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Sunday, May 16, 2021

Property Tax Hike Another of Wilmington's Woes

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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.

If you own property in Wilmington, Labor Day not only signals the end of summer, it means your city property tax is coming due. This year’s tax bill included a helpful note stating the tax rate increased by five percent (as approved by the City Council this past May). Did you get a pay raise of five percent this year? Or, if you’re a retiree, did your pension go up five percent? My guess is no – because the inflation rate for urban consumers in this region was just 1.8 percent.

You don’t have to take my word for it, that 1.8 percent was calculated by the U.S. Department of Labor for urban consumers in the Philadelphia/Wilmington/Atlantic City region.

While some involved in city government are thoughtful, responsible people, I have to wonder about the rest – especially those who reflexively reach for tax hikes as the answer to the city’s ills. Clearly, they don’t consider the negative aspects of taking more money out of citizen’s wallets. People may choose to eat out less in Wilmington’s restaurants, and may opt to drive the few extra miles to buy cheaper consumable goods at Wal-Mart or Target.

And the rate hike gives middle-class retirees yet another reason to move to places like Florida where the cost of living is cheaper.

I can hear the wails emitting from City Hall: it’s about crime, snow removal, street repair, etc. To use the late comedienne Gilda Radner’s famous tag line, ‘It’s always something.’

Could it be the ‘something’ is too many people on the city payroll?

Consider this: according to the 2012 census, Wilmington has a population of about 71,300. However, the mayor’s office alone  is staffed by 15 people. Contrast that to data from a 2008 U.S. Congressional directory: it listed Senator Carper as having about 30 people on his staff – for the entire state of Delaware!

The News Journal has done a commendable job of documenting the high pay and overtime use by the city’s police force. This certainly is an area worth scrutiny, and perhaps ripe for some citizen journalism (if you see something, take a photo)?

But let’s not ignore the low-hanging fruit of an overstaffed City Hall. Why does our Mayor need two “communications” professionals? Or even one? Once upon a time, when mayoral front offices weren’t empires, the chief of staff would have a portfolio of speeches in the computer for every occasion (just fill in the name), and every reporter’s phone number on his/her speed-dial.

One last thought: a property tax rate hike might – just might – be tolerable if taxpayers could see tangible results for their money. Rotting boarded up residences (also known as drug-dealers’ marketplaces and rat motels), overflowing trash cans, and strewn garbage in lower-income areas just blocks away from the downtown’s high-rise office buildings are not exactly great indicators of tax monies well spent. Or an inducement for firms to invest in Wilmington.

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