By Charles Sercombe
City officials recently adopted their new budget for the city but there is already a financial bump in the road.
The coming budget year, which starts on July 1 and runs through June 30 of 2019, eliminates four positions in the Fire Department.
That cut prompted Fire Chief Danny Hagen to tell city councilmembers that it will affect the department’s ability to fight fires.
Hagen said he needs at least two positions restored. Otherwise, he said, the department will be forced to pay overtime to firefighters to meet the minimum staffing requirement set by the firefighters’ contract.
Hagen warned the council to not balance the budget “on the back of the Fire Department.”
Those cuts prompted Councilmembers Ian Perrotta and Andrea Karpinski to be the only two councilmembers to oppose the budget.
The staffing cut, said Karpinski, “doesn’t make sense to me.”
Perrotta said he voted against the budget based on Hagen’s recommendation to have two more positions.
“I had to abide by what he said,” Perrotta said. “I wasn’t trying to be an obstructionist.”
Acting City Manager Kathy Angerer said she was forced to make the cuts because the city can’t afford the additional positions.
“We all want a safer city, but we have to live within our means,” she said.
This year’s total budget is $16.6 million. There was a $6.5 million surplus but almost $600,000 is being drawn down. About $400,000 of that draw down will go toward a proposed expanded alley repaving project. The council still has to agree to the proposal.
Some $180,000 is needed to pay down an old debt.
Out of the general fund, 54 percent is spent on city employee salaries, which includes city hall employees, police officers and firefighters.
Some 18 percent goes toward pension costs. The total cost for pensions is $3 million and it will be going up in the coming years. Acting City Manager Kathy Angerer said the pension fund is only at a 48 percent funding level, which she said is “really, really low.”
Angerer said Hamtramck is not alone in not being able to fund its pensions at an acceptable level. She said many other communities in the state have underfunded pensions.
The city’s legal budget – which includes paying for the city attorney – is set at $300,000. It’s not unusual for that cost to exceed its budgeted amount.
The cost of picking up and disposing garbage is $700,000.
Four code enforcement officers will be hired this year and they will be working evenings and weekends to catch homeowners doing major home improvements without having a permit.
The Fire Department eats up $3.3 million while the Police Department costs $3.9 million. The Fire Department’s salaries have been paid through a federal grant for the past two years.
That grant runs through January of next year. It is not expected to be renewed. City officials will be tasked with coming up with a way to budget $3 million for the salaries of firefighters.
This is an issue that will likely lead to heated discussions.
June 29, 2018