By Charles Sercombe
Hamtramck City Hall could look very different in the coming weeks and months.
No, we’re not talking about a physical change to the building.
Instead, it’s what you’ll see – or not see – by the time the coronavirus pandemic fades away.
There could likely be fewer employees working inside city hall.
Recently, 27 city employees were temporarily laid off – or furloughed, as it is being called — because of the city’s shrinking revenues.
Hamtramck is among many municipalities, county governments and state offices that have reduced its work forces.
For some, the furloughs will be temporary – as Hamtramck had originally planned.
But City Manager Kathy Angerer told the city council that there might now be a need to restructure city offices, and to merge work.
The city was already in deficit spending for the current budget year to the tune of $1.8 million.
Fortunately, the city had a $5 million budget surplus. Budgeting for the new fiscal year, which starts July 1, was already going to be a challenge.
“But this COVID emergency changed everything,” Angerer told the council.
It now looks like the city will have to dig deeper, possibly over $1 million, into its surplus.
“We have a revenue problem,” Angerer said.
And that includes, because of the statewide work shutdown, a loss in income tax collection (for which the deadline to pay has been pushed to July), a loss of property tax payments, and likely a huge decrease in state revenue sharing.
Even the Hamtramck 31st District Court has seen a dramatic loss in revenue. There have been few traffic fines paid lately because police officers are not issuing tickets in order to limit their contact with the public and possibly become infected with COVID-19, Angerer said.
Angerer said that in times of financial crisis where other cities come down with metaphorical “colds,” Hamtramck catches “pneumonia.”
Because of the financial crunch, the city will likely cancel this year’s ongoing alley repair program, which will save $285,000.
Angerer came up with several other cuts, but they totaled a paltry $460,000.
None of the proposed cuts touched the police or fire departments, although the fire chief’s position has been reduced to part-time with also a 50-percent pay cut.
One way to help ease the city’s financial obligation, Angerer said, is to ask voters to pay an increased millage that will help pay for the cost of police and fire retirees.
The city now levies a half mill for the cost, but that covers only a fraction of that expense.
At Tuesday’s council meeting, the council agreed to ask voters to increase that millage to 10.5 mills in the August Primary vote on Aug. 4. The council agreed.
The half mill raised $103,359 for 2019. If the extra millage is passed, it would raise almost $2.6 million a year, which would cover the cost of the police and fire retirees’ pension.
Angerer is also considering to end funding health costs for retirees who are under the age of 65. The city currently pays those employees $134 a month.
That move will certainly spur a howl of protest from those retirees, but a court recently ruled that cities are not obligated to pay the health costs for retirees.
Angerer stressed that, no matter how unpopular the budget decisions will be, “we need a clear path to our survival.”
Posted May 15, 2020