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6 to 1 Vote Passes Grosse Pointe Woods Budget

The vote followed much of the conversation shared amongst the council during committee of the whole meetings focusing on budget.

The council passed the 2011-12 fiscal year budget Monday with minimal public comment and with a few minor alterations. The council voted 6 to 1, the naysayer being Councilwoman Lisa Pinkos Howle. 

The budget calls for a 0.5 millage increase, which Woods officials have said would raise taxes by a maximum of $24 but most homeowners would see a much smaller increase.

The vote followed discussion among the council during committee of the whole meetings where the budget was reviewed line-by-line. Howle has spoken against actions agreed to by the other council members from the beginning of the process. 

Her first objection was to figuring the budget with the assumption of a 0.5 millage increase to taxpayers. Howle wanted to see a detailed review completed first, believing the decision to hike taxes should have come after the council determines no more cuts could be made. 

Then during the line-by-line reviews, Howle tabbed out savings she said added up to about $200,000—none of which were considered by the rest of the council. 

Her suggestions included the council eliminating their own pay, which isn't much individually but collectively adds up. She also suggested scaling back significantly an annual volunteer appreciation party held at the , which Councilman Art Bryant agreed could be done. 

Originally budgeted to cost $12,000, the party budget was reduced to $10,000 in the final version. Mayor Robert Novitke spoke against eliminating the party and said scaling it back would take away from the point of the dinner: to honor the volunteers for their work throughout the year.

Throughout the process council members emphasized the need to keep services and amenities that they say set it apart from other cities. Novitke said the party is one such example. 

The council also discussed the elimination of travel or attendance to conferences. Councilman Joseph Sucher suggested employees be allowed one per year and with good reason for attending. Howle said she believed they should be cut entirely along with the many professional association memberships. She said she believes the time off should be granted but the city shouldn't be footing the bill—a practice that she says long ago hit the private sector of the work force. 

No policy changes were implemented because Novitke said the employees already have to seek permission from council for any overnight travel.  

During Monday's hearing, two residents—George McMullen and Richard Shetler Jr.—spoke in favor of the budget. One resident, Stephanie Mann, spoke against it. Mann said Tuesday she reviewed the large binder outlining every line item on the proposed budget all day Friday and Monday. She made it through about a third of the book before she quit and she said she found about $50,000 worth of cuts she felt could have been made. 

Mann, who said on her own she doesn't know Howle, outlined similar cuts to the council, she said, including the volunteer appreciation dinner and the council salaries. 

In a time when employees are taking pay cuts, she said it would have been appropriate for the council to do the same. "Our council members taking leadership should lead the way," she said. "They should have been the first one to cut."

As for the appreciation dinner, she feels putting on a potluck dinner at the Community Center would have the same effect for those who attend. Mann is the mother of four sons, all of whom are now grown. She said she reviewed the city's budget similarly to that of running a household. In lean times, her children went without birthday parties.

Another area Mann questioned relates to health care benefits being offered to one of the two part-time attorneys on the city's payroll. Mann questioned why the city would offer health benefits to a part-time attorney who also has a full-time legal practice outside of the city. 

Sucher had also suggested reviewing how the city's legal work is handled, noting he believes for the amount of money being spent to pay two part-time attorneys, a full-time staff attorney could be hired. 

"They have good hearts I think. They want to give everyone what they've had," Mann said of the council. "They're unwilling to make the tough decisions."

For her the $7 increase is $7 fewer she is able to donate to a charity or some other organization she would choose to support, Mann said. 

The Woods is not alone in raising taxes. The council also voted Monday to increase the rate by 0.5 mills to help close their budget shortfall. 

Howle said she could not vote for a tax rate increase in a time when everyday people are struggling to get by, noting the Woods raised taxes by 1.75 mills only two years ago. 

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