City employees agree to concessions to address its $1.6 million deficit

By TOM TIGANI
Sunday Times Newspapers

SOUTHGATE – City employees recently agreed to a request from Mayor Joseph Kuspa for help in addressing a $1.6 million budget deficit for the fiscal 2010, which begins Thursday.

The administration began working on balancing the budget after a town hall meeting in January to discuss what he called the systemic nature of budget problems. The only way to ensure the city’s future, he said, was for everyone to share the sacrifice; he then sought concessions from the city’s seven bargaining units.

An annual audit cited a declining tax base and revenue streams, as well as high employee legacy costs.

The 2010-11 budget now stands at about $20.6 million, with a surplus of approximately $1 million.

“I instructed my team to balance the budget without impacting services,” Kuspa said.

With that charge the administration approached the city’s management team representated by the Teamsters Local 214 and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1917. Both bargaining units agreed to concessions that included a 9 percent reduction in pay, a figure that included five voluntary furlough days, waiving a contractually required 2 percent pay raise on July 2, and an increase of 5.5 percent in their benefits contributions.

“They came to the table despite the fact that their contracts were closed,” Kuspa said. “They did not shrink from their responsibility and provided an example to the rest of our workforce of what leadership is.”

Soon thereafter, city officials began negotiating with the Police Department, which at the time of negotiations consisted of three separate bargaining units. After two months of intense negotiations, the city was able to ratify what Kuspa termed a “historic” agreement. Concessions offered by the police ultimately could result in $500,000 in annual savings to the city, he said.

As a result of the agreement the Police Department has changed its scheduling model to represent a 12-hour shift system. Officials say that will greatly reduce the need for overtime and not impact the city’s ability to provide the residents with the level of service they are accustomed to.

“The safety of the public is not negotiable, and our officers recognized our position, and we are grateful for the cooperation,” Kuspa said.

Also, the Police Dispatch Matron unit recently voted to close its collective bargaining agreement, clearing the way for the city to participate in the founding of the Downriver Central Dispatch, which Dispatch, which will be based in Wyandotte and is expected to begin serving that city, Southgate and Lincoln Park by Thursday.

In addition to the unions that already have settled with the city, its nonunion personnel also have offered voluntary wage concessions. The 28th District Court, led by Judge James Kandrevas, mirrored the concessions of the Teamsters and Local 1917.

“The 28th District Court would like to recognize the hard work and dedication of the administration,” Kandrevas said.

City Administrator Brandon Fournier, Fire Chief Doug Gildner and Police Chief Thomas Coombs also agreed to the 9 percent pay cuts and volunteered to be included in the concessions.

The Fire Department currently is negotiating with the administration, and both sides are hopeful that an agreement will be reached soon.

Offers by City Attorney Edward Zelenak and labor attorney Howard Shifman to take 10 percent cuts also were accepted, the mayor said.

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