The FY2012 budget is on the May 16, 2011 Council agenda. Under our city charter, the city administrator proposes a budget which goes into effect unless 7 council members vote to change it. The proposed budget continues the trend of cutting basic services, especially police and fire, which will see 10 layoffs plus elimination of vacant positions. Mayor Hieftje and his supporters on Council insist that Ann Arbor is better off than other cities and the cuts are unavoidable result of the recession.

The truth is that Ann Arbor is better off than other cities because we pay higher per capita taxes than other cities, even with all that U of M and city park land off the tax rolls. There are other solutions to the current fiscal mess the Mayor and his supporters have created besides continuing to slash basic services. Below are my suggested changes to the budget.

Eliminate pork projects

  1. A $639,422 contingency is included in the general fund budget. This contingency is in the same line item that was used in the 2011 budget to cover the Justice Center overruns. If the city administrator can't explain what the money is for, it shouldn't be in the budget. The budget should be amended to eliminate this contingency and restore police and fire positions.

  2. $2.2 million for more new garbage trucks is included in the fleet fund budget. The fleet fund is an internal service fund. According to the last audit the city has an all time high of 28 garbage trucks, up from 18 the year before. Most of the $2.2 million is for new residential collection trucks even though Sue McCormick says she plans to outsource residential collection. Apparently the garbage company that gets the residential collection monopoly also gets a big taxpayer subsidy in the form of new trucks. Residents get higher fees and fewer services. Cancel the new trucks and restore services to residents.

  3. $1 million for new parks vehicles is also included in the fleet fund budget. Parks needs a lot of things but $1 million in new vehicles is not high on the list. Cancel the new vehicles and transfer the $1 million to the parks millage fund, overseen by the Parks Advisory Commission.

Eliminate overcharging for internal services

Internal service funds are supposed to be break even but the latest audit shows the city's internal service funds have built up a cash hoard of about $20 million. That means these funds have overcharged other city departments $20 million. Internal service funds are used to divert money that should be used for basic services to more ego projects. $3.3 million in overcharges by the insurance fund were used to help pay for the new Justice Center.

When the IT internal service fund was established in 2006, the charges for IT services doubled. In 2006, the charges for fleet services also doubled while City Hall touted efficiencies from the $35 million new maintenance facility. The Increased charges have allowed the city's top management to pursue more ego projects at the expense of basic services. Your street may not get plowed, but when the plow finally comes, it's state of the art.

Establish a new city policy to refund the overcharges.

More doers and fewer managers

In 2002, the city had 958 employees. The city administrator's 2013 budget proposes 688 employees, a 28% drop. But the pain from staff cuts has not been shared equally. By 2013 police and fire will have lost 35% of their staff compared to 2002 levels while the city attorney and district court have lost about 12% of their staff and the city administrator service area has lost 16%.

Winners include the DDA, whose staff has doubled, and public services area management. Sue McCormick oversees the Public Services area. Compared to 2002, the proposed 2013 budget has about 25% more people planning and overseeing capital projects, 33% more people in public services administration but 33% fewer people assigned to field operations, which is responsible for performing services like plowing, tree maintenance and road repair.

One example of the shift from doers to managers is forestry. Before the Roger Fraser reorganization, the city had a city forester who was responsible for taking care of our trees. When our last city forester, Paul Bairley, left, the city forester position was eliminated and replaced by an Urban Forester & Natural Resources manager (Kerry Gray) and a Field operations Supervisor III (Kay Sicheneder). The result has been big spending on a tree inventory and an urban forestry management plan while our trees continue to deteriorate.

Restore safety services positions and eliminate management positions.

Fewer Consultants

The city has become addicted to consultants. The city has even posted a RFP for a consultant to help the police chief decide who to promote. Recently, Sue McCormick told Council that there was no one on city staff capable of conducting a public meeting.

City staff needs to stop hiding behind consultants. We don't need to pay consultants to justify decisions that have already been made. We also don't need to pay consultants to conduct public meetings in order to manipulate us to make the “right” decision. City employees should be the ones talking to the public. The city staff member conducting the meeting should be the individual with decision making authority, not some junior staff member sent to absorb public anger about an unpopular decision.

Maybe if Roger Fraser, Mayor Hieftje and the council members who pushed the new justice center had had to face the public in a give and take public meeting, we might not have a new $50 million building next to city hall, which has been nominated for the dubious distinction of being the ugliest building in America.

Just say no to consultant contracts.

Karen Sidney is an attorney and CPA. She has an expertise in forensic accounting, which is the art of finding out where the money is going when people can't or won't tell you.