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Detroit council is newly frugal

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  • Charles C. Primas
    Detroit council is newly frugal Members say they plan budget cutting January 29, 2005 BY MARISOL BELLO FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 29, 2005
      Detroit council is newly frugal

      Members say they plan budget cutting

      January 29, 2005



      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
      ever-expanding budget.

      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
      city department.

      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
      council's budget.

      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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