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Grosse Pointe Woods

April 10, 2013

Woods reviews proposed budget

By April Lehmbeck
C & G Staff Writer

GROSSE POINTE WOODS — The city is digging into its rainy day fund in hopes that they can build a bridge to better days.

The City Council met during their Committee of the Whole meeting April 8 to review the proposed 2013-14 budget. Prior to that, the council’s Finance Committee had met multiple times to find ways to cut costs by digging into various departmental budgets.

“We went through this in excruciating detail,” Mayor Robert Novitke said of the Finance Committee work. “We really did spend an awful lot of time. Most of this is pretty bare-bones budget.”

The budget includes a .0083 mill increase. The city will use $1.2 million out of its fund balance to balance the budget.

The overall budget is down from where it was last year by more than $1 million. The general fund budget was slated to be reduced by $36,000 from where it was last year, but cuts made during the Finance Committee sessions resulted in the city cutting the proposed expenditures by $71,000.

“That is a positive,” City Treasurer/ Comptroller Dee Ann Irby said.

Another positive piece of news is that the city is looking forward to money from The Rivers, a continuing care facility, which is currently under construction on Cook Road.

While the major tax collection on that property won’t be under way for this tax year, the city should see $50,000 in added revenue from building permits, Irby said.

Finally, another big piece of news is that it appears assessments are going to rise, but the mayor warned that cutting city services could impact that down the line.

According to the discussion at the Committee of the Whole meeting, there wasn’t much left to cut from the budget to make a big impact on the bottom line.

It was noted that the budget did not include pay and benefit increases.

This budget will tide over the city, but officials acknowledged the need to see some changes.

“Whether it’s this year or it’s next year, we’re going to have to bring in more revenues than we do now,” Novitke said.

Without more revenue, the city will have to make some tough decisions, but Novitke said he felt that the city needs to warn residents of those specific tough choices before making them.

If another attempt for a Headlee Override fails in the future, the city needs to tell residents in advance what that will mean, he said.

“The things that we’ll need to do, none of them are going to be pleasant,” Novitke said.

He doesn’t feel the city got out the word on what would need to be cut if the last proposal in the fall failed.

“That word wasn’t out there,” Novitke said. “It would be really, truly unfair unless the residents know that.”

Now that the Committee of the Whole met to go over the several-inches-thick budget, the process is far from over.

The council is planning to delve into the water and sewer budget, which is likely to include a rate increase due to costs like those passed on from the City of Detroit.

“We’re looking at something in excess of 5 percent,” Irby said of the possible rate increase.

That meeting is slated for April 29.

“That will probably be a fairly lengthy meeting,” Novitke said.

The city is looking to host a public hearing and approve the budget at its May 20 meeting.

Then, there will still be work to do.

“We’ll be talking finance the rest of the year and probably next year, too,” Novitke said.

One major item of discussion will be ambulance services, which won’t come until after this budget is approved.

While council members did not say they were in favor of the change, they are looking to hear proposals. It could mean from $200,000 to $300,000 in savings.

They are going to ask for a couple of local ambulance companies to come in and give proposals, possibly in June.

Council member Todd McConaghy said he wouldn’t consider it unless the city would be getting the same or better service.

Novitke agreed, saying he is “not so sure that you’re going to get the exact same services.” However, he said that the city is just gathering the information.

“Usually, information doesn’t hurt you,” he said.

During the Committee of the Whole meeting, they discussed several items, including bringing on an additional parking attendant part time to increase the days that an attendant is working, which would bring in revenue to offset the cost of the employee.

They discussed the possibility of two employees retiring, one from the Department of Public Works and another from the Department of Public Safety. While those couldn’t be worked into the budget because the employees will not retire until after the approval of the budget, it will mean some additional cost savings, if the positions remain unfilled or new employees are brought on at a lower salary. 

During the budget discussion, Council member Michael Koester said he felt the council should take a cut in its pay.

“It’s unfair of us to expect concessions from employees that help run the city and not expect the same of ourselves,” he said.

He said he understood if others didn’t feel the same and that he doesn’t feel they are overpaid, but felt they should be “in unison with the employees.”

“We should share in some of the concessions,” Koester said.

He also felt that, in the future, the city needs to find ways to bring in revenue to offset some of the costs of running Lake Front Park. While some council members were against having residents pay for a park pass, Koester said they do need to find some other things they can do.

The city also discussed the Community Center with talk of finding ways to do some small things over there.

“I was in the Community Center recently … and the wallpaper’s peeling, the carpet looks bad,” Council member Vicki Granger said during the discussion.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer April Lehmbeck at alehmbeck@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1043.