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Last night continued the Town Hall meetings sponsored by the City of Ypsilanti. The topic for discussion last night was Emergency Financial Management. The former Flint Budget Management Director, the former Highland Park Interim City Administrator / Deputy Emergency Manager, and the new Hamtramck City Manager were all present to regale us with tales of how much it sucks to go into receivership and be taken over by an EFM. It could have easily been packaged as an after-school special about being scared straight.
Let me tell you what, it worked for me. The people told us about not making payroll for eight weeks at a time, not paving roads for five years, selling street signs for ten cents each, and all kinds of elected officials going to jail for various activities.
The problem with their presentations was that it didn’t at all relate to the City of Ypsilanti.
Even though I may bitch about inefficiencies in local government, the City of Ypsilanti is not mismanaged. City Staff and Council have their idiosyncracies regarding telling the whole truth and their efforts to make government more opaque than transparent, but our books are always correct. Ypsilanti is going broke through no fault of their own. It’s a systematic problem. It’s Lansing’s fault. After meeting so many times in regards to our bleak financial outlook, there isn’t anyone who doesn’t get that. We get it. We get it.
Who’s going to fix the problem then?
That’s the $64,000 question, and again, no one had an answer for it tonight. There were a few interesting recommendations though. Melanie Purcell, formerly of Flint, suggested that we start doing zero-based budgeting. What that means is that department heads need to justify what they do and how much money they need to do what they do. The problem with zero-based budgetting is that it’s a pain in the ass. A giant pain at that.
Maybe that’s the kind of pain we need right now to make sure we don’t get an EFM appointed for our fair city.
As a side note, for the second time, someone on a panel said that Lansing is not going to take notice of how flawed their process of funding cities is until a truly well-managed city goes into receivership. Ms. Purcell said everyone in the state is watching Ypsilanti closely.
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