Detroit Mayor Dave Bing yesterday presented a budget that cuts City Council staff, keeps furloughs in place and leaves many positions in various departments unfilled — but still increases the deficit from $327 million to $380 million. It is the city’s first budget under state oversight.
Bing, in his first appearance before emergency manager Kevyn Orr, who had no input on the budget, said the city faces “a fiscal challenge of historic proportions.”
“Bottom line: we must manage our expenses to align with our revenue. We cannot allow expenses to exceed revenue,” Bing told the City Council in its chambers on the 13th floor of the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center. “In preparing this budget, we are confronted with making difficult and challenging decision on cuts and reductions. And we were confronted with having to manage our city finances like never before in Detroit’s history.”
While Bing said the city must focus on public safety, transportation, blight control, lighting and parks and recreation, the issue that got most of the attention was his proposal to cut $4 million from the City Council’s budget, from $11 million to $7 million, reducing each member’s support staff to one employee. Members now have between four to eight staffers each, so a reduction to one staffer would be a dramatic change.
Council members, clearly disturbed, said the reductions might impair their ability to both serve constituents and fulfill policy responsibilities after the newly drawn council district representation is implemented next year.
“We’re not sure what that will look like, but we do know that it will require more than one staff member,” said Council President Charles Pugh, who isn’t running for election in November. “This is not about us, the people at this table … however it is about government in the city of Detroit.”
When Bing said a pair of studies showed that comparable U.S. cities on average employ one full-time staff member per council member, Council member Saunteel Jenkins challenged the studies.
“What their councils are responsible for and Detroit are completely different,” she said. “One of the cities they compared us to had 40 council members … Not one of them had councils that were representing districts that were 100,000 people or more. I think it’s irresponsible for us to be moving forward into uncharted territory.”
After budget deliberations start next week, the council can make changes and return the proposal to Bing. But Orr has the ultimate authority.
Chief Financial Officer Jack Martin concluded that the city’s deficit is increasing at a lower rate and that he expects to start seeing a reduction next year.
“The deficit is increasing at a decreasing rate,” Martin said, drawing laughs from the council and audience.
After the budget presentation, Mark Young, president of the Detroit Police Lieutenants and Sergeants Association, said the budget should include more law enforcement funding. He said public safety is often cited as the city’s foremost priority.
“If it’s really foremost, make it foremost,” he said.