Grosse Pointe Shores Council Passes Budget 4 to 3
Following a couple hours of comments by about a dozen residents, Shores passes the budget with a 1.25 millage increase.
Following a litany of comments from Grosse Pointe Shores residents—both for and against the millage increase—the council passed the 2011-2012 fiscal year budget in a 4-to-3 vote.
City Manager Brian Vick prefaced the public comment portion of the public hearing with background about how the proposed $5.4 million general fund budget was reached. Vick said council members had 11 meetings leading up to Monday and he detailed the considerations discussed by council.
Vick highlighted that with his proposal of a 1.25 millage increase that the majority of residents would not actually see an increase in their tax bills but still pay less than this year. The increase in the millage leads to lower tax bills because of dropping home values--a point emphasized by some of the residents.
About a dozen residents spoke, of whom many were familiar faces. John Booth, Kay Felt and several others spoke against the budget and tax increase. Jim Anderson and a few others spoke in favor.
One resident who addressed the council, Pauline Lessnau, told council it was her first time attending a meeting. She reminded the council that the city of Grosse Pointe Shores does not exist to employ people but to provide services to meet the needs of the residents.
Lessnau said she works two jobs and the repeated tax increases are detrimental to her family, even telling council that she may have to move from the Shores if it continues. She also said she's aware of the political divide but believes the council should take a closer look to make more cuts.
She also noted that she paid $500 for the first time for her children to participate in the Shores swim team—one of the changes implemented as part of the budget talks to ensure the program pays for itself. Lessnau said she's willing to do her part as a resident and urged the council to look at other organizations or cities similar to the Shores for ideas, specifically related to employee contributions to health care/retiree benefits.
Before voting, the council shared their comments, many of which became heated and drew scoffs, yelling and even profanity by those in attendance.
Councilman Ted Kedzierski said he would still like to see multiple-year budget planning to prevent the annual crunch the council finds itself in. He also questioned how the council will ever be able to balance a budget if the legacy costs are not addressed.
Councilman Robert Graziani accused Kedzierski of "political showboating," explaining everyone on the council had their opportunity to suggest cuts. The audience was quieted by Mayor James Cooper several times during Graziani's comments.
Councilman David Galbenski said he believes the actions of the council members should speak louder than words. He said he believes there have been inconsistencies by some council members and that he is far from being inconsistent.
Councilman Dan Schulte said he thinks more changes could have been made, such as condensing the financial manager and city manager positions from two to one, noting the Shores does not have a business district and combining such jobs would make sense for a community like the Shores.
Mayor Cooper said he believes the originally discussed 1.75 millage increase would be "the right decision" but the community is unlikely to accept it. Meanwhile, the 1.25 millage increase recommended by Vick fills the budget gap of about $354,000 although it does not allow for savings or financial planning, he said.
Cooper also commented about employees leaving the Shores, saying they are leaving to seek stability not because for any other reason. Keeping quality employees has been a focus for Geraghty, who says making more cuts will only lead those valuable to seek employment elsewhere.
During the council's most recent committee of the whole meetings, there was discussion of a 1.75 millage increase with 1.25 going to the general fund, 0.25 going to the vehicle replacement fund, and the other 0.25 going to the roadway funds for upkeep and paving. Vick said at the beginning of Monday's meeting he was simply recommending the 1.25 millage increase.
The vote did not follow its usual split: Galbenski, Kedzierski and Schulte voted against the budget while councilwoman Victoria Boyce, Cooper, Graziani and Geraghty voted in support.
Much of the crowd in the standing-only room stood and walked out of the room, many sharing their frustrations with each other following the vote.
Afterward, Lessnau said she chose to attend Monday's meeting as her first because she is trying to be a better citizen and she believes there is a lot of talk by the council members about change but not much action to affect change. She is worried about the fiscal stability of the Shores, she said.