By GABRIEL GOODWIN
Sunday Times Newspapers
ALLEN PARK — Emergency Manager Joyce Parker addressed residents’ concerns over the proposed police and fire millage at the first of four Coffee with the EM meetings Thursday.
The weekly meetings are only meant to provide residents with the proper information on the millage proposal, and not advocating for or against it, Parker said.
She said the city is operating with a current cumulative deficit of $1 million and a structural deficit of about $4 million. The cumulative deficit is the money spent over any revenue during the last fiscal year, while the structural deficit is the total deficit of the city.
The proposal would amend the current millage — which was approved in 2011 for five years — to levy an additional 3.25 mills to keep the police and fire service in the city at the response times residents expect, she said, which would bring it to a level of 6.75 mills.
The original five-year time frame would not provide adequate time to fulfill Parker’s current deficit elimination plan and this 10-year millage, she said, which would begin after the Aug. 6 primary election and be reflected in the December 2013 winter tax bill, provided enough time for the city to balance its finances.
The language of the proposal allows the city to determine the number of mills it levies based on need and Parker’s intent is to levy only the amount necessary to meet operational expenses and a 10 percent operating reserve, an accompanying press release said.
The millage will not exceed 6.75 mills, Parker said, and if the proposed millage succeeds, she is committed to enacting an order providing a rollback provision. The provision would allow a decrease in the millage when the city has met its expense and the reserve goals.
She said when the city no longer needs the additional income, then there would be no reason to maintain the higher millage.
“It doesn’t have to be 10 years,” she said, “but, the city has to have protocols in place to prove to the state it can eliminate its debt and can sustain revenue levels for a period after that.”
The millage will be evaluated every year to consider its need, she said, and she could almost guarantee when the rollback order is made, it would still be in place for the entire life of the proposed millage.
Her orders would be effective as long as the state is involved with the city, she said, because the state would have continued involvement within the city even after she has left the city.
In terms of dollars and cents, she said this millage would be an increase in taxes by about $274 yearly for residents, and over the last five years, the average property tax payment has decreased by 28 percent.
“The city is requesting that Allen Park taxpayers restore the 5 percent of the 28 percent savings to support police and fire services,” she said.
The millage is meant to accompany other reforms the city is currently pursuing, the statement said, such as additional reforms in operational expenses — wage concessions, health care and pension reforms, and creating more efficient services to reduce costs and increase revenue.
Residents questioned Parker about the plans surrounding the Southfield Lease Properties and she said the city is considering all of its options. Currently, the city is renegotiating the bonds used for the purchase, Parker said, and has the property listed with a commercial real estate company, CBRE. She said there were offers on the property, but more than likely the city will sell it at a loss to get it off the books.
She said she wanted to clarify that the property is only part of the problem and not the sole reason for the current deficits. There are three reasons the city is under financial stress, she said, the former movie studio, expenses not correctly regulated, and property taxes declining causing a decrease in revenue for the city.
“If you put (the Southfield Lease Properties) aside,” Parker said during when the topic arose, “the city still can’t balance its budget, so that’s the issue”
Parker said the city is looking into merging police and fire services, but this would not be a short-term fix to its finances.
Downsizing was considered by the city, the release said, but “there is nothing left to cut without decreasing the current service levels.” There have been 24 positions eliminated from both the fire and police departments — seven in the fire department and 17 in the police department — over the last five years.
If the millage proposal fails, Parker said in the statement, a Plan B — Plan A includes the increase in the millage and implementing less severe cost-saving measures — to save money would include reducing staffing in the fire department to 15 firefighters, from 22, and removing six police officers.
Other measures would include part-time employees within the departments; enforcing one furlough day a week for all city employees; reducing American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and non-union wages by 10 percent; and imposing a street light special assessment to residents, all implemented within a 10-day period after the rejection required by the state.
The offices in city hall are closed to the public on Fridays to allow time for staff to “catch up” because most offices are understaffed, she said, but the furlough days would force city offices to completely close on Fridays.
She said this Plan B is not meant to be a scare tactic, but the city does not have the revenue to operate at current levels and these reductions are only meant to be a last resort. The millage would allow the city to close the $4 million gap in the city’s finances.
Parker announced dates and times for four “Coffee with the EM” times at the June 11 council meeting. The remaining “Coffee with the EM” meetings are scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday at American Legion Post 409, 6737 Garfield Road; 4 p.m. June 27 at City Hall, 16850 Southfield Road; and 6 p.m. July 2 at American Hungarian Church, 9901 Allen Road.
(Gabriel Goodwin can be reached at [email protected].)