Category Archives: Where does the money go?

Open letter to Jazmine Early on the Trip to Colorado


Some local residents have made much ado online and at a recent city council meeting regarding a trip being made to Lakewood, Colorado by members of the Planning Commission, City Council, city administration and others.  The official reason for the trip is to determine how the site made its successful transformation from a dying mall (similar to Lakeside Mall) to a thriving destination in metropolitan Denver, and to parlay that information into a PUD ordinance to be publicly heard and voted on by the Planning Commission and City Council this fall.

The PUD ordinance will lay the groundwork for developers to come in and pitch proposals for how the site might be redeveloped.  We anticipate that the current owner of the mall will work with nationally known developers to redevelop the site; having the legal framework in place for them to do so is an important step of the process.

The residents I mention have spoken out against this trip as a waste of taxpayer dollars in a technological era where distance learning is possible via remote presentations and meetings.  It is an interesting question, and one that I have been giving consideration myself.

One prominent resident, Jazmine Early, a candidate for office in the Michigan Legislature, has taken to Nextdoor.com, posing questions about the trip, implying the trip is unnecessary.  Since the Nextdoor website is inaccessible to non-members, I will reproduce her initial post here:

I would like to take the opportunity to respond to Jazmine with some questions of my own via the following open letter:

Dear Jazmine:

It appears you have convinced yourself the Partridge Creek concept is similar enough to the Belmar site that you wouldn’t need to travel to Lakewood, Colorado to get a sense of what it is like.

It seems this sentiment resulted in your making a  judgement call as to whether or not the trip to Colorado by city officials is worth the expenditure of taxpayer dollars.

I find your conclusion interesting.  Since at least some people share your sentiments, I would like to ask you, as a prominent citizen and candidate for public office, for some information and advice.

First, I would like for you to provide your thoughts regarding the wording of the PUD the city will be preparing and presenting in public forums this fall.

If you have been certified as a Michigan Planner, as I have, I would be especially interested to hear your thoughts with regard to the mixed uses that are being contemplated for the PUD for the Lakeside site, and any input you might have regarding the proposed layout, building materials, setback requirements, parking requirements, building heights, traffic flow, and other design aspects to be encoded in the PUD.

Further drawing upon your planning expertise, could you please give the other readers of this site a summary of what a PUD is, including what the provision in the law seeks to do and why it is a useful in a Planner’s arsenal of strategies?

While you’re at it, I would appreciate your informed commentary on how the Partridge Creek development is doing financially and how that relates to the Lakeside site; please include sourced information regarding the revenues, targeted markets and demographics, as well as a comparative analysis between Lakeside and Partridge Creek.  (Of course, as a candidate for office and a tax paying resident, you are privy to this information, right?)

Could you please provide me with the cost of your proposed remote site tour vs. the cost of the tour that will take place next week?   Which vendor(s) might be able to put together such a remote learning presentation?  Please include the itemized costs for aerial photography, teleconferencing from multiple sites, and a narrative explanation of what we are seeing.

Can your preferred vendor also arrange for a teleconference with public officials, representatives from the Belmar site, and members of the public in Colorado during the business day for questions?  Please include the costs for that as well, if possible.

With regard to the people we would be meeting in person, and the visibility of all of the design aspects in person vs. via teleconference, would you please provide a cost/benefit analysis comparing the two approaches?

In your response, I’d also like to see a comparative analysis between the Belmar site and the Partridge Creek site with regard to their uses, local market conditions, geographic considerations including transit, accessibility to major highways, and the retailer mix.  Please then explain how this relates to the Lakeside site in particular.

And finally, could you please comment on at what point the cost of educating public officials becomes unreasonable, and where the public expenditure of $675 per official falls on the spectrum between “minimal” and “too much?”

If you do not feel that $675 is unreasonable on a per individual basis, perhaps as an alternative to a remote teleconference we could instead just send some of the officials, rather than all of them.  Could you please tell us, if we were to take this approach, which public officials who have a vote on the issue should be given the training firsthand and who should receive it secondhand from the people who attended?

To clarify, I mean to ask, should only the mayor and elected officials go?  Should it only be members of the administration?  Should it only be Planning Commissioners?  If you feel it should be a mix of these, could you identify the individuals who should receive the information firsthand vs the ones who should receive the information secondhand?  I would like to know which of the individual votes cast on the PUD will be less important than others; that should help narrow down the list of attendees.

Thank you in advance for your thoughts, information, analysis and conclusions.  I look forward to reading them in detail.

–Geoff

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Take the Sterling Heights Survey!


If, like me, you’re interested in the future direction of Sterling Heights, I suggest you respond to a city-wide survey being taken this month.

With the official tally set to take place on or after December 14, the survey is designed to get resident input on various city departments and services.  This input will presumably be used to help set the city’s direction in the 2013/2014 budgetary process, and it will also be used as a justification to add a measure to the ballot to raise taxes to help finance the city’s public safety services.

Although the survey is being sent out via email and postal mail to what the city determines is a statistically significant sample of the residents, anyone can opt to take the survey by visiting the link below.

Other than showing up for City Council meetings and speaking your part, or contacting your representatives on council directly, this survey is one of the best ways to make your feelings known about the performance of departments within the city, and what their priorities should be.  I strongly recommend you take this survey.

survey

Take the Survey

2012/13 Budget: $4.3M cut; Employees told of lay-offs


The city is expected to release its budget on the city’s website on Friday, March 30.  The following letter signed by Mark Vanderpool was distributed among employees today:

March 29, 2012

Dear Employees:

Later today, the City of Sterling Heights will issue its Proposed 2012/2013 City Budget.  The proposed budget totals $133.3 million, a decrease of $4.3 million as spending will fall to its lowest level in nine years.

Due to lower property tax revenue, lower state shared revenue and the potential loss of industrial personal property tax, the city continues to implement its long-term financial plan.  The primary components include reduced expenditures, revenue replacement including economic development initiatives (to grow the revenue pie) and partial use of reserves.  As many of you know, the city has reduced expenditures through position reductions, expanded use of technology, innovative partnerships, employee concessions, use of part-time employees, and the use of volunteers.

While these expenditure reduction efforts are significant, they are not enough to address the projected $11 million in revenue loss over the next few years due, in large part, to a seventh year of property tax revenue decline and partial loss of the personal property tax.  As such, in order to remain financial viable, further position reductions are required.

The proposed budget that will be sent to the City Council for consideration includes the elimination of 32 vacant positions, which will save the city $2.7 million.  Also, for the first time in decades, the proposed budget includes layoffs affecting 27 full-time and 9 part-time positions to reduce expenditures by another $2 million.  The reductions will be implemented upon approval of the budget and will be effective July 1.  Over the next year, further collaboration is required with stakeholders including City Council, residents, businesses, employees and union leaders to determine the level of service desired, along with required funding, compared to continual reduced city service levels under the current declining revenue environment.

Today I am, along with department directors and union leadership, meeting with employees that are affected by this announcement.  During our conversations with these individuals, I am expressing our deep regret knowing the impact on our employees’ lives.  I will also outline eligibility for support services that will be provided including; a severance package, unemployment benefits and, in some cases, an Early Retirement Incentive Program for those not currently eligible to retire.  In addition, the city will be providing outplacement services for full-time employees to assist with resume writing, honing interview skills and connecting with employers currently hiring.

It troubles me greatly to convey this message today, but maintaining a financially secure organization is our chief responsibility to the residents and taxpayers of Sterling Heights.  I urge all of you to become more familiar with our financial plan and Proposed 2012/13 City Budget. I also invite you to review the Proposed Budget and all of the supplemental information online beginning tomorrow at http://www.sterling-heights.net

One of the great sources of pride we share as a team is care, support and compassion for one another.  Even if you weren’t directly impacted by today’s news, please continue to show your co-workers the kindness, empathy and understanding that you would appreciate if placed in this unfortunate position.

– Mark

It’s unfortunate that people are being notified they will lose their jobs this summer, but it is heartening to know that the transition will be eased with outplacement services and several months of continued employment.  Presumably some of the jobs might be retained depending upon the direction Council takes.

Any cuts made are bound to be painful.  However, it remains to be seen whether the budget goes far enough towards restoring the city to a sustainable financial circumstance.

One thing Mr. Vanderpool says in his letter seems to foreshadow the possibility of a proposed tax increase:

Over the next year, further collaboration is required with stakeholders including City Council, residents, businesses, employees and union leaders to determine the level of service desired, along with required funding, compared to continual reduced city service levels under the current declining revenue environment.

The bolded text above indicates to me, at least, that there is momentum building for another tax increase in Sterling Heights.  I am not convinced that this is something residents can afford under any circumstances.

Why Cutting Workers Back to 32 Hours is Unacceptable


City workers are right to be upset over the upcoming work-week reduction to 32 hours when the Administration refuses to curtail discretionary purchases.

On the Consent Agenda for the January 17, 2012 City Council Meeting, there are two such items which serve as good examples of expenditures the city does not need to make: item 1D, authorizing the potential expenditure of $44,000 (minimum cost: $0) to meet the city’s grant match requirements to purchase a new street sweeper, and item 1E authorizing a potential expenditure of $84,000 (minimum cost $40,000) to add turn lanes in two places along 15 Mile Road.

I’m sure the existing city street sweeper, a 1997 model, is dilapidated, less fuel efficient than current models, and likely nearing the end of its life.  Some will say that foregoing a grant of $220,000 for the sake of possibly saving $44,000 to get a needed piece of expensive equipment is penny wise and pound foolish.  But the fact remains: the city is going broke, and a street sweeper replacement is a discretionary, rather than a necessary purchase.   $44,000 pays most of the salary for the guy who will drive that street sweeper.  Maybe we should ask him what he would prefer: a new street sweeper to drive, or a 20% pay cut?  I think the answer is pretty obvious.

Similarly, I’m sure that it might be useful to add right-turn-only lanes to westbound 15 Mile Road at Dodge Park and eastbound 15 Mile Road at Maple Lane.  Today, however, traffic flows just fine in both places, and neither place has ever had dedicated turn lanes.  Both of the secondary roads, Dodge Park and Maple Lane, are and should be of secondary importance when the city is going broke.   I’m quite sure the city workers who travel westbound 15 Mile Road to Dodge Park to reach their jobs at Dodge Park and Utica would rather have a 5-day work week instead of a fractionally shorter commute on a 4-day work week.  Once again, this expenditure is discretionary.

Looking further in today’s consent agenda, item 1F authorizes the purchase of 18 30-minute SCBA Air Cylinders in order to replace 6% of the Fire Department’s 280 air cylinders at a projected cost of $11,250.  Given that there are only 100 firefighters on the job, we can easily forego spending that eleven grand and remain at an inventory 94% the size of today’s.  Just exactly how often are there so many fires in a given week that the difference of 18 tanks would curtail adequate Fire Department response?  Where is the sense in cutting back the workweek of several workers when we could easily just not spend the $11,250?  What would the firefighters prefer, 6% fewer SCBA air tanks with a more than adequate number still in reserve, or pay cuts for their union brothers and sisters?

With the city in a clear fiscal crisis, we obviously need to forego some expenses, even if the expenses might be for things deemed to be fairly important.  Somehow, we find ourselves in crisis mode, yet the City Administration fails to adjust its spending accordingly.

It’s high time for the City Administration to get serious about cutting back on discretionary spending.  If they won’t, it’s time for City Council to see to it that either the policies get changed, or the administrators.

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 Consequences

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.

Idling vehicles on your nickel…


I happened across this city-owned Ford Expedition idling, unoccupied, with the front windows rolled down as I took my mid-afternoon walk today.  I could hear the air conditioning compressor clutch cycling as I walked past.   For any of you who might be wondering why our city is spending $7 million more than it will take in during 2011/12 and is forced to get tough with labor negotiations, here’s a prime example of where the money goes.

You might think allowing a vehicle to idle for a few minutes comes at a cost so negligible that it’s hardly worth calculating.  I thought the same until this past winter, when I noticed my minivan’s fuel economy dropping through the floor with frequent use of its remote starter.  Although I could hardly believe the remote starter could be the cause, I got some information from a friend who is a GM fuel systems engineer and started doing the math.

Costs such as this are calculated by knowing:

  • The rate of fuel consumption in gallons per hour
  • Length of time the fuel was consumed in hours or minutes
  • The price of the fuel in gallons

According to my engineer friend, the rule of thumb for light-duty gasoline engine idle fuel consumption is .5 grams/sec per injector, and that 1 gram/sec is approximately 2.5 liters per hour.  Being that the city vehicle was a full-sized Expedition, I will assume it is equipped with an 8-cylinder engine; each cylinder has its own injector.  So this forms the basis to calculate the rate of fuel consumption below.

Being the owner of a dog that would have you walk him six times a day if you were willing to take him, I’ve gotten intimately familiar with the time involved.  My walk around the block takes me 15 minutes at a leisurely pace. The vehicle was there when I began, and was just leaving as I rounded the final corner.  Let’s call it 12 minutes, and ignore the fact that it was there for awhile before I started walking.  We’ll use that as the length of time.

The lowest retail fuel price within 1 mile of the spot where this happened this afternoon was $3.739/gallon (cash price) according to DetroitGasPrices.com  (The city buys fuel in bulk.  I have no data on what the price per gallon is, so I will base my calculations on the retail price.)  I have been told that as a municipality the city pays no taxes, which I assume includes the state road tax, sales tax, and the federal excise tax.  According to my calculations, based on the data found at the State Attorney General’s website, that tax break would amount to approximately $.529/gallon, for a estimated price to the city taxpayer of $3.21/gallon.  (We’ll ignore the cost of labor for filling the city vehicle tanks, the administrative overhead required to purchase the gasoline in bulk, etc., and use just the simple cost per gallon as the price of the fuel.)

Thus, a reasonable estimate of this SUV’s fuel consumption per hour while idling would be:

.5g/s * 8 cylinders = 4g/s * 2.5L/g = 10L/hour or 2.64 gallons/hour.

Using the estimate of 12 minutes, the cost would then be derived as follows:

2.64gal/hour  divided into 60 minutes/hour = .044 gallons/minute

.044 gallons/minute * 12 minutes = .528 gallons consumed in 12 minutes.

.528 gallons at $3.21/gallon is $1.70.

If this was the first time I had ever seen a city vehicle idling by the side of the road, I would write this off as being an accident.  But there have been many occasions in which I’ve seen the same thing: DPW vehicles, police vehicles, engineering vehicles, etc.  On one particular occasion a few years back, police were investigating a crime next door to me, and I observed their vehicles running for literally hours while sitting parked on my street.  Curiously, the detective in charge, who arrived in his own personal vehicle (it was late at night) turned his engine off as soon as he arrived.

I can only react to the things that I know about, and I can only report on what I see.  Based on just my experience alone, we’re squandering a LOT of money on gasoline in this town.  Remember that when you’re asked for a tax increase in 2014.

One final point: the vehicle was unlocked, with all of the windows down, and all of the city worker’s personal equipment was in plain view on the front passenger seat.   I’ve had my own personal vehicle stolen not 1,000 feet from the spot where this vehicle sat, which was directly across the street from the site of a home invasion this past winter.   Not only does this practice squander fuel, it invites theft in an area that has long been known for it.

If you happen to see an example of this same practice, please send me a cellphone photo.

Update – May 25, 2011

I received the following email from Steve Guitar today:

From: Steve Guitar <sguitar@sterling-heights.net>
Date: Wed, May 25, 2011 at 10:52 AM
Subject: Re: Idling vehicles are a waste of taxpayer money!
To: Geoff <geoff.gariepy@gmail.com>

Mr. Gariepy:

Thank you for your recent e-mail that called attention to an 
occurrence of an idling city vehicle. 

Please note that this practice is contrary to city policy and 
will result in a review of related administrative procedures with 
all city employees.  We will exercise appropriate action in this 
particular personnel issue. 

Again, we appreciate your comments and the fact that you 
took the time to alert us in this matter.

- Steve
Steven J. Guitar
Community Relations Director
City of Sterling Heights
40555 Utica Road
PO Box 8009
Sterling Heights, MI  48311-8009

It’s only $7 million!


Michael Taylor wrote a blog entry recently stating that he disagrees with spending more than the city takes in via taxes.  The city administration authored a document intended as a response, which was apparently sent to all members of council and ultimately found its way to me.

The writing done on this blog is not usually a response to a specific exchange someone else had; it’s about my thoughts and feelings on the issues.  But in this case, I felt it was important to respond to the city because I think it illustrates that there are two sides to every story, and the city’s positions are entirely debatable.  I find it a bit upsetting that the city found it necessary to attack Mr. Taylor in this way, by the way.   Having a dialog on the issues is welcomed.  Saying that Mr. Taylor should be “well aware” of the city’s position of the issue smacks of disrespect, and it is illustrative of what I am increasingly beginning to perceive as an attitude problem on the part of the administration.  Anyway, without further ado, a list of the ten city talking points, some of them paraphrased slightly, and my own responses:

1.  Tax bills are the lowest in ten years.

The reason for this is that taxable values are the lowest they’ve been in ten years, and they continue to decline.  It is disingenuous to state that tax bills are low without stating the real reason why: the underlying strength of the local housing market is weak, and it appears to be getting weaker.

2.  Without last year’s tax increase, the city would have had to lose 120 employees more than it already has.

The tax increase was passed because the city administration provided the residents with a Hobson’s choice: increase taxes, take it or leave it, or we will cut spending on public safety.

3.  We have eliminated very few programs because we have been able to achieve labor concessions.

The labor concessions have been, without exception, an exchange of a promise of no lay-offs for the current fiscal year for going without pay increases.  In a few cases, there have been some very minor increases in costs to the employees, and there have been some unpaid days off.

These concessions, while helpful, do nothing to remedy the long-term structural problems the city faces with regard to labor costs: they’re temporary and are designed just to get us by for the short term.  Should the economy worsen significantly — and record high gas prices in this state were just set yesterday — the city has bargained away one of its few remaining tools to achieve financial relief in promising to not reduce head count.  It is a gamble, and one we can only hope will pay off.

4.  Spending on employee healthcare and retiree health care is lower than it was in the past, while pension funding has only increased due to the stock market decline.

The stock market is the leading economic indicator that should be sounding the warning klaxons against *all* spending over and above revenue, healthcare cost reductions notwithstanding.

5. Council did not mismanage labor contracts, but approved contracts with only inflationary increases well before the housing crisis.

It was easy for council to approve increased labor costs before the housing crisis, because at the time we were in a market bubble and it looked like the sky was the limit on housing prices.

However, the underlying economic picture in the state during the first half of the last decade was already clearly in decline well before the housing bubble burst.  Wages had contracted significantly, and the state’s unemployment rate was well above the national average.  Why were we approving “inflationary increases” while this was going on?  Because we were mismanaging our labor expenses!

6.  The City Council has been very proactive in lowering our costs.

I have not seen one amendment actually proposed and passed that reduces the 2011/12 budget.  Last year we were at least able to reduce it by a few hundred thousand dollars.  We reduced the number of police cars we intended to buy.  We got a used dump truck instead of a new one.  Although the cuts were small on a percentage basis, they were in fact cuts.

When I see cuts this year, a year in which gasoline appears to be headed for the $5 a gallon mark or beyond, then you can make this claim.  Until then, you can’t.

7.  Because the city has been proactive, we have extra money to spend today. (Paraphrasing heavily)

I would word this a bit differently.  Because the city for some reason hasn’t managed to spend every single dime it has gotten its hands on for things like $86K playscapes, we still have $15 million remaining dollars from the period not so long ago before the housing bubble burst.  However, with proposals like a dog park and an ice skating rink already on the table, the spending should exhaust all of the city’s reserves in a few short years.

8.  The city has been pre-funding retiree medical for 16 years.

This is true, and as far as it goes, I believe it is a good thing.  If I am not mistaken, there is still a huge unfunded pension liability looming out there that represents a potential cost of well over $100 million.  With a little luck, that particular actuarial certainty won’t make itself felt for a few years yet, but what happens when it does?

9.  If we don’t spend some of our rainy day fund this year, we’ll have to cut spending by $13.5 million.  Police, Fire, DPW would lose 150-180 positions.

I am not advocating for cutting spending by $13.5 million, I am advocating cutting it by the $7 million of revenue we cannot collect via taxation.  $13.5 million is a canard.  It’s not a real number.  The tax increase passed, for better or worse.  There is no taking it back.  A year has already passed at the new rate.

As long as we’re going to have a substantive discussion about the budget — something the city seems to want to discourage — let’s at least use numbers that have some basis in reality.

10.  Councilman Taylor is well aware of the City’s long-term financial and labor strategies that we have all been working hard on for the past three years to address declining revenues.

Councilman Taylor is well aware that the city is doing something that is financially unsustainable, and he has been almost pleading with fellow members of council and the administration to really, truly address it.  He is well aware that the city has spent the last three years raising our taxes, spending our money on luxuries we can ill afford, and then telling us that spending more than we take in is the only responsible thing we can do.

I have a degree in Computer Information Systems, not one as an economist.  I survive the perils of the world of finance by being cautious, not by implementing plans to spend everything I have and then some in the hope that things will turn around in the future.

I have a proposition that I hope will give everyone pause before voting this November.  It is simply this: the current state of the economy here is the “new normal”.

The housing market is not going to recover to its 2005 level.  It’s not even going to recover to its 2007 level.  You cannot spend enough on city services to attract people from outside the area to move to Metro Detroit.  As a region, we are on a downward trajectory, not an upward one.  There is no reason to expect a meaningful recovery of the housing market in the foreseeable future, and thus we cannot expect city tax revenue to increase substantially anytime soon.

With the potential for Lansing to eliminate taxes on personal property and revenue sharing to continue to decline, it would be better to hang onto our money this year.  We’re going to need it to supply basic services in the not too distant future.

$86K Playscape


Last night City Council voted 4-3 to install an $86,000 playscape in Dodge Park.  Described by Parks and Recreation Manager Kyle Langlois as the largest playscape of it’s kind in Macomb County, the new structure will be delivered this month.  After storing it over the winter, it will be installed next spring.

Did the city need to do something about the existing playscape located in the flood plain?  Absolutely.  It needed to be relocated, and it needed repair and maintenance.  Rather than trying to do more with less, however, the city chose to spend tens of thousands of dollars more so the Parks and Recs guys could claim to have the biggest and the best.

Once again, an unnecessary purchase highlights our city’s spendthrift ways.  Remember this next November.

New Park!


On September 7, 2010, City Council, in a unanimous vote, approved the purchase of a “passive park” — an abandoned gas station — near the intersection of Utica Road and Van Dyke.  The .43 acre parcel was owned by Speedway Corporation, and has lingering environmental issues resulting in a need for over $180,000 worth of clean-up efforts in addition to the purchase cost of the property — all told the cost will be $440,518.65.  This of course neglects on-going maintenance of the parcel such as lawn mowing and refuse collection.

But don’t worry, folks, the money’s coming from Uncle Sam in the form of a grant.

I don’t know about anyone else, but my thoughts are this: Speedway contaminated the site.  Speedway should pay for the clean-up, not the taxpayers.  Besides that, a .43 acre parcel is barely larger than my own yard combined with the guy’s next door.  It isn’t a park, it’s a boondoggle.

New Playscape!


Looks like our friends on Utica Road are contemplating another unwise purchase for our fair city. This time, it’s a $90,000 playscape for Dodge Park.

Can we get a used gas station to go with that?