Photo by Bob Oliver
Dearborn Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. (right) speaks during the Dearborn Area Chamber of Commerce’s Business Builder Event Jan. 14 at Dearborn Hills Golf Course. O’Reilly was joined by Dearborn Heights Mayor Dan Paletko, and both discussed their cities’ finances and how they plan to work together to improve services for both cities moving forward.
By BOB OLIVER
DEARBORN — The mayors of Dearborn and Dearborn Heights agreed that cities need to merge select services in order to operate more efficiently in today’s world.
Dearborn Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. and Dearborn Heights Mayor Dan Paletko discussed the financial situations of their respective cities and expressed a need to work together in the future during the Dearborn Area Chamber of Commerce Business Builder Event Jan. 14 at Dearborn Hills Golf Course.
O’Reilly said local governments need to work together, such as by combining services with surrounding communities.
“No city in this area was designed around the principle of what would be the most efficient way to deliver local services,” O’Reilly said. “We’re stuck with these models of operation that really don’t make sense and we need to explore and look at them and find ways to transform them into better models.”
Paletko mentioned the merging of some services between the libraries and information technology departments of the two cities and said he hopes they are just the beginning of joint ventures.
“We will continue to talk about these matters,” Paletko said. “We see this merging of services as a potential solution of how we can provide low-cost, effective government to residents and utilize tax dollars to their fullest by working together.”
He said he is doing similar talks with other neighbors, including discussions of merging the city’s fire department with Garden City’s, much like the Dearborn Fire Department merger with Melvindale last year.
Paletko also talked about the finances for the city, which has been working with a budget deficit of roughly $5.5 million but expects to lower that to $2.3 million by June 30 and under $1 million by June 30, 2015.
“We are financially becoming stronger,” Paletko said. “Just a couple years prior to me becoming mayor in 2004, we were getting almost $7.4 million from the state annually for revenue sharing. That number has dropped to $4.9 million. When you have that kind of decline and your property values are declining you get a huge build up of financial pressure for municipalities.”
O’Reilly said Dearborn also struggled during the recession, but has been working through five-year plans created to address those needs. He said his administration is involved with 20-year visioning in their decisions.
“You have to know where you want to be in order to develop policy to get there,” O’Reilly said. “We need to look at the big picture.”
He admitted that some governmental choices will not be as popular as others.
“Nobody wants change, but it’s going to happen so you have to make it work for you,” O’Reilly said. “You can’t wish for things, you have to deal with reality and make things work regardless of the circumstances.”
O’Reilly also commented on a report from state legislators that there will be $971 million financial surplus after conducting revenue estimating for the year.
“Really?” O’Reilly said. “You have cut city funding by $6 billion in terms of revenue sharing alone. That’s money that’s supposed to come to the cities that has been cut back and cut back and cut back.”
He said he found the report — released by state legislators this month — that the state has a financial surplus “disingenuous” because of the condition of roads during the recent winter storms.
“The state is supposed to protect the public health, safety and welfare, and our roads simply aren’t getting there,” O’Reilly said. “So to say that you have a surplus when you are not adequately addressing roads is another issue we need to discuss.”
After giving a few closing remarks, both mayors thanked those in attendance for supporting local businesses before O’Reilly brought some levity to the event by pointing out the location of the podium.
“I want to thank the DACC for placing us directly in front of the fireplace so that we’d be comfortable feeling the heat during the questioning,” O’Reilly quipped.
“Oh, we’re always under the heat,” Paletko responded. “It feels like home.”
(Bob Oliver can be reached at [email protected])