Farms budget maintains same millage rate, city services

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published October 1, 2019

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — She isn’t saying the 2019-20 fiscal year budget in Grosse Pointe Farms is boring, but Farms City Controller/Treasurer Debra Peck Lichtenberg recognizes that it isn’t exactly exciting, either. That is not a criticism, however.

“The best way to categorize this budget is that it is unremarkable, and by unremarkable, it means we are able to offer the same level of services at the same millage level and with the same fiscal responsibility,” Peck Lichtenberg said of the budget, which took effect as of the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.

The city has a general fund budget of slightly more than $15.7 million, which is roughly $459,000 more than its predecessor. The tax rate remains the same, at 14.95 mills.

Peck Lichtenberg said personnel costs “are always the highest” aspect of the budget.

“Our Public Safety (Department) is a significant part of the budget, and it always will be,” she said. “Any resident in any community wants to feel safe, so public safety is of high importance.”

Public safety accounts for roughly 34% of the general fund budget in the Farms.

“(Residents) also want to have safe drinking water, so we have a wonderful water system that provides wonderful drinking water,” Peck Lichtenberg said.

The Farms has its own water filtration plant and supplies drinking water to residents of both the Farms and Grosse Pointe City.

Roadwork is once again a key part of the budget. Peck Lichtenberg said the city’s goal is “really just trying to maintain and, wherever possible, improve” road conditions. Maintenance also goes a long way toward avoiding costlier repairs incurred by roads that are in poor condition and need more extensive work.

“Road repairs continue to be a priority,” Peck Lichtenberg said. “Unfortunately, the need is great (and) the costs continue to go up.”

She said the freeze-thaw cycle endured by Michigan roads creates the need for more repairs.

Farms City Councilman Lev Wood, chair of the city’s Budget and Audit Committee, said the Farms has a “hefty fund balance” and a AAA bond rating — the highest one possible. Having a high bond rating means that the city can borrow money for projects at lower interest rates, and it also speaks to a community having strong finances.

As of June 30, 2019, the unassigned fund balance was just over $3.88 million. Although about $200,000 was slated to be used for general fund expenditures this year, Peck Lichtenberg said it would still be almost 25% of the general fund budget. The city has a policy of maintaining an unassigned fund balance of between 20% and 30% of the general fund budget.

“Our budget is in very good hands,” Wood said. “It is one of my key priorities going forward.”

This was Wood’s first year as chair of the Budget and Audit Committee, but he has been a committee member for about the last four to five years, he said. He said the Farms maintains the lowest millage rate in all of the Grosse Pointes.

The Farms City Council approved the budget and millage rate at a meeting in May.