Task force findings will help city plans

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN – After three meetings between the City Council and a local community task force regarding the city’s future, only one thing is clear: Change is needed.

The task force, which consisted of Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. and 30 community members and business leaders, had worked since February to create a five-year plan for improving the city. Group members, council members and the public gathered to discuss the results of their efforts, “Vision 2016,” throughout the past three weeks.

“I think they did a fantastic job on preparing it, and I think it needs to be utilized, but it’s not an end-all, be-all,” said City Council President Thomas Tafelski. “Everyone realized we’re going through some tough economic times and things have to change. We all agreed the way the city conducted business in the past is probably not going to work.”

The task force’s vision included 94 goals, which were broken down into four major categories: administrative efficiencies; image and development; personnel; and revenue enhancements. Some of the goals are already under way, while others are options council members agree should be looked into further.

“Our work is cut out for us. It stresses some key elements as to what it takes to run a city,” Councilwoman Suzanne Sareini said. “It was mindful and broad based. I think they should all be looked at, personally. It’s fair that everything be taken into consideration given these economic times. We don’t want to base the future on a one-time item.”

Although Sareini noted that she didn’t agree with all of the recommendations, she did see several important ones listed.

“The image I think was really an important issue, because we want to be a community that’s desirable,” Sareini said.

In addition to improving the city’s public image to draw in residents and businesses, the proposal included three other key parts.

Improving administrative efficiencies of municipal employees both by process and by cutting personnel by 25 to 30 percent – reducing expenditures by $60 million – was one notable recommendation. Consolidating regional services also was suggested.

“During our budget process, we certainly do our due diligence on what programs are working, and costs,” Sareini said.

Another eye-popping idea was to max out the property tax millage – currently at 13.62 mills – at 15 mills and then pass a proposal to eventually raise it to 18.5 of a maximum state-allowed 20 mills to increase revenue.

“We have to be cognizant that we want to be an attractive, viable city. It’s a delicate balance,” Tafelski said.

After the third meeting Nov. 30, task force members were left wondering exactly how their 94 recommendations would be used.

“The mayor indicated that he endorses the plan, but told the council that it could consider its recommendations as ‘tools’ in a ‘toolbox’, and council could choose to use whichever tools they saw fit,” said Ernie Oz, task force image and development subcommittee chairman. “It remains to be seen if the council elects to adopt any of the recommendations outlined in the report.”

Both Sareini and Tafelski echoed Oz’s statements, noting that the task force’s recommendations are just that, recommendations, and were not intended for adoption by a single lump vote. Tafelski noted that such a decision wouldn’t even be possible, given the overlapping requirements of some of the recommendations.

“For some reason, there were thoughts that the council would vote and (approve the entire recommendation),” Tafelski said. “The (council) has decided that the document will be utilized as a tool when we’re in the budgetary process. The mayor needs to bring forth the proper resolution from the blue ribbon task force. I think they did a fantastic job on preparing it and I think it needs to be utilized, but it’s not an end-all, be-all.”

The recommendations will be up for discussion next month, when talks about the next fiscal budget begin despite not being due until April 15, Sareini said.

Additionally, the 2011-12 city budget will be the first to plan out for three years, instead of the traditional single year. Although a three-year budget eventually will be approved, it will be adjusted and reapproved each year.

“It’s a good process,” Sareini said. “You’ll have a more long-term idea of where you’re going with each individual department.”

(Contact Chris Jackett at cjackett@bewickpublications.com)