Minutes into the first line-by-line budget review by Grosse Pointe Woods city council for the 2011-12 fiscal year came heated discussion and accusations Monday.
The Woods is facing a $287,000 deficit in its budget after adding in a 0.5 millage increase to residents, which is expected to generate about $309,000. That deficit also includes the addition of half of the state's normal revenue sharing–money that is yet to be determined at the state level–and about $257,000 in personal property taxes. The overall shortfall was $840,000.
Originally, Woods Treasurer Dee Ann Irby told council the shortfall after adding all of those amounts back into the budget would be closer to $180,000. Irby told council Monday that a few amounts they thought they would be saving on had to be added back into the budget because there had since been changes.
Among those changes, the full-time workforce has been reduced by three. Two people retired and two full-time employees were laid off, City Manager Al Fincham said. A current employee was suppose to have taken over one of the positions vacated through a retirement, but the employee decided not to apply for the position, which still must be filled, Fincham said.
Within minutes of beginning a line-by-line review, councilwoman Lisa Pinkos Howle said she wanted the council to eliminate their salaries completely. She noted the total amount isn't an overwhelming amount but making such cuts throughout the budget has potential to add up.
Before Howle finished speaking, Mayor Robert Novitke abruptly suggested Howle was suggesting such because she will be up for re-election this year.
"It's an election year, now Lisa," Novitke said. "To try to start imposing that on everyone, if you want to do something then do it."
Howle responded, saying she brings this idea up every year and is shot down because Novitke accuses her of using it for political purposes. She told council that most of the council members from the other Pointes do not have salaries, with the exception of one where a very small amount is given.
Councilman Joseph Sucher said he was in support of eliminating the salaries but the remaining members said they were against it. Councilman Todd McConaghy explained that there are many resources he puts into being a councilman but doesn't claim or submit for reimbursement, so he believes the council members deserve the money.
Councilwoman Vicki Granger said she uses her salary to pay for tickets to attend events such as the Chamber of Commerce's annual dinner or to donate to certain organizations within the community that seek it.
According to the League of Women Voters of Grosse Pointe, the council members are paid $3,750 annually and the mayor is paid $6,000. All serve four-year terms. The Farms council is the only other council in the Pointes that pays its members and the amount is $600 for council members and $900 to the mayor.
Howle said the savings of $28,500 annually would add up over time. She also told council members she believed doing so would show goodwill to the residents for whom the Woods will increase taxes and for employees who have accepted concessions and no raises.
Afterward, Howle posted to Grosse Pointe Patch's Facebook page explaining if the cut had been made in 2004 when it first came up, the Woods would have $200,000 more in reserves.
The heated discussion continued when Howle suggested cutting the Woods' Community Appreciation Reception, which is an annual party held for all of the city's volunteers at the Grosse Pointe Hunt Club. The cost on this budget is $12,000 and Howle said while it doesn't mean it has to be cut forever, she thinks it would be fiscally responsible to do so for this year.
Councilman Art Bryant suggested to move the event to the Woods' own Community Center, where they city could purchase alcohol spirits and decrease the expense by $10,000 to $2,000 and still be able to have the event.
Novitke spoke against cutting it, repeatedly telling council he feels making such cuts is risky because it takes away the special sense of community Woods residents have–the factor Novitke has said separates the Woods from other cities.
"We truly have a problem there," Novitke said to Howle's suggestion. "I think that would diminish the value of appreciation," he said to Bryant's suggestion.
The council, which ended its meeting after the disagreements, will continue its line-by-line review next week before its normally scheduled formal council meeting.