Saline City Council Leans Toward HR Consultant, Leaves Other Positions Unfilled During Belt-Tightening Budget Talks

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 04/29/2020 - 21:30

Expecting a decrease in state revenue sharing because of the coronavirus pandemic, finance department staff continue to whittle away at the City of Saline budget for 2020-21.

Council is expecting to lose about $100,000 in state revenue after being warned to expect a 12.3 percent decline in revenue sharing, Treasurer Mickie Jo Bennett told council as she presented the latest draft of the budget during a virtual meeting Monday evening. 

Fearing the impact could be even greater, finance department staff have cut even more to give the city a $227,000 buffer. It appears council has come to a compromise on the human resources issue. Four members of council asked for a human resources director. For now, there’s $65,000 in the budget for a human resources consultant.

How did the city find $65,000 for a consultant while raising the surplus by $220,000? There were several cuts.

  • No parking enforcement software, $20,000

  • No merits and steps for non-unionized staff, $30,250.

  • Not filling a vacancy created by the retirement of a police officer, $81,278

  • Not filling a vacant DPW job, $51,260

  • Not filling a COPS grant created police officer job, $90,175.

  • Using assigned fund balance dollars instead of general fund dollars for a CAT Loader, $146,250.

The latest proposal also eliminates $8,500 for training, though at the request of Mayor Marl, $1,500 was spared for diversity training.

Bennett said she and Deputy Treasurer Joanne McDonough spent significant time tweaking the numbers to find savings.

“We don’t by any means feel any one of us are experts at predicting the future, especially in these unprecedented times. But this is the conclusion we’ve reached. It’s all up for discussion,” Bennett said.

The budget discussion was at times strained - perhaps tinged by the preceding discussion on the problems of the wastewater treatment plant.

There were moments of clarity where department heads expressed frustration with being understaffed. Answering a question from Councillor Christen Mitchell, departing DPW Director/Engineer Jeff Fordice reminded council the Novak organizational study recommended that his job should be 3.5 jobs. (The DPW now has a deputy director). The Nowak study also recommended the creation of the aforementioned human resources position.

The police department may wind up looking much different than Police Chief Jerrod Hart originally envisioned. In the earliest budget requests to the city manager, Hart included a Deputy Chief or second in command. That request was scrubbed from the budget before it got to the council table - although Mayor Marl and Councillor Dean Girbach have expressed support. Now the number of patrol officers could be reduced by two from the original budget. The first blow came when Saline Area Schools informed the city that, expecting its own budget crunch, the district could not pay the city $90,000 this year for a school resource officer. Police Chief Hart has requested a federal grant to help fund an additional officer in the department. But he’s told council that grant could hinge on the department maintaining its current number of sworn officers. Hart was a little more optimistic Monday, suggesting that perhaps with other departments around the country facing similar constraints, the city might still be line for funding. “We are doing a lot. We are doing our very best for you,” Hart told council. “We are running on empty and we are working real hard, myself included, just to keep things moving forward. But at some point we are going to need some equipment.”

Hart said if the city is serious about succession planning, a second-in-command position is an important step forward.

Marl noted there was a deputy police chief in Saline from the early 1980s until Jack Ceo retired in 2011. 

“The challenges in this community haven’t diminished in 30 years. They’ve accelerated and increased as the population and industry has grown,” Marl said, challenging council and staff put the city in position extend that position no later than the 2022-23 fiscal year.

For the third consecutive budget meeting, council brought up the Saline Police Department Dispatch center.

“We should take a deep and honest dive into dispatch. It’s a huge part of our overtime budget. It’s in our best interest to see if there are opportunities to make changes,” Councillor Janet Dillon said.

The city has twice attempted to outsource the dispatch desk and been thwarted by public pushback.

Councillor Jim Dell’Orco, one of four councillors pushing for a human resources director, said he was satisfied with the compromise to fund a consultant.

Dell’Orco said he wasn’t comfortable with new budget recommendations that have a wage freeze for non-union staff, but not for union staff. Treasurer Bennett explained that a wage freeze has to be negotiated with unions.

“It was better to have that in there in the event we can’t successfully negotiate,” Bennett said. “But we will still try.”

Councillor Kevin Camero-Sulak also agreed with Dell’Orco that union and non-union workers should be treated the same.

Camero-Sulak also said the city needed to be more mindful of the cost of attorneys. The city has spent $140,000 on attorney fees so far this year - $60,000 more than budgeted.

Both Councillor Girbach and Mitchell spoke about their concern for the Rec Center budget. The center has been closed since Gov. Whitmer’s executive order began.

Council will continue reviewing the budget Monday.

 

Tran Longmoore's picture
Tran Longmoore
Tran Longmoore is a veteran community journalist. He is founder and owner of TheSalinePost.com. He is co-publisher of The Saline Post weekly newspaper. Email him at [email protected] or call him at 734-272-6294.

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