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Aug 23

The Fake Budget

Comments (0) 12:00 AM posted by admin |

Buried deep in the City of Ypsilanti‘s web site is an announcement for another meeting by the Blue Ribbon Committee on City Finances. This meeting will be held tomorrow (Aug 24th) at City Hall for the sole purpose of confirming the committee’s recommendation to City Council. (Although no vote will be taken.)

You read that right. The BRCCF is going to reconvene because no one can remember just what in the hell they recommended. You would think the City Clerk could just listen to the tapes or look at the minutes and get to the bottom of all this, but the tapes probably have already been destroyed and the minutes are sketchy at best (there is a version of as-yet unapproved minutes floating around that say I applauded the BRCCF for coming up with an income tax proposal that unfairly penalizes renters).

It’s a funny story filled with about as much political intrigue as Ypsilanti can muster given the City’s finances and the amount of intrigue left in the general fund.

Mayor Farmer is very adamant in her belief that the BRCCF recommended a city income tax to cure all that ails us. My recollection of events is that the BRCCF waffled and recommended that City Council consider putting an income tax before the voters. If you want to get all uppity and factual, you can read the Final report for yourself and see that my memory isn’t so bad.

BRCCF Chairperson Paul Tait is also in the adamant category. If you ask him, he’ll tell you that the BRCCF worked for eighteen months and couldn’t come up with any concrete alternatives to an income tax. He’ll also tell you that the word “consider” shouldn’t be a hang up. The BRCCF really did endorse an income tax, but the word consider was thrown in there because they shouldn’t be telling City Council what to do. They should only be steering them in a specific direction.

The bottom line is that the BRCCF’s charter didn’t allow them to take a stand for or against anything.

Now here’s where it gets weird.

When the BRCCF first met back in March of 2004, they were told by Mayor Farmer not to look at laying off employees. She said, “We have already cut to the bone,” where “to the bone” meant getting rid of the Recreation Department and Social Services. The BRCCF was also under the assumption that the $2.5M budget deficit we all know about today was only $500K back then. It wasn’t until the Plante & Moran report surfaced this past June (a little more than a month before the BRCCF’s charter was to expire) that everyone concerned themselves with the two and a half million number.

So those are the facts. You can decide if the BRCCF really had the opportunity to suggest concrete alternatives to an income tax considering they were working with the wrong figure and were handcuffed by the no-layoffs rule. You can also decide whether or not some members of the BRCCF are playing verbal gymnastics with the whole consider thing.

At the last City Council meeting when the income tax was tabled, the Mayor, showing understandable frustration, suggested the City hold Town Halls to gather more helpful suggestions from residents. Unless our neighbors volunteer to cut the grass in Prospect Park or plow snow in the wintertime for free, these Town Halls are going to be a waste of everyone’s time. That’s sort of the point though. The Mayor sees no other alternatives to an income tax and wants to quickly put it in front of voters. Because these Town Hall meetings will be unproductive, she will be able to say “I told you so.” You have to admit that’s pretty savvy, but there are other alternatives that haven’t been debated.

The City could, for example, try and save money by:

  • cutting the work week from 40 hours to 35 hours for all non-essential City employees thus saving 12.5% in salary (per person). City Hall would have to close for lunch during the week or by noon on Fridays.

  • eliminating the DDA thus saving $125K.

  • eliminating the subsidy to the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority thus saving $180K.

  • eliminating the Planning & Development Department thus saving $200K.

  • eliminating the salaries of the Mayor and City Council thus saving $35K.

  • eliminating one head from the City Manager‘s office thus saving $50K.

  • eliminating two heads from the Building Department and moving ordinance inspection to the Fire Department as they are supposed to be cross-trained in order to enforce the Vacant Buildings Ordinance thus saving $50K.

  • spinning-off the Housing Commission so that we ensure that another Parkview Apartments debacle never takes place again with the savings yet to be determined.

  • contracting assessing to the County with the savings yet to be determined.

  • not replacing retiring DPW Director Harry Hutchinson, but rather allowing his duties to be absorbed by his project managers thus saving $60K.

  • contracting payroll to the County with the savings yet to be determined. (This would require that the 40% of the payroll technician’s job be split among remaining City employees.)

Those proposals are not all mine. They have been kicking around for a while, but are excellent ideas worth exploring. No one said this would be easy, but we’ve gone eighteen months and don’t have anything to show for in terms of savings to the City. We can’t pretend that if we keep meeting we won’t have to make any tough decisions.

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