Reigning in expenses will be the utmost focus for council and administrators in the coming year as the municipality will likely face a $1 million shortfall in its budget next year due to the depletion of its retireee health care fund.
During a planning meeting among the council and administrators Monday, City Manager Pete Dame outlined the dismal financial situation that is likely to unfold in the coming years.
The intent of the meeting was to have a conversation about strategic planning and goal-setting for 2012. The goals include:
- The continue exploration of consolidating the public safety department, which is the city's single highest expense.
- Completion of developing zoning appropriate for , which is currently zoned as residential because it existed before zoning rules were in place for the city.
- To consider altering the master plan for the city to include a wider scope of uses and changes within the Village for economic development.
The conversation quickly morphed into ways to address the anticipated shortfall.
Among a variety of ideas, council discussed at length the need to address its largest expense, which is the Public Safety Department. There are some efforts already underway related to consolidation in public safety area including:
- The Public Safety Departments.
Councilman Chris Walsh urged the need to be proactive. He also said before the study between the City and Park happens, he would like the council to extend a formal offer to the Farms to join it.
Walsh described the Farms as being "coy" up to now regarding public safety consolidation and the need to put an offer before them formally. He requested and other council members agreed, to draft a letter to the Farms council from the City's council to ask that they join in the study with the City and the Park in studying whehter such consolidation would be beneficial to the municipalities.
Dame said because the Park has already agreed to do the study that he would ask the Park if they would be ok with adding the Farms to the study should officials agree to do so.
Farms City Manager Shane Reeside said late Monday that the council would entertain any invitation extended and part of that would be evaluating the proposal and determining whether it would be best for the Farms.
Meanwhile, Farms Public Safety Director Dan Jensen has told Patch he is opposed to consolidation. He believes consolidating will impact the service levels to which residents are accustomed.
Councilman Walsh fears that if the City does not make the formal invitation, the state will later question why officials did not look to consolidate more. He also does want to allow the Farms to continue to be coy about where they stand on consolidation.
Dame also highlighted the possibility of creating a public safety authority, which would be a board with members from any of the Grosse Pointes involved in such a consolidation that would oversee the operations.
Part of the discussion involved the savings such a move could mean for the City, which was estimated to be about $600,000 to $800,000, but Dame said the savings would be shared by the other cities involved, meaning the move would not alleviate the significant gap in funding.
Ultimately, even if public safety consolidation is achieved with one or more of the other Pointes, Dame told council they will likely still have to go to voters for a Headlee override. If an authority were established to oversee a consolidated public safety department, it could have taxing powers—a point Walsh says would make a tax hike more palatable by taxpayers because it would be a line item defined on residents' bills.
Council also urged Dame to take steps to reduce the retiree healthcare costs in whatever ways he could. There are a few options but they are unlikely to make any immediate impact, Dame said, agreeing he would explore implementing changes that would bring retiree costs in line with what is currently offered to public safety employees.
In addition to the consolidation discussions, the council also touched briefly on economic developement with a heavy focus on the Village. Dame said he believes the City's master plan should be altered so the business-shopping district could have more uses than currently defined.
Last year, the and starts this year off with another loss. There are more changes ahead that could leave additional vacancies as well. There has been some developement within the Village, including the and the late in the year.
He also shared his thoughts about trying to include the property on St. Clair Street in which homes were razed to make way for senior luxury condominiums but now stands a vacant grass lot after put the project on hold indefinitely.
Council agreed with having a focus on economic development and Walsh said he would like to have a meeting in which business owners, building owners and investors could share their ideas, noting how development is good for the Grosse Pointes as a whole.