By GABRIEL GOODWIN
Sunday Times Newspapers
MELVINDALE —The city has been operating under a Deficit Elimination Plan for its general and civic arena funds for a few years now, Mayor Stacy Striz said, but she feels it is heading in the right direction.
She met with the Michigan Treasury Department in December and was told the city “hasn’t hit any home runs, but they are consistently getting base hits” with the changes being made around the city. Some of the changes included reductions in pay, reviewing and increasing fees and the implementation of a new water shutoff policy.
“The state said we aren’t a big enough community to really hit a financial home run,” she said. “But, they were very happy with the base hits we’ve made so far. They believed we have shown serious progress in trimming down our deficit.”
City officials and city council began reviewing the fees associated with different services last year to bring them above the expense of the service, she said, and “more in line with surrounding communities.” The largest increase was a 12-percent increase to the water rate — 4.4 percent was imposed on the city and 7.6 percent would be used to build the city’s capital improvements program.
Striz said the Water Department implemented a water shutoff policy that was not in place before 2013. She said the county used to collect delinquent water bills and it would take about two years for the city to see any of the revenue.
“Since we implemented the policy, the collection rate for the water department increased about 85 to 90 percent because the city was not able to recoup all the money back from the county,” she said. “The state was very happy to see our progress there.”
Not only did the Water Department see changes, she said, there were changes made within the Building Department. She said the staff accepted a 3 percent pay cut and the department implemented the certificate of compliance program, which mandates rental properties be inspected every two years.
“The certificate of compliance program is in the charter, but hasn’t been enforced for years and years,” she said. “We have a lot of rentals in our community and are excited about the program because it protects the landlords and tenants, while cleaning up the blight. Both parties, in the rental situation, will know the property is safe through the required inspections.”
The city also raised the housing and commercial inspection rates to become “more in line” with other cities in the area, Striz said, because Melvindale’s rates weren’t producing enough revenue.
Commercial inspection rates increased $50 to $250, single family residence inspections saw an $80 increase to $180, and two family residence inspections increased to $100 to $250. The city also increased the charges for its recycling program — from $6 to $8 a quarter — to eliminate the city’s losses for the program.
The recycling rates were increased — from $2 to $3 a quarter — for the recycling program so the city could efficiently provide the service to residents. The increase was proposed by Councilwoman Medina Balderas because “the city needed to charge an amount that can sustain the program without city subsidization.”
The biggest change made last year, Striz said, was a fire department consolidation with the city of Dearborn. The city will see yearly savings of around $330,000 for the next two years and the number will increase to about $500,000. The reason for the difference, Finance Director Richard Ortiz said, is the 14 firefighters absorbed by Dearborn agreed to allow the city two years to compensate them for the benefits, salaries, and pension contributions.
Striz looks forward to some of the upcoming changes being implemented within the city. The city is in the beginning stages of converting the Department of Public Works into full Water Department, she said, but is expected to take about a year to complete.
The city and Police Department are currently working on a collective bargaining agreement, and officials hope there can be additional savings realized through the potential changes made. Striz said the Police Department is looking into focusing in on individuals with outstanding warrants because there is a balance around $1 million that has not been collected.
“The Police Department also asked to take responsibility for the house cleaning of the department and city hall,” Striz said, “Other city employees are also pitching in to help. This move is expected to save the city about $17,000 a year in costs.”
Striz said the city is also considering a renegotiating the arrangements currently in place with the 24th District Court and may consider adopting state laws into local ordinances to generate additional revenue from offenders. The city is renegotiating the contracts with the vendors, like DTE Energy and Waste Management, to see where the city can reduce their expenses.
There are also plans to have a second “rug” installed in the Melvindale Civic Arena, Striz said, to offer full indoor soccer and a full line of classes by spring. She said they are also considering leasing out the concession stand area of the arena to a local restaurant.
The director of the Parks and Recreation Department retired near the end of 2013 which Striz said will save the money. She said there is no need to replace the director because the arena needs a manager, and the director’s assistant is qualified to handle the day-to-day operations of the arena.
“The civic arena is a big burden on general fund,” she said. “So our plan is to get that to become self sufficient. Everyone realizes it wont happen overnight, but these changes are a good start.”
(Gabriel Goodwin can be reached at [email protected])