As revenues shrink, city officials weigh options

By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers

ALLEN PARK – A possible millage increase and better traffic ticket fine collections are among the ways being discussed by officials to raise revenue for the city in the upcoming budget year.

They met Feb. 5 for a midyear budget review study session to look for ways to cut costs while minimizing the direct impact of city service reductions on residents.

The 2010-11 budget of $22.12 million includes a $1 million surplus, but officials could be looking at a deficit next year because of lost lease revenue after the recent exit of major tenants from the city’s studio complex. Fiscal 2011-12 begins July 1; officials could not provide estimated budget figures as of press time.

No decisions were made or votes taken Feb. 5, but officials agreed the city will have even less money to spend – and harder choices to make.

Councilwoman Beverly Kelley suggested a millage increase ballot proposal for police and fire services.

“Everyone had their taxes lowered because their houses have been devalued,” Kelley said. “(A millage increase) would not cost that much money.”

She said that such a ballot proposal could be nixed by those who need such services the most. Elderly residents comprise more than 50 percent of the city’s population, Kelley said, adding that no one in the room wanted to suggest a millage because it was “not politically favorable” because “(the elderly) are the ones who vote.”

While some officials disagreed with Kelley’s estimate, City Administrator Eric Waidelich said the trend in southeastern Michigan is for road millages to “crash and burn,” but that public safety millages seem to have a 75 to 80 percent chance of passing.

Kelley agreed, saying a public safety millage would free up money for other departments, but that because this is an election year, no one will vote to raise residents’ taxes, even though property values have decreased for the last two years, lessening the amount of taxes to be paid. She added, however, that if voters turned down a millage and city services are cut, “the next time you bring it back, they sure as hell will vote for it.”

David Boomer, building official and electrical inspector, said too much emphasis has been placed on cuts.

“At some point we need to increase revenue in some way, shape or form,” he said.

In recent years, one way police have helped do that is by writing traffic tickets. Police Chief and Public Safety Director Dean Tamsen said police officers wrote nearly 25,000 tickets in calendar year 2009, including more than 10,000 by the police Selective Enforcement Team. In 2010 officers wrote over 13,000 tickets, with almost 7,000 by selective enforcement.

The team is paid overtime to do it, Tamsen said, but writes more than enough tickets to cover its salary costs. He did not say, however, how much revenue was generated by those efforts in either year.

The collection process, however, is “very difficult,” he said. Tamsen said police need support from the 24th District Court to fund personnel to pull warrants and collect fines, and that the council would have to approve payment for those staff members.

Charging for some services that city workers currently provide for free also was discussed.

Anthony Napolitano, director of parks and recreation, said his department provides some of those for Allen Park Public Schools, as well as dressing and maintaining ball fields for the Allen Park Athletic Club at no cost. The department also maintains city tennis courts.

City officials said the school system no longer provides reciprocal services for the city, and that the city pays to use the district’s arts center for occasional events.

Napolitano said he has talked with APAC for years about handing off the cost of field maintenance and providing portable toilets, but has met with resistance.

“Just be prepared. You guys are going to run into the same thing. You’ll tell me not to do it in order to make my numbers, and come the season all hell’s going to break loose.”

Waidelich said every department is facing challenges for the foreseeable future.

“We’re losing a $100 million in taxable value next year,” he said. “Commercial and residential (values) are going down, and dollars coming into the city on which to operate are going down again next year, which means the challenges … are not going to go away.

“In fact, they’re going to get worse next year.”

No additional budget review meetings had been scheduled as of press time.

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