Sterling Heights Cuts Work Week to 32 Hours
Today the City of Sterling Heights announced it will be cutting back non-emergency personnel to a 32-hour work week beginning July 1, 2012 in response to an “unprecedented 7th year of housing decline, resulting in an additional $5 million in lost property tax revenue…and an additional $2.5 million loss in personal property tax revenue due to pending state legislation.” City Hall will go to a 9AM-4PM weekday schedule.
This reduction equates to a 20% reduction in salary for employees, and a 20% reduction in non-emergency service hours for residents.
Full details have yet to be announced with regard to reductions at other city buildings such as the library and the nature center. However, the city indicates that more cuts will be needed, although they may not be permanent should alternative cost saving measures be identified and implemented.
What’s The Next Move?
The following is only speculation about what the administration might do next. These are not things that I support or want, but they seem very possible given the track record so far.
The surest way out of this financial trouble is to raise taxes substantially and cut public safety expenditures. The problem with this is that raising taxes beyond a very small amount requires a vote by the residents since the city is very near to it’s so-called ‘Headlee cap’. Cutting public safety will be similarly unpopular and will no doubt damage the city’s currently stellar reputation for public services. Barring some type of miracle, however, those are the options left with some chance of success.
Other local communities have recently voted to raise taxes, which proves it is possible to do so even during hard economic times. Given this, I would expect that a significant increase will be put onto the ballot as soon as practical.
The Command Officers Association has already been cut back to 37.5 hour work-weeks in a move by the City Administration that has yet to have its day in court. This demonstrates that public safety is far from being immune to reductions in Sterling Heights. With the POAM contract negotiations dead in the water and the rumors flying of an outsourced 911 Dispatch operation, I think we may see significant cuts to the police department. I have no inside information on what form they might take, but I would guess that the city will act to cut back on overtime and any equipment expenditures that cannot be funded from drug forfeiture proceeds. There will likely be significant head count reductions: from all indications, it seems very likely that the Police Dispatchers have got very good reason to be concerned for their jobs. In fact, look for opportunities to outsource or share functions with another community to be pursued very seriously in the coming months.
The other part of public safety, the Fire Department, will not be immune from cuts either. I think it is possible that one of the stations could be shuttered, at least temporarily, along with lay-offs of affected personnel. If there is any overlap in the reasonable response area between two of the stations, one of them could be shut down. Given the financial stress the city is under, I also would guess that the transport issue is dead, since start-up costs would be significant.
Virtually anything you get from the city today for ‘free’ will likely have some fee attached, with the exception of the library, which will have its hours further cut, possibly drastically.
The announced cuts will surely bring a resident outcry, as well as a number of filed grievances from the affected labor unions. I anticipate that City Council meetings are about to become extremely contentious as the various interests take their cases public. There will undoubtedly be several different arbitration proceedings as all of this is adjudicated.
The cut-back in hours will undoubtedly result in a poorer level of service at City Hall; there are only so many things you can do when 20% of your working time has been chopped off.
Who is to blame?
I believe that ultimately the blame for the city’s financial problems lies with the people charged with budgeting the city’s expenditures and those who approve the budgets.
There is little doubt that City Manager Vanderpool and Budget Director Baker have failed to foresee the shortfalls and adjust accordingly. To a certain extent, their hands have been tied by the labor contracts, but there have been plenty of opportunities to reduce discretionary expenditures that have gotten away. (Anyone remember the $86,000 playscape?)
However, an even larger share of the blame must be placed on the members of City Council who voted to approve the last two budgets: Mayor Notte, Deanna Koski, Joseph Romano, Maria Schmidt and Barbara Ziarko. These folks were supposed to be the watchdogs for the residents and city workers alike, and they have, for reasons which are hard to imagine, failed to exercise their oversight obligations. Labor has given these folks strong support up until now. I somehow doubt that will continue.
If I met a genie with a crystal ball, my question would be this: Will City Council exercise its prerogative and fire the City Manager?
Only time will tell.