By Charles Sercombe
You could say that economic reality is hitting home in many communities.
And you could also say that Hamtramck is not alone in facing the same tough choices to balance its budget as a result of deep cuts in state revenue sharing money. Hamtramck’s City Manager, Bill Cooper, is threatening to lay off 17 police officers and 16 firefighters, along with city hall employees, unless the unions agree to contract concessions.
Cooper said the unions have to agree to a three-year salary freeze and take a 5 percent cut in pay, among other concessions.
News stories are starting to appear about other cities also making drastic cuts in public safety. Now, Gov. Jennifer Granholm is on the warpath, pressuring state legislators to restore revenue sharing cuts because so many communities are laying off police officers and firefighters.
In her recent weekly radio address, Granholm said if communities can’t afford adequate public safety, businesses won’t move here.
“This is an economic issue as well. For Michigan communities to be attractive to businesses, local governments must be able to provide essential services,” she said.
Granholm has asked for tax increases but Republican legislators have refused to raise taxes even in the face of steep cuts to cities. Hamtramck will lose $400,000 in state revenue sharing this budget year.
On top of that, the city will lose $1.9 million it had been receiving from the GM Poletown Plant.
In the meantime, Cooper informed the City Council on Tuesday that there has been some “good news” in the city’s financial picture. He said there may be some savings in the city’s pension system.
But he stressed the city still faces a $4.3 million deficit within three years. So far, the police and fire unions have not agreed to contract concessions. He said, however, that city employees have been “thinking outside of the box” and have come up with some suggestions.
Councilmember Cathie Gordon said she’s opposed to laying off police officers and firefighters.
“I don’t like the idea of putting our public safety at risk,” she said.
Cooper has stressed that since the cost of public safety takes up the majority of the city’s budget, there are few options on where to make cuts. He also stressed there is little time to negotiate with the unions.
“We have to make the change very soon or we’ll be behind the curve,” he said.
Cooper added that unless the state figures out a way to somewhere restore the cuts, the city will eventually go broke.
Councilmember Scott Klein said he’s heard that there are 70 communities on the verge of going bankrupt and that there are state-appointed city managers waiting in the wings to take over. State appointed emergency financial managers have more leverage in making budget cuts and don’t have to get approval from local officials.