Detroit council is newly frugal
- Detroit council is newly frugal
Members say they plan budget cutting
January 29, 2005
BY MARISOL BELLO
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER
A majority of the Detroit City Council said Friday they plan to do
something they haven't done in more than a decade: trim the council's
Councilwoman Sheila Cockrel called for a review of the budget a day
after a Free Press analysis found that since 2000, the nine-member body
has increased its general fund budget by 48 percent -- more than by any
Cockrel said it is the first time during her 12 years in office that the
council will conduct a line-by-line breakdown of its budget, which has
ballooned to $17 million. The council plans to hold a hearing in the
next two weeks to find cuts.
"It is clearly good practice and a requirement, given the city's current
structural fiscal crisis," she said.
By Friday, even council members who called the newspaper's report flawed
were looking for ways to make the council share in the pain that will
lead to 10-percent salary reductions for all city employees, almost 700
layoffs and scaled-back bus service. Councilwoman JoAnn Watson, for
example, spoke up for a 20-percent across-the-board reduction of the
Her council ally Barbara-Rose Collins admitted Friday: "There is a lot
of fat in the council's budget."
The Free Press reported Thursday that even though the city faces a
minimum $231-million shortfall for the 2005-06 fiscal year, which begins
July 1, the council was asking for a 4-percent increase.
"From what I am told, this council has not sought an increase in its
budget this year, except as it relates to medical benefits costing
more," Councilwoman Sharon McPhail said Friday. "But it is being played
as if we're over here spending a bunch of money."
But McPhail, as well as colleagues Alberta Tinsley-Tilabi and Kenneth
Cockrel Jr., admit areas of the council's budget need to be trimmed.
The council's preliminary budget reflects higher benefits costs. But it
also shows that more than a third of the $633,000 proposed increase is
for new cameras to tape the council's daily sessions.
In October, the Kilpatrick administration asked all departments -- and
the council -- to keep requests for 2005-06 at the current fiscal year's
level, in light of the city's financial problems. Because of the
increase in pension and health care costs, departments had to make cuts
But the council did not do that.
Fermon Sanders, the council administrator who submitted the preliminary
budget and who reports directly to Council President Maryann Mahaffey,
said last week that he only adds the benefits increases and leaves it to
the council to decide on the final version.
Several members took issue that they had not been allowed input into the
preliminary budget before Mahaffey and Sanders submitted it in December.
Mahaffey is on leave for surgery, but her chief of staff, Sara Gleicher,
said this week that the president does not decide on the budget alone.
She said all members weigh in during the spring, when they deliberate
the city's entire $1.6-billion general fund budget.
Under the city's charter, the council president oversees all of the
council's administrative duties. The heads of the council's five
divisions report to Mahaffey.
A review of the council's general fund budgets since 2000 shows the bulk
of the increases occurred in these divisions, such as the administrative
For example, the budget for the council's central administration --
which is made up of four human resources staffers and five secretaries
-- increased by more than 50 percent, to $3 million. This amount is
separate from the $732,000 each council member is allotted to staff his
or her own office.
Collins questioned the need for other divisions, such as Historic
Designation, which has a director who makes $140,000 a year, especially
when the city already has a Historical Department.
In addition to Director William Worden, the division has two staff
members who make more than $70,000, and a secretary who makes $59,000.
Contact MARISOL BELLO at 313-222-6678 or bello@....
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