Monday, May 17, 2010
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
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SABRA BRIERE I
Searching for solutions
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the University of Michigan since 1890.
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Ann Arbor, MI 48109
EDITOR IN CHIEF
EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR
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Coming up short on safety
City shouldn't cut police and fire departments more
The last thing someone wants to worry about when their home
catches fire or a burglar breaks in at night is whether the city
has enough firefighters and police officers to help. But depend-
ing on the outcome of today's City Council annual budget meeting, that
this fear may be warranted. With these vital services already suffer-
ing from massive cuts - the Ann Arbor police force has shrunk by 35
percent since 2001, according to AnnArbor.com - the city simply can't
afford more. City Council must stave off further downsizing of its police
and fire departments and plug its budget gaps by other means.
By the time you read this, the City
Council's budget vote may be over.
On Monday, the Council will finalize
its $78 million general fund budget
for fiscal 2011, which runs from July
1st of this year until June 30th, 2011.
During budget time each year,
the city administrator presents the
Council with a budget proposal that
includes a variety of increases and
reductions - recently, more reduc-
tions than many of us would want.
Over the last decade, the city gov-
ernment has reorganized its staff
and reduced the number of people
it employs. But this hasn't always
resulted in a more efficient, less
expensive city government, even
though that was the original goal.
Today, the Council will vote on
amendments to the administrator's
budget, and the end result will be
one that is balanced. This year, that
balance will be achieved by dipping
into the city's reserves for $1.5 mil-
lion. Getting to that balanced budget
should have been the result of a lot
of hard, dedicated work by members
of the Council and the staff, working
together on behalf of the people of
Ann Arbor. But in reality, whatever
work was done on the budget didn't
happen in the City Council's budget
committee, on which I serve, and it
didn't happen in the six extra working
sessions the Council has held since
January. I'm not certain where this
work actually happened,sexcept the
woirk I did myself This is my fourth
budget season on City Council, and
this year I received a lot of prelimi-
nary information. Unfortunately, the
process still leaves me perplexed.
A big part of this year's budget
discussions have dealt with the pos-
sibility of cuts to safety personnel.
For a while, the city government has
played chicken with its safety service
union negotiations. I'm no involved
in contract negotiations - no mem-
ber of Council is - so I have no idea
what's needed to get to a final agree-
ment. I only know that we on City
Council and in the public hear that
layoffs may be necessary; they may
be imminent; they will (or will not)
damage the city's ability to provide
a reasonable level of security to our
citizens. And then, at the last minute,
someone blinks. Someone agrees to
something. Last year, it was retire-
ments. This year the city found addi-
tional funding. And today, the City
Council will likely approve a budget
that does not lay off any police staff
and reduces the firefighting staff by
only five firefighters (and since one
of those positions is already vacant,
maybe only by four).
To get the budget to this point, the
city received funding from the Down-
town Development Association's park-
ing fund ($2 million); readjusted its
estimate of State Shared Revenue on
the advice of its paid lobbyist in Lan-
sing; made some assumptions about
the collection of parking fines and
locked the Council into a new parking
fine structure; and postponed the pur-
chase of firefighting equipment.
But not everyone is happy. Every-
where in Michigan, people have been
talking about money for well. over
a year. As both the country and the
state of Michigan have gone through
a massive economic downturn, Ann
Arbor's economy has weathered the
storm comparatively well. Despite
this relative success, people are still
Perhaps it's because people are
questioning the priorities used to
make decisions for the budget. From
labor to parks to human services to
parades, everyone in Ann Arbor and
on the Council wants to fund every-
thing. While one problem is obvi-
ously the lack of money, there also
isn't a good set of guidelines that the
Council and the public understand
and agree on to help make these
decisions. Tempers flare during the
debate over priorities, and it's eas-
ier to fix things temporarily than to
solve the underlying problems.
Next year's budget won't be any
better. We haven't changed the fun-
damental way we look at the city
or the way we do business. Playing
chicken with unions and rescuing
popular programs at the last minute
with sudden budget changes haven't
helped. Instead, they have failed to
define the essential structure needed
to make hard decisions in the future.
Sabra Briere is the City Council
representative for the First Ward.
For months, City Council
has been discussing budget
plans for the next fiscal year
and how to best cope with the
revenue shortfalls. According
to AnnArbor.com, if a budget
agreement can't be reached by
today, the city will follow a bud-
get recommendation plan that
was initially proposed by City
Administrator Roger Fraser.
His recommendations, which
include cutting 20 positions
from both the fire department
and police department, are set
to take effect in July of this year.
.The City Council members
discussing the budget today
should take into consideration
the community's constant need
for these services. Fire Chief
Dominick Lanza told AnnArbor.
com that if cuts are made, one
of the four fire department sta-
tions might close. This would
mean that - depending on the
area - Ann Arbor citizens could
experience a greater wait time
for firefighters to respond to has a relatively low crime rate,
an emergency call, especially if councilmembers must remem-
there happens to be more than ber that the city did not achieve
one fire occurring at one time such a rate by shrinking its
- a possibility that isn't so far- police force.
fetched following the recent The recent economic down-
rash of suspicious fires around turn brought a significant and.
campus. Considering these fires undeniable loss in tax revenue
and rumors of arson, further to governments at the fed-
cuts come at the expense of local eral, state and city level. But
citizens' safety. above all else, a government's
But cuts to the police depart- fundamental responsibility is
ment are no less dangerous for the protection of its citizens.
Ann Arbor and its citizens. If 20 Fire and police services come
police officers are let go, some at the center of this duty, and
crimes will have to take a back the Council must remain cog-
seatto those with ahigher prior- nizant of this fact - even if it
ity or immediate need for assis- means looking at ways to trim
tance. As a result, the response city administrative spending or
to certain crimes could be increase revenue.
delayed or ignored altogether, There is no dispute that the
and that is simply an unaccept- city's budget has deficits that
able solution to even the most must be addressed. But coun-
difficult budget challenges. Cuts cilmembers must remember
to the Police Department would that if a government is to have
be a disservice to the commu- any purpose at all, it must guar-
nity. While proponents of the antee the security of those it
cuts may argue that Ann Arbor represents.
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EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBERS;
Nicholas Clift, Emma Jeszke, Laura Veith,
Joe Stapleton, Rachel Van Gilder