I said to her, there is! I pledge to you that I will look at every possibility other than exclusively raising your taxes to solve our fiscal crisis.
Let me give you an example of the effect of what these 8% per year increases mean in terms of real dollars. An account clerk who starts working for the New Castle County this year earning $26,448 with an annual 3% cost of living allowance would be making $34,510 in 10 years. When you add in the extra 5% merit increases, the salary at the end of 10 years will be a whopping 52.870!
Huge salaries are just the tip of the iceberg. Typically civil service systems set pay grades based on scope of responsibility including the number and pay grade (and thus pay) of those supervised. Thus attempts to level up lower pay grades typically results in leveling up all salaries.
One of the big cost drivers in the increase in salary is the effect it has on the pension costs. As that compensation rises the County's liability for future pension benefits rises also. So there is a clear relationship between salary increases and pension liability and a link of that to additional costs to the taxpayers.
I had and have no intention of seeking an immediate vote as to these Resolutions. After introduction, I intended to propose initiating a benchmarking study that analyses the automatic 5% step increases plus 3% COLA adjustments that each county employee enjoys during the first 10 years of employment by comparing our county employees’ salaries with other similar counties. I intended to take a look at overall COLA (cost of living adjustments), rather than just focusing on specific examples of cost increases experienced by all of us. Benchmarking analysis and cost containment controls have been successfully utilized across the country.
My proposals are pretty modest. In fact some people might criticize me for not trying to do away with these automatic step increases entirely. It is my intention to stinulate discussion which is inclusive of all stakeholders.
My Resolutions do not urge any action during the 3 year term of the current contracts which run through 4/1/08, since a number of independent employment lawyers have verified the position of the County Attorney and County Council Attorney that it would constitute an unfair labor practice to restructure the salary packages of union employees who have just all completed negotiating three year contracts with the Administration. But it cannot be ignored that 74.5% of the County budget is salary. We have taken aggressive steps to cut expenses in the other 25% of the budget. It is fiscally responsible to also study our County salaries to determine if they are in line with the public and private sectors. There are certain benefits that come with working in either the public or private sectors and those relative benefits should be factored into the benchmarking study.
The citizens that I represent have made it very clear to me that there should not be any "sacred cows" in our mission to address the 41 million dollar structural imbalance in the County Operating Budget as between revenues and expenses. In addition to significant cost cutting measures, we should, and are, seeking new revenue streams from our friends in the State and Federal government. To place the total responsibility of bridging the gap in our structural balance upon the taxpayers alone is not acceptable to the citizens that I represent. There must be a balanced approach to addressing this huge structural imbalance, including aggressive cost cutting, seeking new revenue streams and modest tax adjustments.
These union leaders have made it very clear to me that they don’t want me to bring this motion to the floor and then table it for study, as I had intended. Why? Because a study could expose the inequities in county salaries when compared to other government salaries. I have been advised that the union leaders have instructed each and every member of county council to vote against a study and to just vote my resolutions down. If this happens; so be it. However, the issue of benchmarking our salary scales cannot be ignored. I will continue to seek public support for an examination of every element of our county budget, including the 74.5% of the budget which is exclusively comprised of salaries. Every resident, citizen and taxpayer in New Castle County has a stake in this discussion.
Councilman Bob Weiner
Council District 2
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