By J. PATRICK PEPPER
DEARBORN — With some forecasts calling for a 20 percent drop in tax revenues for local Michigan governments over the next two years, it’s clear that something has to give, and municipal policymakers will be forced with one of two choices: cut services or raise taxes.
And as those elected leaders scramble to figure out the road least painful to a balanced budget, Dearborn is taking the question to the people.
Last month, the city launched a phone survey campaign aimed at gauging the electorate’s thoughts on a number of services. City spokeswoman Mary Laundroche said that when completed, the $14,000 survey will assemble the thoughts of 400 residents chosen through a statistically relevant manner.
She declined to reveal the survey questions out of concern that prior knowledge may taint potential respondents, but said the questions are focused on how much people use services and which ones they use most. The purpose, Laundroche said, is to have another tool at the city’s disposal as officials contemplate what likely will be a challenging budget.
“It is far from the only thing that is being used to evaluate this budget, obviously,” she said. “But in these difficult times, Mayor (John) O’Reilly (Jr.) felt it was really important to get the input of the residents.”
This is not the first time officials have consulted with residents on the types of services offered, having done a handful of surveys over the last two decades. But O’Reilly said this one definitely comes with a greater sense of purpose.
“We’ve tried to frame the questions to kind of force the respondents to prioritize their responses, because in the past we asked people to rate (services), and everything was pretty much rated highly,” he said.
“That’s great, I mean, that they’re happy with the services, but it wasn’t particularly useful for evaluating.”
O’Reilly said he expects the surveys to be complete in a week or two, and that the results will be presented at a special City Council meeting. The public is encouraged to attend, and the company conducting the survey will be on hand to help sift through the details, he said.
And despite the dire financial straits facing the country and many neighboring communities, O’Reilly said that, at least in the immediate term, Dearborn’s problems aren’t that bad.
“This is not what I’d call a crisis year by any means, but the trend doesn’t look good for the next couple years,” he said. “If you see trouble coming, you need to make sure you do what you have to to prepare for it.”