City sets balanced budget while awaiting emergency manager

By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers

LINCOLN PARK — Challenges awaiting the city’s anticipated state-appointed Emergency Manager were made a little easier with the approval this month of a balanced budget.

City council June 2 approved its anticipated budget for 2014-15, with some savings that eliminated an expected deficit for the year of more than $100,000.

Mayor Thomas Karnes said it represents a step in the right direction for the financially-troubled city, which still needs to eliminate a $2 shortfall over the next few years.

“We’re making improvements,” Karnes said.

Of particular benefit to the bottom line was the approval of a contract with the union representing senior police officers, and it was expected that an agreement would soon be reached with patrol officers.

“The command contract was accepted,” Karnes said. “We’re working on the patrol contract. The budget isn’t based on dreams — it’s not on the hope of getting concessions but on getting concessions.”

Public safety expenses are key to the city’s financial stability. Of the expected $21.5 million spending budget, police and fire services account for more than half of that amount with about $7.5 million for police and $4.5 million for fire.

Savings for fiscal year 2014-15 included the absence of a city manager. Joe Merucci ended his tenure last month, and interviews for a replacement were held while city officials debated whether to accept a consent agreement with the state to oversee financial decisions.

City council rejected that agreement, however, and Karnes said he expects the appointment soon of an emergency manager, which effectively eliminates the need for a city-paid manager.

“There was no point in taking it further,” Karnes said. “For the next 18 months or so we’ll be under an assigned emergency manager, so there’s no purpose in spending an additional $85,000 to $95,000 to someone who would have to run everything by the emergency manager.”

Compensation for the state-appointed manager would, Karnes said, be the responsibility of the state and not the city.

While awaiting the arrival of an emergency manager, Karnes said city officials and council will continue addressing the day-to-day needs at city hall.

“We’re still running the business of the city of Lincoln Park,” Karnes said. “Things have to get done and we move on. Obviously, long-term things will have to be reviewed by the state; we don’t want to do something and have it rescinded later on.”

Karnes said he hadn’t heard any further information on the state appointment since last month’s rejection of the consent agreement.

“It could come at any time,” Karnes said. “That’s totally up to them.”

(James Mitchell can be reached at jmitchell@bewickpublications.com.)