Saline City Council Considers Proposals to Cut Spending

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Expensive and unplanned-for construction projects have left the City of Saline scrambling to refill coffers. At last night's city council meeting, city staff presented ideas for generating revenue and cutting spending.

City council has a policy that dictates if the city's unassigned fund balance falls below 15 percent of the general fund budget, council must attempt to adjust the budget to restore the fund balance.

At Monday's meeting, City Manager Colleen O'Toole and Treasurer Elle Cole presented a series of proposals and options that would push the fund balance back over the 15 percent threshold.

Those options included:

  • Installation of paid parking, estimated to net $65,000 a year.
  • Increasing the fire millage from 0.7 mills to the max 1.0-mill levy, to raise an extra $105,000 a year.
  • Outsourcing of the Saline Police Department dispatch service to the Washtenaw metro dispatch for a cost savings of $150,000 in 2024 and $350,000 in 2025.
  • Eliminating the $45,000 subsidy for People's Express.
  • Re-evaluating the $76,000 annual payment to Saline Main Street.
  • Elimination or reduction of leaf collection to save $78,000 annually.
  • Reducing the reliance on HR consultants to save up to $30,000 annually.
  • Hiring of a procurement/purchasing officer.
  • Increase fees in the fee book.
  • Charge more for events.
  • Eliminate passport services
  • Outsource lawn mowing services.
  • Financing emergency infrastructure projects rather than paying for them out of the general fund

After the presentation of the options, Mayor Brian Marl led the discussion.

He stated his opinions on the key proposals:

  • He said leaf collection was a valued service, but the collection window should be shortened.
  • He said the city can't be "Santa Claus" when infrastructure fails and subsidize projects from the general fund. Instead, he called for putting together procedures that might include special assessments to fund projects.
  • He said he was opposed to paid downtown parking because the economic conditions downtown are "currently fragile, and I wouldn't want to exacerbate that."
  • He said he'll support increasing the fire millage to 1 mill if necessary, though he said the long-term solution for the fire service funding is a fire authority with a district-wide millage.
  • He said it was time to study the police dispatch situation.
  • He agreed there needed to be a change with regard to the People's Express transport service, calling the service subpar.
  • Regarding Main Street, he recommended convening a work group with three council members and three Main Street representatives to devise ways to for the city to "reduce while still providing funding" for the downtown revitalization organization.
  • Marl called outsourcing lawn mowing a "no-brainer."

At the same time, as part of the cost-cutting report, city staff offered the options of creating a new engineering technician position, a new procurement/purchasing position, and proposing paying for IT services on top of what the city's IT manager Chris Shonk already provides. 

Members of council weighed in on the options. There was considerable support for Marl's idea to form a committee with Main Street members. Several council members also supported moving away from People's Express.  There was also considerable support for exploring the outsourcing of the SPD dispatch center.

It's still not been explained how the city has found itself in such financial hardship despite rising property values, higher tax levies, more taxes coming in from the county millages.

General government expenditures are from $3.9 million in 2018 to $5.2 million in 2022. During the same time public safety spending has risen from $2.3 million to $3.1 million. Public works spending has been flat. 

The Rosebud sewer failure and Pleasant Ridge stormwater projects impacted the general fund this year. As well, the city spent more money than expected on the Monroe Street/Macon Road partial sidewalk. The city also invested in Salt Springs Park.

The city spent $487,000 more than expected on the Saline Area Fire Department, bought two new police cars, and also bought a body camera system recommended by former Deputy Police Chief Greg Bazick before he retired from police work to take a job with the body cam company.

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I was a little surprised by that too.
Clearly, something needs to change there soon. Either it's got to return to break-even, or the city needs to find a partner, or the city/community needs a millage to fund it.

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If you consider the thousands of general fund dollars that has been needed to support the Rec center for the limited number of people that it serves and compare that to the many people that attend Saline Main Street events like Trunk or Treat, Oktoberfest, and the Thursday Night music series, the $76000 looks like a bargain.

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Being a non-profit does not mean that they do not have expenses. For example a full-time director, building rent, and cost of events like the Thursday night music series. 

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