While the amount of money that Wyandotte officials will have to cut in order to balance next year’s budget remains up in the air, residents are being advised to prepare for unprecedented changes.
Mayor Joe Peterson said he has lain awake at night, pondering how to keep residents happy, knowing full well what lies ahead.
Expecting a deficit between $1.1 million and $1.8 million, city officials are using words such as “bleak”, “devastating” and “financial crisis.”
Todd Drysdale, the city’s director of financial and administrative services, said he’s studied the numbers and just shakes his head.
If asked where the city can find another $1.8 million to cut, Drysdale said: “I would have no answers. I’m not sure if anyone around here has answers. We will be having those conversations.”
The budget shortfall primarily is due to Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed state budget, which cuts revenue sharing given to communities, officials said. Other factors include people moving out of Wyandotte, thereby lowering the amount of property taxes collected, as well as a sharp decline in home values, which also has drastically reduced the amount of money coming in from property taxes.
In just two years, the taxable value of properties in the city is expected to sink from $730 million in 2010 to a projected $613 million in 2012.
Beth Bialy of Plante & Moran, the city’s contracted auditing firm, said officials have done well in preparing for the hard economic times that all communities are now facing.
“That’s one good thing you’ve done is look ahead in your projections,” she said.
Bialy said city officials have made hard decisions in the past, such as cutting 42 positions, revamping benefit packages given to municipal employees and consolidating services with nearby communities.
Those decisions are lessening the blow that Wyandotte is feeling compared with some neighboring communities that are just now beginning to look at those options, Bialy said.
Tackling those issues already “helps make you poised to endure these economic times now,” said Kristin Hunt of Plante & Moran.
However, it’s those same cuts that already have been made that are now coming back to haunt officials.
“We’ve already basically picked the low-hanging fruit from our employees,” Peterson said. “I’m not a magician. I can’t pull the rabbit out of the hat.”
While layoffs haven’t specifically been mentioned, it would seem inevitable as personnel costs make up 81 percent of the city’s $18.9 million budget.
“We cannot have the services we had yesterday until we take some drastic steps today,” Peterson said. “I’ve lost some sleep because I seen it coming. … It’s almost devastating.”
To try to help lessen the blow and to seek alternative ideas on balancing the budget, officials have agreed to create a citizens advisory committee. Residents will be asked to volunteer to be on the committee and will be charged with looking over the city’s books and giving input, as well as prioritizing what city services should remain unaffected and which ones should be considered for revisions or outright elimination.
“I think it’s time that we continue to use our citizens and to have an advisory board and to bring back ideas,” Peterson said. “We are not going to be able to make all of the decisions sitting up here ourselves.”
Officials said it’s time that everyone dives in to figure out the best ways of dealing with “the train wreck that just hit us.”
Councilman Leonard Sabuda, a former mayor himself, said he likes the idea of getting everyday residents involved in the process.
“It’s a wise awakening for them and also for them to pass on their feelings to us and which directions they would suggest (we go in),” Sabuda said.
Officials are still ironing out the final details on the advisory committee, such as the number of residents who will serve on it. Peterson is recommending that nine to 12 residents be involved. The official announcement is expected to be made at tonight’s 7 p.m. City Council meeting on the second floor of .
Regardless of anything else, Peterson said, he doesn’t want a bunch of “yes people” on the committee.
“We want these people to challenge this mayor and this council,” he said.
Anyone wishing to volunteer for the committee can call 734-324-4540 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.