Council votes for millage to avoid EFM

Sunday Times Newspapers

ALLEN PARK – An emergency financial manager may have been avoided for the financially struggling city in a close Tuesday vote.

The city council revoted 4-3 that night to place on the May 8 ballot a 4 mill, two-year millage to cover the city’s $2.2 million annual subsidy to its failed studio property. Similar millages have failed twice before.

Councilors Angelo DeGiulio, Dennis Hayes, and Bob Keenan dissented on the motion, with Tina Gaworecki, Harry Sisko, Mayor Bill Matakas, and Larry Templin — back from a stint recovering from kidney surgery after missing last week’s vote in which the motion failed because of a tie — voted in favor of placing the issue on the ballot.

The proposal is to help counteract a $4 million budget deficit for next year, for which the city, which also faces running out of funds this year, may fail to pay employees, an automatic trigger for an emergency financial manager from the state, which under Michigan Public Act 4 can void contracts and dismiss elected officials.

Sisko said he wanted to let residents, many of whom he said were upset that they were not permitted to vote on the failed studio property purchase, decide the city’s future.

Some councilors voiced their concerns that the millage itself would be useless in abolishing the deficit unless Fire and Police departments made further concessions. Councilors sent a letter asking for more concessions, including a 10 percent reduction in base wages, last week and the unions have until Tuesday to respond.

DeGiulio echoed that concern, playing on the city’s slogan for the proposed studio millage that failed in November, which along with a police and fire levy that passed, was advertised as costing the average homeowner the cost of one cup of coffee per day.

“I feel the employees have not stepped up at all,” DeGiulio said. “You already gave them your cup of coffee on Nov. 8, now they are after your medication and your kids’ school lunches.”

Keenan disagreed, but said that fire and police are the largest slice of the city’s budget and the only place left to cut.

“The police and firemen did not create this mess,” he said. “They don’t deserve to be painted in this light, but the bottom line is that we’ve gotten concessions everywhere we can.

“Right now if the citizens are willing to pass a 4-mill millage, we are still going to be $1.4 million short. The only place we can get that money is from police and fire.”

Hayes said it might be time to embrace the potential for an emergency financial manager.

“I don’t consider the EM a bogeyman,” he said. “It may not be comfortable, it may put us out of these chairs for the duration, which is fine. I just feel we cannot fix this ourselves … it’s gone too far.”