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Oct 27

Spiraling

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

The City of Ypsilanti has embarked upon a series of public town hall meetings to comprehensively solicit and evaluate proposals for keeping the City solvent. There is no question as to whether or not the City can reduce expenses enough to balance the FY 2006-2007 budget. The City most certainly can. The question is whether or not Ypsilanti will continue to be a desirable place to live and work after the necessary cuts have been made.

So says the City’s web site.

Does this list of proposals exist? So far in the public arena, it does not. To be fair, I haven’t seen too many good proposals, but there have been a few like having the County do Payroll and IT services. The surprising thing about the Payroll idea is that it isn’t even on the Q&A published by Bob Bruner. No one likes to be micromanaged, but the Town Hall meetings are giving regular citizens the opportunity to do just that, and I’m going to take full advantage of it.

To their credit, City Staff has finally released the deficit projections they are working with for the short-term future. The projections confirm that even with an income tax, the City will fall back into the red if the State doesn’t fix the way they fund cities. This warning was part of the Blue Ribbon Commission on City Finances final report, but you don’t hear Mayor Farmer, City Manager Ed Koryzno, or any of City Council mentioning this fact. You only hear them warning about cutting serivces. But let’s give them credit for publishing this information for the public. It’s another small step towards transparency in governement.

One of the things about their projections that bothers me is the idea they are still working with the 1% income tax / 2mill rollback proposal. Admittedly, this is the scenario that the BRCCF sent to Mr. Koryzno, but it was presented to him before it was determined to be flawed and not the best plan. It’s unfair of me to criticize the BRCCF, but it looks like they suggested their scenario because 18 of 22 cities in Michigan that have an income tax use 1%. Their plan wasn’t a creative plan, but it was the obvious one. Now that Ypsilanti Courier ace investigative reporter Rodney Smith’s spreadsheet has been circulating for more than four months, it’s peculiar that the BRCCF plan would still be on the table. I only get excited over this because it’s purely a mathematical problem. I could see politics creeping into the matter with the 2mill rollback, but if that’s City Hall’s best play, then…

This past Saturday, Council got together to set priorities for balancing the budget. The concluded residents want Fire and Police services untouched as well as priorities set for housing inspection and ordinance enforcement. That’s an excellent start, but I would add DPW services to that list as well. They said low on the list of priorities are the DDA, recreation, and the historical museum.

One of the things I’ve yet to understand when it comes to local politics is the role of City Council members. Do we elect these folks to bring new ideas to the table? Or do we just elect them to vote on the oridinances that come before them? That sounds more snarky that it should, and it is in no way meant to be a loaded question. Obviously they are elected to represent their respective wards and neighborhoods (and I’ve seen plenty of evidence that they do for the most part), but should we expect more from them?

The deficit for FYE2007 is $400K according to their document. Will each Council member be bringing forward proposals to eliminate this gap? Or is that really only the job of the City Manager with Council’s job being to evaluate those proposals?

If Ward One Council member Lois Richardson’s comments are any indication. “We have cut basically what we can cut. We need to take a different perspective,” then I would have to say NO. Mayor Farmer added, “We need to put more pressure on the state.” You’re not going to find a plan backing their respective comments in a 400 word Ann Arbor News article, but you would expect that they would be working to get their message out to the people somehow.

The Mayor is right when she talks about pressuring the State. At the August 2nd Council meeting on the income tax, she mentioned letter writing campaigns, marches on Lansing, etc. It may surprise you to read this, but those are excellent ideas. It’s now been nearly three months, where are the details behind those plans? The City has the bully-pulpit, not me. I’m more than willing to do my part if they point me in the right direction.

There are three opportunities to grill your elected officials on these questions with the next being Tuesday, November 8th at the Senior Center. Assistant City Manager Bob Bruner was kind enough to send me an agenda to post.

This meeting will examine how a city income tax might affect the community. We have invited elected officials, income tax administrators, business leaders, labor leaders and others from Michigan cities with income taxes. During this meeting, we hope the panel will address such questions as:

  • How has the city income tax affected unions?
  • How has the city income tax affected businesses?
  • How has the city income tax affected city services?
  • How has the city income tax affected the quality of life?
  • How has the city income tax affected economic growth?
  • What would they have done differently?

Be there or be square.

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