With limited success on Monday night, city administrator Roger Fraser prodded city councilmembers to confront the city’s budget impact statements. Each of the city’s service units had prepared the statements and made them available to the council a few weeks ago.
It was the third council meeting since the beginning of the year held to focus specifically on the budget, after the council’s budget retreat in December 2009.
In ballpark numbers, Ann Arbor faces a $5.2 million budget shortfall for FY 2011, which begins July 1, 2010. And even if every measure listed on the budget impact sheets is enacted, it would amount to $4.8 million in savings, leaving the city still almost $0.4 million short of balancing its budget.
The meeting did not include any discussion of possible other specific revenue sources, either in the form of payments from the Downtown Development Authority, a city income tax or a Headlee override. The Headlee option has been suggested in a recent “budget white paper” circulated by Sabra Briere (Ward 1), but only if certain conditions are met. Briere, along with Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), did not attend Monday’s meeting.
The meeting began with presentations on possible outsourcing of emergency management and IT functions at the city. Councilmembers as a group reflected the same lack of enthusiasm for outsourcing those functions as Barnett Jones, chief of police, and Dan Rainey, head of IT, had expressed in their respective presentations.
When mayor John Hieftje appeared ready to send everyone home without any discussion of the budget impact statements, Fraser reiterated a point he’d made earlier: His expectation was that council would discuss the budget impact statements – he had city staff on hand to answer any questions. The council indulged Fraser by quizzing Barnett Jones about the possible layoff of 9-12 sworn police officers.
Background: Income Tax, Headlee, and DDA Revenue
At Monday’s meeting, the idea of addressing the budget shortfall from the revenue perspective did not explicitly arise during the council’s deliberations – either in the form of enacting a city income tax in lieu of the current property tax, or by overriding the Headlee Amendment, which would reset property tax levels to their original millage rate.
Either measure would need to be put before voters – the next opportunity being the August 2010 primary. Neither approach would generate additional revenues in time to affect the FY 2011 budget, which starts July 1, 2010. A Headlee override of a specific millage would reset the millage rate to its original value. [The effect of the Headlee Amendment is to limit property tax revenues so that they do not outpace the rate of inflation. Tax revenues might outpace inflation in a market where property values are increasing rapidly. The Headlee mechanism for limiting tax revenues is to discount the millage rate appropriately.]
The recommendation of a Headlee override from Sabra Briere (Ward 1) in her white paper comes with a condition that the city make a clear decision to change its priorities. Among the changes she advocates:
- Resetting city salaries and benefits, with particular attention to top level managment staff – she suggests exploring a reduction of 10% in salary.
- Develop public/private partnerships to manage business-type activities that – measured over the course of 5 years – are not breaking even. The idea includes both golf courses, and possibly the airport.
- Parks used for recreation should be maintained – parks maintenance is a core city service.
- Natural area parks should have their maintenance restricted during this down economic time to the minimum levels required for public safety.
- While park maintenance for some parks is being restricted, during this time of financial instability, no new parks should be established that require maintenance. That includes the new parkland that would result from the removal of Argo Dam.
- Focus of capital improvements should be the replacement of the East Stadium bridges. Specifically, no new debt should be taken on for the Fuller Road Station or for a hotel/conference center development on top of the city-owned Library Lot.
- Require the district court to cut its budget by 11% for a savings of $462,000.
At the council’s most recent budget committee meeting on Feb. 16, Fraser got a green light from committee members to work towards getting a survey of voter attitudes on the question of replacing the general operating millage with a city income tax. [Committee members are Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5).] Presumably the same survey could be designed to plumb voter attitudes on the Headlee question as well.
Also at the Feb. 16 budget committee meeting, Fraser reminded councilmembers that the $5.2 million shortfall includes $1.7 million that the city hopes to negotiate from the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. That is, if the city is able successfully to renegotiate the agreement under which the DDA manages the city’s downtown parking system, the FY 2011 shortfall would be around $3.5 million, not $5.2 million. That assumes the renegotiation would not have any other impact on revenues, or introduce other costs.
It was over a year ago that the city council passed a resolution calling on the DDA to enter into negotiations on the agreement. For six months, the council delayed voting to appoint a negotiating committee until two members of the DDA’s negotiating team – the so-called “mutually beneficial” committee – were replaced.
The members to which the council objected were Jennifer Hall and Rene Greff. [Chronicle coverage: "DDA Retreat: Who's on the Committee" and "DDA's Board Chair Addresses Dispute with City Council"] The council’s committee was appointed on July 6, 2009, and included councilmembers Leigh Greden, Margie Teall, and Carsten Hohnke. Greden was defeated a month later by Stephen Kunselman in the Democratic primary, but no replacement for Greden has been appointed.
Based on the lack of any public notice of such a meeting – which all city committees are required to give, based on a council resolution dating to the early 1990s – the committees of the council and DDA have not ever met.
Another place some councilmembers are looking at to shore up this year’s budget is the city’s economic development fund, established to fund incentives for Google in the form of 400 parking spaces. At the end of the year, after the parking incentive obligation is met, the fund balance is projected to be $700,000.
Outsourcing: IT and Emergency Management
The council began their Monday meeting focused on the budget, with presentations on the possibility of outsourcing some specific functions – these were remaining from a list of “big ideas” that the council had been working through. It’s a fair description to say that there was no great enthusiasm for outsourcing IT or emergency management.
IT services includes computer hardware and software support services for the city. Dan Rainey, the city’s IT director, presented the council with much of the same material they’d had in their budget information packets on outsourcing IT.
The $5.6 million IT budget includes $2.7 million in personnel costs, $1.2 million in software, and $1.7 million in operations. The average rate of pay excluding top management, he said, translated to $50/hour, a rate which Rainey said the city would be hard-pressed to match “on the street.”
Rainey described outsourcing as a useful tool – the IT department used outsourcing on a selective basis. Examples of outsourced functions between 2005-2009 include:
- Police operations software and services
- Human resource management and payroll
- 15th District Court operations software and services
- Housing Commission operations
- Parking ticket issuance and payment procedures
- Retirement system operations software
- Content management software
- Parks reservation and class registration
- Tax and assessment reporting
- Tax, invoice, and water bill payments
- Constituent RSS and email notifications
Although outsourcing on a selective basis was used as a tool, Rainey said, one of the themes he stressed was the idea that it was unwise to outsource the relationship with their customers – other city staff. The IT department is funded through an internal service fund, which means that IT charges are assessed to each service unit.
Picking up on the theme of customers, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asked: If your customers don’t like your services, can they go somewhere else? Kunselman made the question more precise by asking if service units had the option of opting for a lower level of service in order to reduce their IT costs. Rainey told Kunselman that was something they were looking at eventually doing.
Tom Crawford, the city’s CFO, addressed the general issue of how someon might be able to make a decision that seemed like it would save money compared to the cost that the city provided hardware and support services [e.g., putting a computer on a desk]. Said Crawford, “That works great … until something breaks.” Then, continued Crawford, people come back to the “mother ship.”
Kunselman asked about Trakit, a piece of software used by the city to track development projects through their life. He said he heard various concerns expressed that the software was too expensive, that it was not working as intended, and that it was requiring extra staff time. Kunselman asked Rainey if so much had been already invested in Trakit that the city could not back out of it. Rainey said that was not the case.
Rainey reported that the software had cost $0.5 million plus $70-80,000 of consulting work. He stressed that it was not a permitting system, but rather a work flow management system. Rainey allowed that it would take a few iterations to get it to work the way they wanted it to. Rainey mentioned the integration of Trakit with mapping tools: Google Maps and Live Maps. When a project is added to the Trakit system, the information is immediately and automatically plotted on a publicly accessible map.
Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) asked if outsourcing servers and storage might eventually be something worth looking at. Rainey said that any alternative to their current arrangement would likely represent an order of magnitude decrease in the speed of their network, which currently is provided through Merit Network.
Asked by Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) what one thing he would change, Rainey said he would like people to be less afraid of technology. Technology offered efficiency gains, he said, so he would like to increase the rate of adoption.
Outsourcing Emergency Management
Emergency management has to do with management of human-made and natural disasters, not police services per se. But it was natural that Barnett Jones, the city’s safety services administrator and police chief, gave the presentation on outsourcing.
The current director of emergency management is a member of Jones’ police force, Sgt. Edward Dreslinki. Dreslinski was appointed to the job in July 2009 by the city council, succeeding Lt. Myron Blackwell. The line of succession for the post consists of assistant emergency managers: Lucy Teets, Lt. Myron Blackwell, Mary Joan Fales, Matthew Naud, Matthew Schroeder and Andrew Box.
Jones began by referencing Act 390, the state statute enabling the appointment of a director of emergency management.
It’s not outsourcing to a private vendor that is being contemplated. As Jones pointed out, Act 390 would allow the city to turn its emergency management over to the county’s coordinator, instead of appointing its own.
(2) A municipality with a population of 25,000 or more shall either appoint a municipal emergency management coordinator or appoint the coordinator of the county as the municipal emergency management coordinator pursuant to subsection (7).
The choice, then, is between appointing an emergency management coordinator for the city or having the county exercise that function.
Jones pointed out that with a city appointment, nominated by the mayor and confirmed by the city council, the city had political control. If responsibility were ceded to the county, he feared, it would be difficult ever getting that function back “under our span of control.” Currently, Jones said, the mayor, the city administrator, or he himself could declare an emergency event.
Jones also pointed out that over the last 10 years, $2.2 million has come into the community via homeland defense and emergency management grants. If the city were to contract with the county, he said, the city would have to compete with other areas to get that kind of grant money. It would no longer be earmarked for the city, but rather the county.
The grant money, Jones said, could be used to purchase a variety of equipment as well as to fund required training exercises. Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) noted that while the funds are dedicated, they have utility in other facets of providing safety services broadly in the community.
On the theme of local control, John Hieftje weighed in, saying that on 9/11 the decision not to declare a state of emergency in Ann Arbor was easier to make because everyone was able to meet face-to-face without having to use the phone.
Jones summarized the reasons that the city’s emergency management system gets activated as mostly relating to either severe weather or hazardous materials. Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) querried Jones about how often the emergency management center is activated, and asked for some recent examples.
Jones reported that it had come into play when some power lines were down in the southwest part of the city and several homes were without power. The city responded by deploying the director of emergency management, who made sure that warming stations at public schools would be available, if the power outage would be long-lasting. When it was determined that the outage was not going to be long-lasting, the system was shut down.
Before that, Jones said, it had been a football Saturday. For every University of Michigan home game, he explained, the emergency management command post is staffed up at the “Buffalo Lot” – the city-owned property just north of the Michigan Stadium. Hohnke concluded that it was not a once-in-5-year event when the system was activated, but rather something that was fairly frequent.
Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) wanted to know if the costs were charged back to UM for the staffing of the command post on football Saturdays. Jones clarified that there was a grant that provided for 35% of the salary of the director of emergency management. So that is not charged to the university, Jones said. But everyone else’s time is charged to UM, Jones said. After Jones explained that the practice had been in place at least since he took over as chief, Higgins said this was the first time she’d ever heard of the emergency management system being used for football Saturdays.
Responding to later questions from Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Jones described the total cost of emergency management staff as $130,000-$140,000 total, with $45,000 covered by a grant. Total cost to the city’s general fund, said Jones, was around $90,000.
Rapundalo wondered if there were any conditions on the grant that would preclude charging the cost of the director of emergency management back to UM. Jones told Rapundalo that he would check on that. Rapundalo asked that it be reviewed by the city attorney’s office. It was the police department’s preference, said Jones, to staff the command post in that way, with 52-54 officers on site. Hearing that number, Higgins followed up with the observation: “That’s a lot of officers!”
Higgins wondered how many officers where patrolling the city if that was the staffing level for a football Saturday. Jones stated that they had a total complement of officers scheduled to be on duty that day in the city, plus the officers working the football stadium. Higgins stated: “That can’t leave anybody in reserve.” Jones’ reply: “Yes, ma’am.” Jones later clarified for The Chronicle that his response meant that, yes, the city did have appropriate numbers of reserve officers on football Saturdays.
Mike Anglin (Ward 5), looking through the levels of funding over the last 10 years, noted that it seemed inconsistent and uneven. Jones said that after 9/11, a lot of federal money went into homeland security, but that funding had begun to taper off. In addition, Jones said, the funding strategy has changed so that it now goes to “regions” instead of individual municipalities – with municipalities now competing for the funds.
Sandi Smith (Ward 1) asked Jones about projected needs for capital expenses over the next few years. Jones said that there had been a lot of technology acquired – a couple of license plate readers, as well as 13-14 in-car video systems. Jones said he wanted to “slow down” and “reign in” acquisition of new technology so that officers could have time to train on the technology they already had. Jones stressed that any new technology included a training module, which could be more expensive per officer than the hardware itself. They’d be “standing down” on additional technology acquisitions, he said.
Also related to capital expenses, Jones cautioned that investments in their patrol vehicles might need to increase. Ford Motor Co., Jones said, was possibly planning to end production of the Crown Victoria, which is used as by most police departments in America. Although Dodge had gotten into the market with its Charger, Jones said, the few Chargers the AAPD had purchased had received an evaluation of “ehhhh” from officers who’d used them – they had sight-distance issues. Jones said that it was not certain when and if GM would get into the market. If Ford ends production of the Crown Vic, Jones warned, they would have to invest in new equipment for inside the patrol cars. In-car equipment is designed for a particular kind of vehicle.
Budget Impact Statements
There were a few “big ideas” remaining on the list, which mayor John Hieftje read. Those included rethinking SEMCOG (Southeast Michigan Council of Governments) membership and reducing Act 51 allocations to alternative transportation from 5% to the minimum state-mandated level of 1%. Act 51 money is most generally used for street maintenance and snow removal.
There was no great enthusiasm among councilmembers for exploring either of those topics.
Budget Impact: Starting the Safety Services Discussion
But at city administrator Roger Fraser’s urging, the council did take a look at the budget impact statements – for the police department. It was Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) who took the lead by asking when police services would be discussed. Fraser indicated to Higgins that the “big idea” associated with police services had been to look at the possibility of contracting with Washtenaw County for police services.
However, Fraser said he’d understood the council’s direction on that was to take it off the list. At the council’s December budget retreat, chief of police Barnett Jones had told councilmembers they already employed the best policing force in the county – the AAPD.
Budget Impact: Higgins Against Police Cuts
Jones clarified for Higgins that last year, the early retirement incentives had resulted in 24 sworn officers and 2 dispatchers leaving the force – five greater than the number planned, said Jones. That left the total number of sworn police officers at 124, Jones said.
The budget impact statements reflect a further reduction of nine police officer positions, three community standards positions, a community standards supervisor position and a community standards administrative support position, for a total of 14 FTEs. Jones said that the year’s budget exercise to reduce costs by 7.5% had meant a $1.9 million target, and that translated into a reduction of 19 officers. He’d looked at everything in the department, Jones said, and gotten that number down to 9-12.
Higgins said the reduction in numbers was not acceptable to her. She told Jones that she understood he’d done what he’d been asked to do, but that she was not in favor of cutting police services by 7.5%. She asked if the overall reduction of community standards positions last year from 10 to 5 positions would allow the department to maintain service. Jones replied that there would be service reductions.
Budget Impact: Revenue Implications of Police Cuts
Sandi Smith (Ward 1), keying on the phrase “service reductions” noted that this meant revenue reductions for the citations that the community standards officers wrote. Where was that in the budget impact statement, she asked. Jones allowed that revenues would be reduced. Queried by Smith, Jones said that annual revenue per community standards officer was $7,700 per officer. Smith was surprised by the low figure, noting that parking violation revenues totaled more than $2 million per year. CFO Tom Crawford clarified that the $7,700 per officer figure reflected ordinance work [e.g., littering, weeds, etc.].
Traffic enforcement officers, continued Jones, generate around $110,000 per officer.
Hieftje offered an historical interlude by reflecting on the payback period for last year’s early retirement incentives – paid for out of general fund reserves – was 2.5 years, and noting that he did not believe that the city of Ann Arbor had ever laid off a police officer.
Commenting on the mayor’s remarks, Jones said that there was nothing more demoralizing to a department than to lay off some of its members, or to take command officers and put them back on patrol. That was a scenario that the early retirement incentives had avoided.
Budget Impact: How Many Police Do We Have?
Higgins returned to a topic she’d introduced during the discussion of emergency management – the staffing of the emergency management post on UM football Saturdays. Given that Jones had assured the council that in addition to the more than 50 officers on duty for the games, the city also had a full complement of police officers on duty, Higgins wanted to know how many officers were a “full complement.”
Jones told Higgins that he was hoping no one would ask that question – there are a lot of people out there, he said, “who don’t have our best interests in mind.” Because of that, he said he was reluctant to talk about how exactly they did things in terms of how many police officers were deployed and where they were assigned within the city. However, he did say that a shift consisted of 20 patrol officers.
Jones also clarified that on UM football Saturdays, there are actually a total of more than 100 officers on duty – the additional officers coming from other jurisdictions like UM’s Department of Public Safety, Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department, and Pittsfield Township’s Department of Public Safety.
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) wanted to now if the reduction in community standards personnel had implications for issues of “blight.” In that connection, he wanted to know specifically if decisions would be made about which ordinances would actually be enforced. City administrator Roger Fraser fielded part of the question by noting that the “quality of the community” would still be important.
Budget Impact: How Many Police Do We Need?
Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) noted that if safety services were held harmless, it was difficult to see how to get to a balance with the rest of the budget. So he phrased a question for Jones this way: How many police officers do we need?
Hohnke allowed that communities are unique and they each had their special requirements, but he wondered how Jones evaluated appropriate staffing levels. For example, Hohnke said, five police officers would be obviously too few. But how did Jones assess how many they needed?
Jones’ response: “We can’t afford to lose a police officer.” He pointed to the reduction in the force since the year 2000 when there were 216 sworn officers, down to the current levels of 124. But, Jones said, the city is at a point where the reality is that there’s a $5-6 million deficit, and 50% of that budget is safety services.
Jones said he lost sleep at night over “his kids” – which is how he thinks of his officers. He continued by saying that his counterparts in Troy, Sterling Heights, and Oakland County were also losing sleep for the same reason. Jones said that Troy was facing layoffs of 50 police officers if voters did not approve a millage the following day at the polls. [Voters rejected the millage.]
Jones concluded by telling Hohnke: “You asked me, Carsten, I gave you a response: We need everybody we have.”
Hohnke persisted. He allowed that comparing current levels to the year 2000 showed a stark contrast. But in the 1990s, he said, there was an increase in staffing partly attributed to the federal police-hiring grants during the Clinton administration. Further, he said, with the addition of the police component to the UM Department of Public Safety – now with around 50 sworn officers – Hohnke wondered if the reductions were perhaps consistent with an appropriate level of service.
Is it a matter of defensive policing versus an ability to be more proactive, Hohnke wondered. Jones told Hohnke that it was a “little bit of yes and a little bit of no.” In the yes category, Jones described how force reductions could take away from his “crew unit.” Responding to a later question from Mike Anglin (Ward 5) about what the “crew unit” did, Jones described a range of proactive activity, including patrol, surveillance, backup, and “arresting bad guys.”
In the no category, Jones described how one possibility was that the front desk might be closed during certain times. Or residents might have to come down to the station to fill out a traffic accident report.
Higgins asked that the council be provided with response times over a 30-day period and information about how the calls got prioritized.
Smith asked if further force reductions would have an effect on the strategy that Jones had adopted for downtown policing. That strategy had been to eliminate downtown beat assignments in favor of encouraging patrol officers to spend their one-hour out-of-car time in the downtown area, walking around. Jones told Smith that the feedback on that strategy had been positive. But the difference, he added, was that downtown merchants didn’t recognize the patrol officers as “their” officers.
Budget Impact: Police Pay
Hohnke asked the city’s director of human resources, Robyn Wilkerson, to comment on compensation issues. He wanted to know how the city of Ann Arbor compared to other communities. She said the city was not the highest in terms of wages, but that in terms of pensions, deductibles, and co-pays, the city was on “the low end.” Hohnke sought clarification of “the low end” – Wilkerson meant that Ann Arbor workers paid less than workers in other communities towards those benefits.
City administrator Roger Fraser confirmed that on wages, the city was “in the middle” but where the city was out of sync was in the amount that the employees contribute.
Hieftje asked Wilkerson about the Act 312 bargaining units. Police are covered under Act 312, which does not allow the units to strike. Instead, there is a prescribed arbitration procedure. [Last year, in a recent arbitration case involving the Ann Arbor Police Officers Association, the arbiter ruled in favor of the union, and the city council needed to appropriate an additional $673,000 to cover the settlement cost.] Hieftje said that there were some “lightweight” changes proposed to Act 312 in the state legislature, but that the Michigan Municipal League wanted more substantive changes.
Budget Impact: “It just doesn’t feel right.”
In wrapping up the meeting, city administrator Roger Fraser referred to Carsten Hohnke’s question about how they knew that police staffing levels were appropriate. “You get to a certain point when it just doesn’t feel right,” Fraser said. He said there were few things in the budget impact statements that were good for the city. It would be unfair, he continued, to say that any of the items in the impact statements were actions that they advocated. It was a matter of creating a financial plan they could live with.
Fraser allowed that it was a very difficult conversation to have. Still, he asked councilmembers to keep in mind that he was willing to explore all kinds of things. He concluded: “It isn’t fun.”
Next budget meeting: The next meeting of the city council that will focus just on budget issues will be March 8, 2010, starting at 6 p.m. in city council chambers, 100 N. Fifth Ave. [confirm date] The focus will be public services – in particular, solid waste and the possibility of modifying the way the city collects trash, as well as a possible street lighting district.