Signs I’d Like to See

Feeling overwhelmed by political signs? You’re not alone. Living in Wilmington, I get to enjoy the double whammy of New Castle County candidate signs plus those for mayor, city council and treasurer. Unfortunately, except for a name, the signs are meaningless – either there’s no message, or the message is vacuous (e.g., ‘making Wilmington better,’ as if someone was running on a platform to make the city worse).

Some signs I’d like to see are:

Cutting taxes for Wilmington homeowners. If you own a home in Wilmington you have to pay property taxes twice: to the city and New Castle County. Even if you’re a renter, the property taxes make up part of your monthly payment. Tax cuts should be a no-brainer for people supporting more affordable housing – rents could be reduced, homeownership more attainable. Plus a tax cut would amount to a pay raise, with practically all the money staying in the area (more money spent at local eateries, etc.).

I find it hard to believe that residential property tax rates couldn’t be cut, when the city grants 20-year tax abatements to owners of parking lots. I have no problem with the city or county cutting a break for low-income seniors or bona fide non-profits, but parking lots?

Cutting waste. Are the city and county spending your money in the most efficient way? I reckon the chances of that happening are: slim, fat, and none.

Wilmington’s mayor employs fifteen people just in his own office. Why does a mayor of a small city (72,000 population) need that many people in his front office, including his two public relations employees? Surely his chief of staff is capable of freshening up the mayor’s speeches and press releases (e.g., addresses to high school students).

And to be frank, if a speech sounds like the one from last year, who’s going to remember? By the way, the New Castle County Executive has the same number of people (15) in his front office staff, and he’s got a much larger population under his purview.

When’s the last time anyone counted the number of cars and televisions owned by the City of Wilmington and New Castle County? (Fire and police equipment exempted.) I could go on, but you get the idea.

Piggybacking: It’s legal for any county or municipality in Delaware to reach out to a federal procurement office (e.g., the VA hospital in Wilmington, Dover Air Force Base) to request inclusion (piggybacking) in a contract for appropriate goods and services. The cost savings could be tremendous, given the buying power of federal agencies in our state. Delaware’s Congressional delegation could help facilitate this.

DART Buses: Would you hire a tractor-trailer truck to move one sofa? No! But the DART buses lumbering through the city and county are huge, with most with diesel-hungry motors to match, and (by my observation) carry very few people per bus. Do we need big-city-sized buses to transport a handful of passengers? Those smaller DART paratransport buses seem to be a better fit, and they run on propane, which is better for the environment.

Using big buses in a car-dependent area also contributes to air pollution, as cars behind buses have to idle longer due to bus starts/stops and slower bus acceleration. As a bonus, the city and county could reclaim (and possibly sell) the real estate currently used for parking the behemoths.

Think Like Jimmy Carter: President Carter, a former governor of Georgia, promoted the idea of zero-based budgeting – put all the functions and expenditures on the table and see if each one is absolutely necessary. Why not try this in Wilmington and New Castle County?

There are many ways the City of Wilmington and New Castle County could save the taxpayers’ money – resisting the status quo and adopting Jimmy Carter’s evaluation method would be good ways to start.

Meanwhile, I’m waiting to see a sign wherein the candidate promises to cut costs, taxes, and/or waste. I’m not holding my breath, however.

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About the Contributor

Joanne Butler

Joanne Butler

Joanne Butler of Wilmington is a graduate of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and a former professional staff member of the Ways and Means Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.

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