Flint emergency manager unveils budget with fee hikes, public safety layoffs

FLINT, MI &#8211 The cost to live in the city of Flint could be going up for some residents if Flint emergency manager Michael Brown enacts his budget proposal.
With the city facing a projected $25 million deficit next year, Brown unveiled a financial plan for the city Monday that includes fee hikes as well as steep cuts to personnel in the form of layoffs and compensation cuts. The budget includes 19 fewer police officers, 31 firefighter layoffs and closing up to two fire stations.

Brown also plans to ask the state’s permission to borrow up to $20 million to cover past deficits, he said.

The steep budget cuts and revenue increases proposed are “significant but unavoidable” in order to Flint on a path to financial solvency, Brown said in the budget proposal released Monday.

Brown called Flint’s situation a “financial emergency” and said the cuts were necessary if the city hopes to get its fiscal house in order.

“If the city government of Flint is to be a positive force in making Flint a safe and attractive place for residents, businesses, and visitors, it must have its own house in order,” he said in his proposal. “It cannot teeter on the edge of financial insolvency and hope to lead the way.”

Many Flint residents were outraged over the budget, criticizing the proposed fee increases and public safety layoffs.

A new street light assessment would cost residents $100 or less, and a new $143 flat fee to residential property owners for waste collection would replace the current 3-mill garbage tax.

Flint resident Marie Gibson said taxes shouldn’t be increased since people in Flint are already having problems affording their homes.

“There are people right now with no jobs and no cash,” she said. “So does that mean you’re gonna pay more taxes and struggle more to pay bills? Because they can’t pay. We’re already in trouble because of the raised funds and the high unemployment.”

Flint resident Chris Del Morone said the new garbage fee for residential properties, and the resulting tax break for businesses, is “absolutely terrible.”

“The community cannot afford these increases,” he said. “The 25 percent water rate increase, I am totally stunned by that. It’s the same type of mandate from Lansing that’s now coming to Flint, Michigan.”

On the other hand, Flint resident Robert Knox said he thought Brown’s plan would be good for Flint. He said the garbage fee, at just over $10 per month, “sounded quite reasonable.”

“Personally, I’d like to see more police officers on the street, but we can only pay for what we can afford,” he said. “Changing the (waste collection) funding so we would have to pay for it will not have much of an effect on anything, I don’t think.”

With property values decreasing throughout the city, the garbage tax wasn’t collecting enough revenue to pay for waste collection, Finance Director Gerald Ambrose said. With the new fee, the city will being back fall leaf pickup and expand the compost collection program, while exploring the possibility of outsourcing waste collection, officials said.

The special assessment for the operation, maintenance and improvement of the street lighting system is expected to be less than $100 per property. Street lights cost the city about $3 million a year, officials said.

Perhaps more controversial is a plan for a 25 percent increase to water and sewer rates, which were already increased twice last year. Officials said the increases still aren’t covering the cost to operate the system.

Brown attributes the rising costs to aging infrastructure and the costs passed on from the city’s primary water source: the city of Detroit.

“It’s not a popular or desirable step we have to take,” Ambrose said. “We must maintain the solvency of the systems.”

Brown said it is a “short-term solution,” and the city will re-examine the rates in the long term.

About 20 percent of the city’s workforce would be laid off under Brown’s budget plan — a reduction of about 147 employees.

It’s possible that police officers and firefighters could be among those laid off, depending on whether or not expired public safety grants are renewed, officials said. Applications for renewal are pending for the C.S. Mott Foundation community police grant as well as the federal SAFER grant for firefighters.

The budget includes 19 fewer police officers, for a total of 108 sworn officers of all ranks and 21 civilian personnel. It also includes 62 firefighters, which is a reduction of about 31 fire personnel.

Two fire stations also would close.

Along with layoffs, personnel would also see reduced wages and benefits. New contracts that represent an approximate 20 percent cut to total compensation were negotiated with three of the city’s six unions. A fourth union, AFSCME Local 1799, is expected to vote on a tentative contract proposal this month.

Brown said talks are continuing with the Flint police patrol union and AFSCME Local 1600, which represents general city employees, but no agreements have been reached.

Without agreements, Brown is expected to invoke his authority under Public Act 4, the emergency manager law, to impose similar cuts to other contracts, according to the budget.

Exempt employees will also receive similar pay and benefit cuts under the proposal.

The financial decisions will still allow the city to provide basic services to residents, Brown said in the budget plan.

“With a focus on a next year’s budget that is realistically balanced on attainable revenue estimates, and with assistance from the state to address the accumulated deficits from past years, our journey into the future can begin,” he said.

The affect of the new fees on taxpayers and businesses will vary, Brown said, however many taxpayers will see their total payments for city services increase compared to the previous year.

“However, when compared to total payments for city services made in 2005 — before the precipitous drop in property values began — many taxpayers will still be paying less,” the budget says.

Property owners with a taxable value of more than $53,450 in 2005 will still pay less for city services in next budget year than they paid in the 2005 budget year.

Property owners with a taxable value of less than $53,450 in 2005, however, will pay more for city services next year than they did in 2005.

Del Morone, who sits on the city’s Board of Review, said declining property values doesn’t mean residents should see fee increases.

“We’ve lost enough in our property values,” he said. “It doesn’t justify the amount we pay in taxes should stay the same.”

From MLive.com.

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