By TOM TIGANI
Sunday Times Newspapers
TRENTON — Despite fiscal challenges faced by all Michigan communities, the city is “way ahead of the curve,” thanks to the cooperation of municipal employees.
During his State of the City address Mayor Gerald Brown at the Westfield Activities Center on Feb. 7 expressed gratitude for past concessions and said the coming year, with an anticipated 4 percent drop in taxable state equalized value, will reduce tax revenues about $400,000. That drop, however, is smaller than in 2010 (9 percent) and 2009 (6 percent).
A bad stock market in recent years translates to an additional $500,000 that the city must provide to the the Police & Fire Pension system and the Municipal Employees’ Retirement System.
“Before we even get into budget talks for the 2011-12 fiscal year, we’ve got a $1 million gap to fill at a minimum,” Brown said. “If this forecasted deficit is the only problem we have, we are confident that we can get through it this upcoming year and probably still retain the level of services that we currently provide.”
He cautioned that reduction in state shared revenue dollars and the possibility of legislators repealing personal property tax could put the city at risk to lose $3.7 million. He called on new state Sen. Patrick Colbeck (R-Canton Township) to take a “Trenton position” on those issues “so that we can continue to be the community we are.”
Brown said a similar budget deficit was forecast last year, but “belt tightening” has helped the city get through with the help of $600,000 in concessions from city unions and nonunion employees.
“This effort on their part, was in addition to what they have negotiated in the past in the areas of health care, wages and language changes which impact financial issues in the various contracts,” he said. “Because we began our downsizing efforts in 2001, and with cooperation of the unions and nonunion employees, we are in a much more comfortable situation than many other Michigan cities.”
Many of those communities, Brown said, are on the verge of receivership.
On a more positive note, he cited a 30 percent increase in building permits because of residential house upgrades, calling it a “very encouraging sign.” The city has only 76 vacant properties, Brown said, down from a peak of 378 in 2008.
He also thanked Randy Fritz of Fritz Enterprises and Huron Valley Steel for offering to triple the size of the city fireworks this year.
“Our fireworks have always been great, so you can imagine what they will be like this year,” Brown said. “I’m anxious to see the display.”
Talks continue between Trenton, Riverview and Grosse Ile about building a water purification plant separate from the Detroit Water & Sewerage Department, he said, and should be hurried along by recent news of a “hefty increase” in water fees.
Businesswise, Brown said Chrysler Group LLC’s Pentastar Engine Plant is up and running and “receiving great reviews,” and that the city will encourage the automaker to make the adjacent 2-million-square-foot Trenton Engine Plant available to new manufacturing rather than demolishing it, as he said he has heard might happen.
The former McLouth Steel site remains an unresolved issue, Brown said, adding that owner Michael Wilkinson still is hopeful of finding a partner to reopen the plant as a plate mill. And the redevelopment of the former Riverside Osteopathic Hospital site as an assisted living facility still is “a go,” he said, but its owner’s family has experienced health problems.
Three new restaurants and three small businesses also have opened in the city during the past year.
Officials now are focused on creating a balanced budget for 2011-12.
“We can only hope that we will continue to provide the many services our residents have become accustomed to and deserve,” he said. “Another year of belt tightening is necessary, but we will get through it.”