Budget battle is over, for now

By Charles Sercombe

It took two attempts, but a majority of city councilmembers finally passed a new city budget Tuesday night.

But for those watching the debate, some may have been wishing they had the four hours it took to pass the budget back in their life.

That’s how painful it was to watch and listen to.

Councilmember Robert Zwolak started things up by proposing to adopt only the new water and sewer rates, and other rates and fees, but not the budget. A bare majority agreed with him, leaving Mayor Karen Majewski in disbelief.

“This is madness,” she said. “How do you propose to get a budget to the state before July 1?”

By that, Majewski meant that the city had a deadline to pass a budget by June 30 and have it handed into state finance officials.

Hamtramck’s Finance Director Nevrus Nazarko also pointed out that by not adopting a budget now, he won’t be able to mail out the summer tax bills.

It’s unclear what clicked later in the meeting, but by the end, Councilmember Mohammed Hassan had changed his mind and asked for a reconsideration of the vote.

He was successful in getting one, and this time around a bare majority of the council agreed to pass the budget. Hassan later said he simply had a change of mind.

The budget is just the first step in setting the city’s financial course.

Acting City Manager Erik Tungate gave the council a preview of a deficit elimination plan he will formally submit sometime in July.

The plan calls for shifting some city expenses onto to property owners, such as garbage collection and the cost of street lighting.

For street lighting, the average homeowner would pay an extra $60 per year. In total, the city would collect an additional $450,000 a year.

Hamtramck isn’t alone in shifting costs to taxpayers. As many cities struggle to balance their budgets, similar moves are being made throughout the metro area.

Hamtramck needs to come up a financial plan to eliminate a projected $3.5 million budget deficit by this time next year.

If the city fails to come up with a plan, chances are the state will be forced to step in and take financial control of the city.

If Tuesday’s council meeting was any indication, passing the deficit elimination plan won’t come easy, and it could very well be rejected.

Councilmember Abdul Algazali has been adamant in his opposition in passing on more fees to property owners, saying they are already over-taxed and financially-strapped.

Mayor Majewski pointed out that city employees agreed to contract concessions, and now it’s the public’s turn to share the burden.

“We all have to pitch in some way,” she said.

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