Massive cutbacks and layoffs contained in Mayor Dave Bing’s proposed 2012-13 Detroit general fund budget, confirms the beleaguered city’s financial state of emergency. It may not be enough, and likely only the first wave of budget-cutting mandates that will extend well beyond next year.
As budget deliberations get underway, two things should receive the utmost priority: the decimation of the City Council budget and no reductions in the ranks of public safety personnel.
This year will be a watershed for the city mired in its worst economic predicament ever. A declining population and disappearing tax base does not bode well for the city’s future. Nor does its national reputation for uncontrolled violent crime.
Because there isn’t enough revenue coming in to feed the voracious appetite of government, the proposed $160 million budget cut may come up short. Mayor Bing may have to choose between even more draconian cuts — or a tax hike, bitter pills that will make the city even more unattractive to investors and residents.
The bulk of anticipated savings next fiscal year seems to be based on assumptions not likely to materialize. City officials, for example, estimate a $15-million increase in dubious income tax revenue.
Failure of the city to realistically cut spending down to size means a rendezvous with more political and fiscal pain at some inescapable date. Overseers of the consent agreement are being readied to take control of financial decisions.
Outsourcing, the sale or transfer of some assets is one appealing option. City officials, intimidated by employee unions and other activist groups, have been cool to that idea.
A number of departments and programs — from transportation to funding for the arts –could be served up. Personnel cuts are unavoidable. None, though, are more critical than police officers.
Mayor Bing’s recommended public safety staff reductions are a cause for alarm. On tap is a 10 percent pay cut for police officers, firefighters and/or EMS employees. No layoffs are anticipated. However, police ranks would shrink by 150 officers through attrition and early retirements.
By necessity the city must close the gap between budget expenditures and revenues. But police protection should be the last thing to fall to the budget ax. The very first responsibility of any government is to provide for the safety of its people.
Detroit’s survival, as bleak as that may be, depends on its ability to restore safety and security. That’s impossible in a lawless environment when there are not enough cops to deter and arrest. The prevailing violence more than justifies staffing police and fire personnel based, not on the ability to pay, but on public safety needs.
The legislative branch has never been known for its efficient monitoring of police or other essential services to determine their real value to the city. The council only has two major responsibilities –budget and contract approval. With enormous clout in these critical areas, safety needs have gone unfulfilled and resources frittered away.
The pragmatic use of taxpayer dollars has been a major council deficiency even with a sizeable research staff, an underused auditor general and an army of aides. Because the council’s bloated staff is out of sync with deteriorating services and the empty till, the first cuts should come from this budget.
It goes without saying that if the council spent as much time dealing with crime problems as it does playing the “blame game” with Gov. Rick Snyder, the whole of government would be more accountable to taxpayer interests.
Expect the City Council to look almost anywhere else – including police – rather than its own budget for ways to save. While contemptible, it would be par for the course.
Any government that cannot keep its citizens safe probably is incapable of setting good budget priorities. Put to a vote, however, there’s little doubt Detroiters would opt for more cops over a feckless council.