Tax rate increase, pool closings at budget hearings

Photo by Daniel Heraty

Dearborn resident Ryan Woods speaks to the city council during a public hearing June 6 on the city’s proposed budget regarding the possible closing of six of the city’s pools.

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN – A new city budget will cut city services and reduce city staff.

During a special meeting Tuesday, city councilors voted unanimously to adopt a proposed $95 million budget.

They also approved an increase in the parking rate, between 50 cents and $1 depending on the lots, and increased the millage rate, the assessed taxable value of property, to 15 mills for 2012, the maximum allowed by the city charter without voter approval.

At a public hearing on the proposed budget Monday, Finance Director James O’Connor laid out some of the budget cuts, staring with what goes into effect for 2012.

In addition to the six proposed pool closings – Hemlock, Whitmore-Bolles and Lapeer in 2012 and Crowley, Summer-Stephens and Ten-Eyck in 2013 – the Snow Branch Library, 23950 Princeton, is also expected to close by 2013, with the materials distributed to other libraries.

Fire Station No. 3, located at 3630 Wyoming St., could also be closed, but that decision will not be made until the budget discussions for the next fiscal year, set for spring 2012.

The city has also reduced full-time staffing from 911 employees in 2001 to 705 employees in 2012, a loss of 206 employees. Approximately 42 full-time positions have been cut, with 23 employees taking early retirement incentives. The health department, which provides immunizations and health screenings for residents, will also be phased out by June 30.

The city councilors defended their decisions.

“I wish we had a crystal ball five, 10 years ago to see this (recession) coming,” Councilman Robert Abraham said. “The fact of the matter is, no one did. We’re at the point where we’re impacting services. Change is difficult. Some of the things we’re going to have to change in this budget and again next year are not going to be easy.”

He said that by the time the pools close in September, he hopes the residents get together and come up with a concrete way to help keep the remaining pools open. Councilors voted to close Whitmore Bolles, Lapeer and Hemlock Pools this year, which would cost about $60,000 each to repair. They told the audience Tuesday that the financial situation is taking precedence, and that while they understand the passion of the residents who want to save the pools, tough decisions will have to be made.

“Come Labor Day, don’t disappear,” Abraham said. “Get organized in a genuine fashion in the form of a non-profit organization that perhaps could work in similar fashion to what we use with (other organizations) were you’re actually contributing to the control and the outcome …”

“We are doing everything in our power to make (Dearborn) a wonderful place to live,” Councilman Brian O’Donnell said. “But, in the same way, we have to be realistic in the fact that some golden millage is not going to come and bail us out of this.”

Many residents, including members of a group called Save Our Pools, came to the hearing Monday and voiced their displeasure with the pool closings.

“These pools are not an elective,” Dearborn resident Mark Lane said. “These pools make Dearborn.” He added that the group’s message is simple. “SOP is not an activist group and we do not stage protests. All we’ve done is try and create awareness and provide ideas to save our city’s prized assets,” Lane said. He added that the impact of the pool closings will be felt in the polls.

“Please remember that you work for us, the voters who elected you,” he said.

Dearborn resident Ryan Woods said that more focus should have been on improving the existing facilities, instead of building new ones, like a new water park at Dunworth Pool, and rustic cabins at Camp Dearborn.

“We’re not asking for a handout,” he said. “We’re asking to make this work.”

Resident Nancy Olind agreed.

“Only a handful of Dearborn residents actually use these (pools at Camp Dearborn) and it’s going to be sporadic,” she said. “It’s not every day when we have a place for our children to go and be safe.”

Tom Smith, who works in the city’s finance department, said that no plans to make the pools revenue neutral have been made or offered, adding that there are more pressing needs facing the city.

“Unless the city gets the cost of the police and fire under control, we’ll never solve this structural deficit,” he said.

Glen Okray, a member of the Dearborn Historic Commission, urged members of the firefighters’ and police officers’ unions to make concessions in order to help alleviate the financial problems and said he would pay extra taxes in order to ensure that that quality of life in the city would remain the same. He also said that there needs to be more done to see that the history of the city is preserved.

“We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to develop a museum,” he said. “Let’s not let this opportunity escape by not the funding needed for the day-to-day operations of the museum.”

(Daniel Heraty can be reached at