Transparency & Economic Vitality: City Launches Munetrix…

Transparency & Economic Vitality: City Launches Munetrix, Strives for EVIP Funds

(Crystal A. Proxmire, The Ferndale 115 News Wire, 9/19/2011)

Residents who wish to know more about City finances now have an easy and interactive online tool to help them figure out how their tax dollars are being spent.  The City of Ferndale has added the Munetrix tracking system to the City’s website – http://www.ferndale-mi.com.

The Munetrix component of the website offers a variety of tools for looking at the fiscal health of the community.  There are long term financial forecasts, trend analysis, comparisons to other cities, expenditure and revenue reports, pension fund statistics, historical financial information, data on unfunded liabilities, and even general city information and crime statistics.  There are plenty of ways to view the data, including charts and graphs on many topics of interest to residents and to the State as they access Ferndale’s economic vitality.

City Manager April McGrath introduced Munetrix at the Sept. 12, 2011 City Council Meeting as part of her presentation on state revenue sharing.  In 2011 the Michigan State Legislature passed Public Act 63 which eliminated Statutory Revenue Sharing in favor of a new incentive program entitled Economic Vitality Incentive Program (EVIP).

In the past the State would collect sales tax, and that money would then be redistributed to municipalities to help them operate.  Now communities get money based on two parts: an incentive program and a grant program.  The Incentive program is available to 270 cities and Ferndale is eligible for up to $855,293.  This is approximately $431,000 less than Ferndale obtained in 2010 from Statutory Revenue Sharing, and there is still no guarantee the city will qualify for all of what is available this year.

“What they [the State] wanted to do was make it a little more competitive rather than just an automatic give to communities,” McGrath said.  As a result of the change, City officials are now going through the funding application process.  The Munitrix system will help meet the State’s requirements for increased transparency. “The intent here is to insure that the municipalities give access to communities and their residents exactly where their finances stand,” McGrath said.

She reviewed the deadlines that she and City staff face as they make the case that Ferndale deserves to have funding based on Governor Rick Snyder’s views of economic responsibility in the EVIP program.

There are three components and three different deadlines for the incentive program and they are as follows:

October 1, 2011: Accountability and Transparency  – Communities must have a citizen’s guide and dashboard for citizens. The dashboard must include unfunded liabilities. The City of Ferndale will be utilizing Munetrix for this component and can be found on the City’s website on the home page.

January 1, 2012: Consolidation of Services – Communities must produce a plan with one or more proposals to increase existing levels of cooperation, collaboration and consolidation within their jurisdiction or with other jurisdictions. The plan must list previous efforts of cooperation, collaboration and consolidation and with any cost savings and estimates of any potential savings of future efforts.

Councilperson Melanie Piana pointed out that “Ferndale does have a history of doing a lot of cross-border collaboration.” On-going plans for a Fire Department merger with Hazel Park are discussed in this article: http://oaklandcounty115.com/2011/04/04/fire-dept-merger-study-in-progress-ray-riggs-explains/.  To learn more about consolidation, check out http://oaklandcounty115.com/2011/03/05/mml-survey-finds-increasing-shared-resources-among-cities/.  These and other consolidation efforts must be included in the City’s funding application.

May 1, 2012: Employee Compensation – Communities must certify they intend to implement changes to retirement plans and health care contributions as defined by the State. McGrath pointed out that the City has already taken steps to reduce benefits to employees in order to save money. “As of right now we are still in contract negotiations in the Fire Department, but all of the other employees are below the hard cap [max. benefits allowed by State] so we’ve done a very good job being fiscally responsible with that.”

McGrath said she will keep Council and the public informed of the steps in the process as they happen.  She also pointed out that there are hard copies of some City financial documents at the Library or at City Hall for those who do not have internet access.

Mayor Dave Coulter praised the addition of the Munitrix system to the City’s website.  “I don’t necessarily agree with everything the Governor proposes, but this is a great idea.  I hope our residents take advantage of the opportunity.  When people say that we’re not open and transparent and they don’t know what’s going on, it’s all in there.  There’s no hiding the data there.  So I think’s it’s a wonderful tool for our residents and I’m happy that we’re doing it.”

Find out more at the City of Ferndale website – http://www.ferndale-mi.com/.

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