Hamtramck’s city council had a chance to take a proactive strike, but decided, instead, to put off the inevitable.
We’re talking about a proposal by City Manager Bill Cooper to invite the state Treasury Department to look over the city’s finances because of a looming payless payday come April 1 and $1.5 million budget deficit by June.
On top of that, Cooper said, in his letter to the state, that he can’t get the contract concessions he needs from firefighters and police officers.
But despite that admission, the council decided to wait it out and try to find a solution before calling in the state. To Councilmember Tom Jankowski, asking for the state to step in now was tantamount to throwing up our hands and admitting defeat.
Instead, he wanted to see some “hard” numbers in the budget and even asked how he would explain to his neighbor why the city is so broke.
Mr. Jankowski has been on council for two years now, and since then there has been plenty of talk about the budget.
As for how the city has become insolvent?
Well, here’s a thumbnail version of what’s happened in the last few years: The national economy collapsed, the banks failed, a lot of manufacturing jobs were shipped overseas, people subsequently lost their jobs and their houses, those who still have their house will only get a fraction of what it’s worth and sinking house values, in turn, mean the city will receive less in property taxes.
On top of all that, Gov. Rick Snyder slashed state revenue sharing to all communities, forcing many of them to the brink of bankruptcy.
So, there it is in a nutshell. Call it the perfect storm of events that has washed over the nation, leaving little towns like Hamtramck on their knees.
Or to say it another way, Hamtramck is spending way more than it is taking in, and there is no way to get more money unless a major manufacturer decides to open a plant here.
Not only is Hamtramck bleeding money, its cost for employees’ and retirees’ health insurance keeps going up.
In fact, Hamtramck can’t really afford most of its employees, namely the police and fire departments.
It came up in discussion at Tuesday’s council meeting how much a fire captain costs the city. Answer: Salary plus benefits comes to over $100,000 a year.
We don’t begrudge the captain for earning that much money. In fact we think public safety officers are worth what they are paid. But the sad fact is Hamtramck can’t afford it.
What would it take for Hamtramck to keep its own police and fire departments? Maybe if they agreed to a 50 percent cut in pay and benefits.
Heck, you know how many people would apply for a captain’s position in the fire department for a $50,000 salary? There would be a line extending around city hall for the job.
They’d even line up for the job if it paid $40,000 or $30,000 a year with NO benefits. People are desperate for work.
Hamtramck spends $8 million a year on public safety. Something has to give.
We don’t take joy in saying that. We wish we had a magic wand, and we could take us back to the good old days in the 1950s when America was at its economic peak.
There were some city councilmembers who demanded that a “third party” come in and negotiate with the police and fire unions. We can’t think of a better third party than state officials.
City Manager Cooper is right to seek the state’s input now. Waiting until later when money dries out will only reduce the options we have as a city. We look at this as a pre-emptive strike to stave off a total financial collapse.
It’s too bad city councilmembers just want to wait it out. To use a tortured clichéd metaphor, think of Hamtramck as the Titanic. We have hit an iceberg, and we are sinking.
Trying to rearrange the deck chairs at this point won’t keep the city afloat.