(Crystal A. Proxmire, 3/23/2011)
On March 23, 2011, Ferndale City Council had its first official meeting to discuss the FYE 2012 and 2013 budgets. This meeting was the first in a six week process, with meetings to be held weekly on Wednesday nights (6pm at City Hall) and possibly other days if it becomes necessary.
The meeting focused on an initial assessment of the budget numbers and setting a course for the weeks to come. Mayor Dave Coulter was absent due to being out of town, and Councilperson Mike Lennon will not be attending any of the meetings due to a new job which he accepted after the meetings were already scheduled. Lennon said, however, that he will be reviewing all the documents and consulting with fellow Council members throughout the process.
The budget must be approved in May, per the City Charter. At the March 23rd meeting Council discussed how the budget process will work. They also agreed to proceed with two budgets due to the Proposal A vote which will take place May 3. Voters will decide if agree to a temporary, five-year, property tax increase which would put approximately $1,681,806 of revenue back into the budget equation. (For more information on the May 3 Proposal A vote go to http://oaklandcounty115.com/2011/03/22/groups-organize-around-headlee-override-issue/.)
Therefore Council is going to make two budgets. Budget A is what will be used if Proposal A passes. Budget B is if it fails.
Interim City Manager Mark Wollenwebber provided Council with two sets of data, each presenting the FYE 2011 (current) budget along side the expected numbers for the future. If Proposal A passes, the shortage will be $700,000 in 2012 and $600,000 in 2013. If Proposal B fails, the City must address a $2,300,000 ($2.3 million) shortage.
“We need to work on Budget B and be responsible for the worst case scenario,” said Wollenwebber. Balancing Budget B would require approximately 14% cuts in expenditures. Because of this, Council has instructed Wollenwebber to send a memo to Department Heads instructing them to submit a budget reflecting 15% and 20% cuts. Although the cuts will not necessarily be implemented, they will give Council options as they look at reducing the deficit.
They have also directed staff to research the ways that private contractors may save the City money including in areas of ambulance service, police service, and maintenance services. Oakland County provides Sherriff service to some cities, and though Wollenwebber stressed that its unlikely Ferndale would ever get to the point of choosing that option, Council is researching what the savings might be. “We have a good department and were receiving cooperation from the officers,” he said.
Still the City faces larges losses over the next few years due to decreased property tax revenue and reductions in State revenue sharing. Whether it is $700,000 or $2.3 million, there are no clear answers.
“If Proposal B doesn’t pass we are going to have to make serious cuts. And next year is going to be worse. And worse after the year after that. What happens if we get to the point that we just can’t afford to maintain safe levels of police on the streets?” asked Councilperson Scott Galloway. “We need to know what the bare minimum services are that we are constitutionally required to provide, so we can see what a bare bones budget really looks like.”
Councilperson Piana started the meeting with the suggestion that Council define budget decision principles. “We’re not just about cuts,” she said. “We need to consider how we can do strategic investments to bring the economy back.”
In the coming weeks each department head will make a presentation to Council, and their part of the budget will be discussed. Then in the final few weeks Council will piece together the recommendations made by the department heads and have two budgets balanced and ready to be voted on at the May 9, 2011 City Council meeting.
Learn more about government and politics by regularly reading our special section – http://oaklandcounty115.com/category/politics/.