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City Council looks at $5.7 million shortfall

READ MORE: City Council looks at $5.7 million shortfall
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The city of Wilmington now has a $5.7 million budget shortfall. Today, Council members discussed ways to fix the hefty shortfall, from cutting jobs to raising property taxes.

"This is really the worst budget that I've been through since I've been on Council," says City Council member Laura Padgett.

Padgett joined the other City Council members to try to fix the holes in that budget. They alleviated part of the $7.5 million deficit by eliminating merit increases and retirement contributions for employees. But the city is still looking at a $5.7 million shortfall. Today, they discussed ways to make it up.

One suggestion, cutting city jobs, nearly 80 of them. Padgett didn't like that idea. "A dollar into the community is spent at least seven times. If we cut out 80 people, then you can multiply their dollars, their income, by seven and that's the kind of negative impact that we have the community. That puts small businesses over the edge, out of business, creates more unemployment, and it just becomes a vicious circle."

A more acceptable option to some, raising property taxes by three cents which would restore more than $4 million.

The city would still need to make up the rest, which could mean a combination of salary reductions, tax increases, and getting rid of a few things, like the Wilmington Police Department's SABLE helicopter program and the Empie Park Fire Station.

Another idea that stirred up the room, taxing internet sweepstakes cafes by the machine or by the business. More than 50 of the cafes have popped up around town.

Whatever ideas are adopted, City Council members promise they're looking out for the public's best interest. "Be patient. If there was an easy fix, we would have already done it, these are tough decisions that we have to make and rest assured we're all keeping their financial well-being in mind as well, I know I am," says Council member Charlie Rivenbark. Padgett adds, "I think if we can get through the next year or so, hopefully things will begin to look better."

City Council members have to put the 2010-2011 budget together by next month and they will vote on it in June. Council members talked about cutting their own salaries to help with the budget shortfall.

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