By Charles Sercombe
If things go according to plan, those curious about how the city spends its budget can view it online as of today (Friday, Sept. 23).
Gov. Rick Snyder is requiring all communities to create an online “dashboard” of their finances in a move to make government spending more transparent.
There is also a financial string attached to this requirement.
In order for the city to qualify for its full $1.2 million in state revenue sharing, it not only has to put up a “dashboard,” but also submit a plan on how it will consolidate services and revamp its pension and healthcare costs for employees.
The “dashboard” is the easiest first step. The state offered a template for communities to use. The dashboard must be up and running online by no later than Oct. 1.
The deadlines for the other two requirements kick in over the next several months.
Each of the three requirements equals one third of the total $1.2 million. Each third comes to $400,000. Not meeting even one of the requirements would be financially devastating for Hamtramck.
“That would be a serious revenue loss,” Cooper said. “But there’s no doubt in my mind we’re going to make it.”
The city is already reeling from the cut in state revenue Snyder made to all communities this year. Hamtramck was hit with a $600,000 loss in revenue compared to last year.
As for coming up with ways to consolidate services, Hamtramck faces some tough decisions. Some typical ways that other communities have consolidated are to contract out police or fire services with neighboring communities, or even with their county or township.
Many in town consider that option as a no-go because the two closest cities are Highland Park and Detroit. There are many here in the community who insist merging those services with either city would severely compromise public safety.
Another option might be to merge the public works service or sanitation service with the public schools or the public housing agency.
At this point, the city is only required to submit a plan on how it would consolidate services.
As for reworking pension costs, namely by not making the city responsible to guarantee funding for pensions for the long term, the city has its hands tied because of current union contract obligations.
For the moment at least.
Cooper said he expects the state legislature to change the government pension system by state law.
The legislature already did that with healthcare costs, and now requires city employees to contribute 20 percent of the cost.
While the city wrestles with these requirements, it also faces a budget deficit within a year. If the city’s financial house is not restored to order, the city could be placed under the control of a state-appointed emergency financial manager.