Mayor Discusses Budget Deficit, Possible Solutions With Citizens
According to O'Reilly, a combination of finding new revenue sources and cutting unnecessary costs – without losing services – is the key to ending the deficit and funding Dearborn's future.
The League of Women Voters hosted a presentation by Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly Thursday at the Henry Ford Centennial Library, during which he discussed the details of the city’s budget deficit, as well as some options the city is exploring to cut costs as outlined in the Community Task Force's Vision 2016 report.
Aside from the obvious challenges that have plagued Dearborn for years – economic downturn, a plummet in property values and loss of jobs and residents – there are specific reasons why revenue for the city has not risen in some areas, and why some cuts have not been made.
One of those is the staffing situation with Dearborn’s Police and Fire Departments. Unlike most other cities, O’Reilly explained, Dearborn voters in 2004 confirmed a proposal to put minimum police staffing requirements at 205. As a combined result of those and fire department staffing requirements, those city-funded jobs have not been cut, even as other city jobs have.
"Without layoffs, we've declined total employee workforce by 29 percent (since 2001),” O’Reilly said.
By contrast, police and fire jobs have only declined 3 percent.
Another issue at hand is Dearborn’s millage rates, which have been held at 13.62 mills for years and, by city vote, cannot currently go above 15 mills.
“If we go up to 15 mills, which doesn’t require a vote, that represents $4.9M in revenue,” O’Reilly said.
That’s one option for closing the gap introduced at Thursday night’s presentation, and could provide even more revenue if an amendment to increase millage limits can be passed by voters.
“Nobody likes taxes, and I understand that, and I’m not ignoring that fact,” O’Reilly said. “But the balance is, what’s the burden on taxes versus what’s the quality of life and what are your expectations? That’s one of the things we’ll be having a dialogue about, is ‘What do they majority of people in Dearborn believe is the service level they need to have, and then how do we get there?’
“The cuts will happen, because they have to happen. In good faith, I would not ask for any additional money until we had demonstrated that we had done everything we could without negatively impacting the essential services.”
Conversely, the city is looking at innovative ways to boost revenue, aside from just trying to bring businesses in.
One option presented by O’Reilly was the possibility of turning Camp Dearborn – the city’s recreational property in Milford – into a profitable venture by adding such amenities as a water park or water sports and charging for use of them.
Another development that has been discussed for years and finally appears to be moving forward is student housing for Henry Ford Community College and the University of Michigan-Dearborn.
Mayor O’Reilly announced Thursday that an agreement had been reached between Ford Land, the University Community Campuses and UM-Dearborn to put dormitories “on the extreme western portion of the Fairlane complex along Evergreen Road.”
“Student housing is going forward, we think, unless there’s a blip in the road,” O’Reilly said. “We should have the first 400 units of student housing in place for the beginning of the fall semester of 2012.”
What it all comes down to, O’Reilly said, is finding ways to not only cut costs, but make Dearborn an attractive place to live, work and conduct business.
“It’s not a matter of being static – of getting into the structural position of saying we’ve now eliminated that $20 million gap between our revenue and expenditures,” O’Reilly said. “We also have to look at investments that will propel us forward.”