Task force to prioritize spending, make budget suggestions

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — A 30-member community task force is in the midst of analyzing the fiscal challenges facing Dearborn and eventually will create a five-year budgetary strategic recommendation.

The volunteer members of the task force started meeting in January and represent a cross section of residents, businesses, institutions, organizations, neighborhood groups, boards and commissions from across the city.

The group was assembled under the direction of Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. With a decline in resources, personnel and revenue, O’Reilly said that the city must preserve – and in some cases reinvent – the programs residents value the most.

“What will happen quite literally (in upcoming budgets) is that we’re going to have to do things that some members of our community will feel very strongly about,” O’Reilly said. “Change is not always easy.”

Task force activities are being facilitated by Plante & Moran and consist of three components. The first phase, which is almost complete, is for task force members to get an understanding of how municipal finance works. The edification process will wrap up at a Feb. 24 meeting and the group will go on hiatus until April.

The hiatus marks the start of the second phase. During this time, Plante & Moran representatives will take task force-generated questions and concerns to city department heads and employee groups to get explanations.

When the task force reconvenes, they will use those answers to formulate their report and recommendations.

It is hoped the strategic plan will be used as a reference point for discussions between the mayor and the City Council regarding proposed annual budgets. The goal is to have the work of the task force positively influence the fiscal year 2011 budget now being developed and offer insightful opportunities for the 2012 budget and beyond.

O’Reilly knows it is no easy assignment.

“We can’t go back to the way things were,” he said. “But just because our future will be different, doesn’t mean it won’t be based on the essential elements that have always defined this great community.”

By tapping into the expertise of respected community representatives, and giving them a structured forum for discussions, the mayor hopes that recommendations about services, programs and facilities will be based on a comprehensive understanding of the city’s finances and operations.

That way, the city can focus on genuine opportunities and challenges that lead to positive and productive actions. O’Reilly is hoping that residents will want to share insights with the task force and said the city should have up a Web site soon for posting comments for consideration.