By Charles Sercombe
What’s one question that rattles Mayor Karen Majewski these days?
Try this one: “Why should Hamtramck exist?”
That’s the question she’s been asked by the editorial boards of the Free Press and Detroit News, as well as by state treasury officials. They ask that question in the context of Hamtramck’s financial crisis and plea to file for bankruptcy.
“How do you answer that?” said Majewski, who is known to be able to articulate a good sentence on the fly.
It’s not so much as a loss for words, but a reaction to how can anyone think that. For Hamtramckans, there are too many reasons to exist as a separate city. Our long and rich legacy, for one.
But to some, Hamtramck as a separate municipality doesn’t make sense. The unspoken thing is why not merge Hamtramck – and presumably neighboring Highland Park, which is financially unstable – with Detroit?
It’s a concept that has been raised before – and feared by city officials and residents. But, in the past, Hamtramck has always been able to pull out of its financial crises. This time, though, it’s looking pretty dicey, considering that the whole region and state are facing grim financial times.
And to top it off, there’s a new governor now who has been quoted saying cities and public school districts need to merge services.
Gov. Rick Snyder is also going after the pay and benefit packages of public employees on the state, county and city levels. Although he’s not talking specifics, it may be safe to assume the worse.
Consider, too, he’s Republican, from Ann Arbor and not part of the political machine in Lansing. Does Rick Snyder care all that much about Hamtramck? Has he ever visited here?
With Detroit facing an irreparable multi-million dollar deficit, it might be better for the state to deal with that city by also merging Hamtramck and Highland Park into one big problem.
But how the state could possibly do this raises a number of legal questions, namely does the state even have the authority to make such a bold move?
So what can Hamtramck do to stave off this possibility of a merger?
Hamtramck is facing a $3 million deficit come the end of January. The city has to find ways to both cut expenses and raise revenue. It can do both.
Cutting expenses would require city employees – including police officers and firefighters – to agree to contract concessions.
On the revenue side, the City Council would have to gather the political will to raise the city’s property tax rate to the legal limit. Voters may even have to agree to an additional tax hike to cover costs.
Had enough with taxes? Consider what would happen if we were merged with Detroit. You could expect to pay even more taxes, since its rate is 24 tax mills higher than Hamtramck’s.
One way or another, there’s a good chance we’re going to be paying more. It’s just a matter of on whose terms?