By Charles Sercombe
The clock is ticking down for city officials to adopt a budget.
City officials have until June 2 to get a balanced budget approved or the city could face fines by the state. In recent years this would have been a fairly easy task.
But this year is proving to be a challenge – and not just for Hamtramck. Many communities have been hit with multi-million dollar deficits and are faced with having to lay off police officers, firefighters and in some cases, close down their libraries.
Hamtramck, at this moment, has a $900,000 deficit. The city could avoid layoffs if the city’s four labor unions agree to a 5 percent pay cut. According to our sources, the unions are going to reject the concession.
The unions have until today (Friday, May 14) to submit their reply to the city manager.
City Manager Bill Cooper said he expects the unions to reject pay cuts. If they do, he said, he will have to lay off six to eight employees, including police officers, firefighters and city hall employees.
Regardless of what the unions do, Cooper said the city will have to greatly reduce lot maintenance, cutting grass and boarding up vacant houses.
As for whether the Labor Day Festival will be held, he said “that’s a coin toss.”
Another possibility calls for eliminating the Downtown Development Authority, which would produce a savings of $42,000.
Cooper said he’s against that move, saying the city needs the DDA to ensure the city’s main business district improves.
The DDA director, Darrin Grow, said if his department is cut, a number of projects, including a possible development of the former Shoppers World, would be jeopardized.
Mayor Karen Majewski said there is too much “momentum” with DDA projects in the works.
“We would lose hundreds of thousands of dollars” she said.
Despite the budget shortfall, Cooper said Hamtramck is better off than most communities. He said the city already made deep cuts when a state-appointed emergency financial manager was in charge several years ago.
One of the bigger cuts was the elimination of the Department of Public Works, or at least most of it. While a handful of employees remain, the DPW building and its equipment – including garbage trucks – were sold off.
Most of the work has been contracted out. Some city employees say, however, that contracting out the work has ended up costing more money. Cooper said that’s a standard union position. He said that contracting out does indeed save money because there are no benefits or pensions to pay.
While city officials try to figure out where to make cuts, the Library Board voted to give the library director a $15,000 raise. The board justified the raise saying that the increase was needed to get the director’s salary in line with other directors.
Cooper said state law prevents him from reversing that decision, “much to my chagrin.”