WILMINGTON -- It has been a long day for Wilmington City Council members. Much of an all-day session was devoted to the city's tight budget, due in part to the $7 million shortfall caused by an error in the county tax office. As Council Member Ronald Sparks said, it has been a tough year when it comes to the budget. He says the city is especially feeling the effects of the county's budget problems. One big issue: overtime for fire fighters. The fire department is already $160,000 over budget this year. The city will likely give the department a fixed overtime budget. The results of a pay study contrasting Wilmington with about 20 other comparable cities show employees aren't paid enough, so $2.5 million are slated to go toward salaries. The city manager's staff presented annexation recommendations based off models used in cities like Charlotte and Raleigh. The presentation recommended a two-year annexation cycle, meaning different areas would be annexed every two years. The majority of the council members favored the idea but say they still need more information. Sparks said, "I was at the city of Wilmington back when we did those large annexations and we lost some money in those transactions because we didn't fully count the cost of the annexation. There were things out there like road conditions, storm water conditions, that weren't factored in." It is a budget mishap the city will feel for years to come. Multi-use paths along Military Cutoff Road ended up costing more than $700,000 when they were budgeted for $250,000. A lack of communication between the city and DOT didn't catch the path overrun earlier. The city will most likely pay the difference over the next few years rather than all at once.
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