Mayor awaits results of EM plan

By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers

LINCOLN PARK – Mayor Thomas Karnes knew the appointment of an emergency manager to oversee a restructuring of the city’s finances and operations was the start of a multi-year change, and city officials still have obligations to meet before local authority is reclaimed.

“This is long-term, and just the beginning of the process,” Karnes said.

Earlier this month Emergency Manager Brad Coulter held a public information meeting during which he reviewed the financial and operating plan that had been submitted to state treasury officials last month. The 17-page report outlined budget cuts and restructurings that included expected changes in Fire Department operations.

Karnes said the ambitious plan included – in accordance with state protocol – variations of procedures needed for the city to eliminate its longstanding budget deficit.

“He’s coming in with a plan he thinks is going to work,” Karnes said. “There’s a lot of time between here and there. He has to put in everything he might do or might want to do, even if it’s not what he’ll do right now.”

Coulter – who was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder as emergency manager after state officials confirmed the city’s financial status – said that the final plan, once approved, will take up to a year to complete.

The city anticipates up to $1 million in savings under a restructured fire department, which will either establish a shared-resources authority with neighboring communities or cross-train existing, reduced staff.

Separately the city will continue seeking new revenue streams and work to maintain property values that have steadily declined over the past five years.

Whether the city rises from financial emergency within the 18 months of Coulter’s anticipated tenure, Karnes said elected officials will have work to do before reclaiming local authority.

“At that time the mayor and council can vote to end his time here,” Karnes said. “But we still have to come up with a consent agreement at that point.”

Karnes said the burden of proof will be on the city, which had rejected the state’s consent agreement offer this year, a decision that ended with Coulter’s appointment.

“We have a tough row to hoe here for the next 16 months – and a couple of years after,” Karnes said. “Even if things improve a little bit, we still have to be under some kind of agreement.”

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