By ZEINAB NAJM
HEIGHTS — The City Council, mayor and city department directors answered and asked questions about the city’s $50.4 million 2019-20 operating budget during an open session April 16 at City Hall.
The city’s estimated revenues of $50.49 million would leave a surplus of $91,071, according to the budget document.
Mayor Daniel Paletko said there was a small increase to the fund balance with all the increases per the union contract included as well as proposed increases are to non-union employees while giving his opening comments.
“This budget will also allow us to open up the senior centers for five days, opening up on Fridays starting this fall,” he said. “In addition the DPW highway budget has included two new dump plow trucks that are badly needed. The police budget has seven new police vehicles and also includes two additional police officers for the creation of two new school resource officers, one for (District 7) and the other for Crestwood School District. Each district has agreed to be responsible for paying half the cost of the officers which is reflected in the revenue portion of the budget.
“There is also money allocated for IT upgrades for PCs and the system.The budget also includes the next mandatory upgrade for the city’s dispatch center.
Paletko told the council they should have Police Capt. Mark Meyers to talk to them about the proposed items because the Michigan State Police is putting significant requirements for the next generation 911.
“We put in $130,000 for this year, it’s a single source from Motorola, but the upgrades we have received the quote from Motorola will be a quarter of a million dollars in order to continue operating our dispatch center,” he said.
Comptroller Linda Vance was next to speak about revenues and general government and she informed the council about a few changes.
“We are anticipating of taking $450,000 of the fund balance for (Public, Educational and Governmental Fund) to do some renovations to the cable studio and then the other one is appropriation fund balance Act 345, would we do these calculations for the milage, it’s an estimate of what the expenses are going to be, and at the end of the audit we look and we see if there was a variance one way or the other,” she said.
“I’m making an adjustment because we didn’t do it last year and I’m making an adjustment to shore up some by $400,000. So that lowers the amount that we’re collecting on millage for that because we’ve we already collected it.”
Vance also said for her budget, the only change was that she hired a part-time summer intern to handle the fixed asset software implementation to help out the department.
Paletko recommended a salary increase for Vance from $67,500 to $80,000 in the budget to try to put increases that were comparable to similar communities. He said that when Vance was hired, the council lowered her salary by about $20,000.
Paletko said former City Comptroller John Laub’s salary was $80,000, so he put Vance’s at the higher level because she had more of a background. He added that a lot of comptrollers for a city the same size as Dearborn Heights are paid $135,000 to $150,000 a year.
Human Resources Director Elisabeth Sobota-Perry was next and said took the department budget down $20,000 for 2019-20.
“This past year budgeted at $70,000 and I think in 2019, $50,000 is going to get the job done,” she said. “We’ve been very fortunate to secure a very good rate for an assessment center and a test writer which has made a big difference on me and on the impact of the budget.”
Fire Chief David Brogan spoke about the changes in salary, increase of overtime, clothing price change and license training.
“Salaries are up, and some of that is contractual and some of that is the new addition of three positions, so it shows an increase in the salaries, but there also is (Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response) grant income that’s on a separate page so $120,000 of this is SAFER funds,” Brogan said.
“I did change the overtime number. I increased that by $25,000 from $350,000 to $375,000 for some additional training just to do one eight-hour block of training off-duty for the entire department.”
As for the $30,000 increase in the clothing Brogan said, “some of that was that I didn’t adjust it last year because and it actually should have gone up a little bit as their ages went up a little bit, and the other part is I’m starting to buy. Ideally you’re supposed to have two sets of gear now for every firefighter, we’re just adding in hoods and gloves for right now.”
Ordinance Department Director Jack McIntyre was next and gave the council an overview of the building and engineering budget for the 2019-20 year.
“One thing you’ll notice right off the bat is we want to increase the full-time personnel in the budget department and what I proposed to the mayor is decreasing two of the part-part positions and add two full-time positions so we would have a total of three full-time inspectors as well as building officials,” McIntyre said.
“Currently we have one of our part-time building officials doing most of the plan review that can be done — that doesn’t require going in front of the Planning Commission. I think it would open up some opportunities so my proposal is have one person oversee all the plan review, have another full-time person review all the new projects so that we have a regular person in contact with the development that is going on — doing weekly visits to sites, keeping up with the job sites construction sites to make sure that inspections are bring scheduled regularly so that we can move that process along.”
There is also an increase of capital outlay for the Building Department due to the need to automate the department to become accessible to the public and real estate agents who do most of the transactions at the Building Department, McIntyre said.
“The first step in doing that is purchasing field inspection tablets for all the inspectors,” he said. “You can really survey most cities in the area and they’re all doing this, and they all have tablets in the field allowing them to take pictures, come back, sync their tablet, and everything gets uploaded in the system and it’s available immediately.
“Included in that capital outlay I’ve gotten prices for the program called building.net and what that would allow for is Web inspection requests online, Web permit applications online and then a contractor portal where people would go on for a minimal fee to review information.”
He added that there would be an initial cost for setting up the automated program followed by a smaller annual fee and also purchasing a larger scale scanner to scan current paper documents already in the Building Department to make them available online.
Paletko said the $55,000 to $75,000 increase for the building director role was proposed because that was the number he felt would be needed to promote within for the position.
Information Technology Director Doug Feldkamp provided insight to the technology budget including PCs, which he said are currently in good condition.
“Your PCs are still very adequate,” he said. “We are suggesting the drives in those PCs be replaced by solid-state drives which will come down in price and they give the PC a new life, they will speed the PC up incredibly compared to what they normally are. We’ve got a number of projects that we are looking to do including our firewall security protecting the network with a replacement of equipment and that the server at the Fire Department is due for replacement.”
Library Director Michael McCaffery said the city’s libraries are stable and staying on budget for the current fiscal year.
“Our projected fund balance will once again be projected to go higher as we continue to save for major renovations when the bond expires,” he said. “The libraries continue to be a destination as we had over 300,000 visits again last year between both buildings and these visitors checked out over 200,000 items in physical and electronic units along with close to 100,000 computer sessions logged.”
He said that this year the department is going to replace the center carpet of the building at the Caroline Kennedy Library and parts of the John F. Kennedy Jr. Library carpet as needed.
“In terms of service improvements we’re going to be looking into adding a delivery service to homebound patrons in the city,” McCaffery said. “I’ve gathered about 10 or 11 library’s programs from across the state on how they’re doing this and each is a slightly different approach. But we’re going to analyzing what best works with us here and gather data on what the scope of the program is going to be. Then we’re going to make some budget adjustments at that point or we might be able to continue building in for what we have.”
McCaffery added that in accordance with Michigan Act 202, the department has set aside funding for future healthcare of the library staff, but does not have the actual number per person just yet.
Also, McCaffery said the department doesn’t have anyone who is going to be on the healthcare plan, but possibly one person might be in two or three years.
During the public comment portion of the budget hearing, Parks & Recreation Deputy Director Kim Constan spoke as a private citizen informing the council that she has a new boss who was hired by Paletko. Constan added that she learned the person hired has a major in sports studies with a minor in recreation.
“I have done my job and have exceeded my expectations for this position by at least 150 percent,” she said. “I am being lashed out politically and it’s not because I haven’t done my job, I have been written up by the administration, and they’re all lies.”
When Councilman Tom Wencel suggested the hire could be political, but Paletko responded by saying it was not a politically driven decision. Paletko added that the new hire, Brian Haddad, is trained, and has a background in the field after graduating from Central Michigan University in recreation.
Haddad started working on April 15, Constan said.
Councilman Ray Muscat said he wishes the council would have received a resume and had been notified about the hire in which Paletko said he had no access to email since his secretary was out and he thought a notice went out to the council.
According the city charter, the mayor has the authority to appoint department heads, but the city council approves the salaries.
“You have a deputy director who has a master’s degree and all these years of experience,” Councilwoman Lisa Hicks-Clayton said. “I’m confused.”
The next budget session is scheduled for 6 p.m. April 30 to cover the City Clerk’s Office and elections; 20th District Court; Parks & Recreation; Department of Public Works, Highway & Building Maintenance; Ordinance Department; Treasurer’s Office and the Police Department.
On May 7, the final session for the budget also scheduled for 6 p.m. has city council; Mayor’s Office; cable TV; assessor and budget wrap-up on the agenda.
The council has until May 30 to finalize and vote on the 2019-20 budget. To watch city council budget hearings go to the City of Dearborn Heights YouTube page.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected])