$2 million due to state retirement fund will strain city resources
By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
MELVINDALE – Two years after residents and local corporate donors worked to refurbish the city’s pool, a city council vote was split on funding it this summer, so it will remain closed.
At the April 17 council meeting, Councilmen Steve Densmore, Carl Louvet and David Cybulski voted to not open the pool this summer, while Nicole Barnes, Wheeler Marsee and Michelle Land voted to open the pool. Mayor Stacy Bazman did not vote.
City Administrator Rick Ortez said the pool, which is a line item in the city budget, has never been a profit center during the time he worked for the city. He said after the pool was refurbished, the cost of the pool’s operation during the summer is $30,000 to $40,000 a year.
Bazman said the intent of the pool was never to make money.
“It’s been to provide recreation for the kids in the community,” Bazman said. “And then you have to find the balance because Melvindale is a distressed community. We have families in this city who can’t afford it, if, say, they have four children, to pay $25 a day to take their kids to the pool. I mean, $6 may not sound like a lot, and I am not saying make the admission $6, hypothetically, it is just finding the balance.”
Bazman said when the previous administration used drug forfeiture money to have free days or dollar days at the pool, children were climbing the fence, and police officers had to respond to control the situation.
Louvet said he thinks everyone would like to see the pool open, but since the city is trying to find a way to pay for health care, he sees funding the pool as a problem.
“If it were a matter of offsetting something to pay for (the pool), I don’t know what that would be at this point,” Bazman said.
While pool funding for the summer of 2019 was in the city’s budget, Melvindale faces state-mandated $2 million payments annually for the next three years to the Municipal Employee Retirement System for past city employee pensions and other post-employment benefits which state officials believe the city under-funded, and which will severely impact the city’s ability to fund other city services in upcoming years.
Bazman said that with fewer city employees at present, more people are collecting benefits than are contributing to the fund.
The city is considering closing its civic arena, and may even sell it to fund its mandated MERS and OPEB payments.
Bazman said the city could increase its income if taxable entities were built within the city, but there are not many undeveloped taxable properties left to develop.
City officials, who have searched for ways to reduce costs in recent years, have few remaining budget items over which they have control, with public safety and basic city services – city government, its share of the district court and public works (sewers, city roads and water pipes) – dominating the city budget.
In 2017, recreation and cultural events, of which the civic center is part, was less than 1 percent of the city budget, and in 2018, was less than 2 percent of the budget.
The city’s annual revenue is $10 million to $11 million, with $6 million from property taxes, $2 to $1.8 million from the state, $1.3 million from charges for services and $1 million in fines and forfeitures.
Fines and forfeitures are expected to decrease 3 percent in 2020 due to changes in marijuana laws, after which they are expected to level out, the city’s auditors, Plante Moran, reported.
(Sue Suchyta can be reached at [email protected].)