Money, it’s a gas
Grab that cash with both hands
And make a stash
Pink Floyd, “Money”
By Charles Sercombe
Hamtramck officials took the city’s financial woes to the people Thursday evening.
A town hall meeting was held after we went to press Thursday. From what we heard on the streets, it was likely that the meeting was packed with residents curious and worried about what is going to happen to Hamtramck.
The meeting was suggested by first-term City Councilmember Kazi Miah, who had stressed in his campaign for office to make the community more involved in decision-making.
City Manager Bill Cooper has been warning anyone who will listen – but more pointedly toward the city’s labor unions – that the city will be broke by March. That means there will be no money for employee payroll or to pay bills.
But before that happens, Cooper and city officials have been asking state officials to allow the city to file for bankruptcy. So far, state officials have denied that request and have instead offered the city four loan options.
Cooper has declined a loan, saying it will delay having to deal with the city’s underlying financial problems as well as add more debt to the city.
But that reply from the state was when Gov. Granholm was still in office. With Gov. Rick Snyder now in charge, it’s anyone’s guess what option will be available to the city.
Cooper said he will ask for a meeting with the new administration within a week.
In the meantime, it was hoped that Thursday’s meeting with residents would clear the air for some, and also give city officials a better idea on what the public wants.
Mayor Karen Majewski said one reason to also hold the meeting was to dispel rumors and misinformation going around.
“We want people to know here are the facts, here are the options,” she said.
One person spreading a sensational take on things came from former city appointee Bill Meyer.
Meyer was once the head of the city’s Human Relations Commisison. He is now the executive director of a group called OneHamtramck. In an email he sent out on Wednesday urging people to attend Thursday’s meeting, he started out saying: “The drastic attempt to bankrupt the city has brought national attention to Hamtramck and prompted the state to urge an emergency loan.”
Contrary to Meyer’s claim, city officials are trying to file for bankruptcy protection to allow city employee contracts to be re-negotiated. Cooper said he needs the unions, particularly the police and fire unions, to allow him to purchase a less expensive health insurance plan.
He said health insurance costs have risen each year, the last shooting up by 40 percent.
Hamtramck’s financial health seemed to be in fine shape over a year ago. But then the City of Detroit started to withhold tax revenues from the GM Poletown plant. Since the plant straddles both Hamtramck and Detroit, Hamtramck receives a portion of the property taxes.
Detroit is claiming it has overpaid Hamtramck for the past several years by over $7 million. Hamtramck has since sued Detroit for payment. The case, however, could drag on for years, and there is no guarantee Hamtramck will prevail.