Friday, September 11, 2009

Watson Shares Budget Ideas

Detroit City Council Member JoAnn Watson issued a statement in her newsletter to constituents. In it, she condemned the cuts in Detroit's bus services. She also offered a series of suggestions for dealing with the $350 million budget deficit that the City of Detroit currently faces.

Before I go into the details of Ms. Watson's proposals, I want to commend her for stepping up to the proverbial plate and offering specific suggestions.

Some of the suggestions that Ms. Watson offered are, in my opinion, very wise ones. This includes her suggestions to:
  • Freeze new hiring and prohibit any department from seeking contracts when the department has an operating deficit;
  • Reduce all salaries in excess of $100,000 (which she estimates will save $3 million annually);
  • Reduce all city-subsidized cell phones (which she estimates will save $1 million annually); and
  • Eliminate all City of Detroit Deputy Director positions.
However, Ms. Watson also proposed several items that I believe are quite foolish. She proposed, for example, to eliminate the City's General Services Department because it would actually cost us more to do so.

The General Services Department (65 Cadillac Square) is designed to achieve operational efficiencies by doing things across City departments. Instead of having a crew at Recreation Department cut the grass at all of the parks, for example, and another crew cutting grass at other city-owned properties, we have one group of people who cut the grass regardless of which department is responsible for a given property.

This same principle goes on for every aspect of property, vehicle and equipment maintenance that a large organization such as the City of Detroit faces as well as providing security and janitorial services and inventory management. If the General Services Department were eliminated, each of these duties is something that one of the other agencies would have to start doing without the economy of scale that this department provides.

Oh, and let's not forget that it was earlier this year when the Forestry Division of the General Services Department found itself suddenly tasked with removing more than 300 trees in under 72 hours after a major storm hit Detroit.

I also have a problem with Ms. Watson's suggestion that the City of Detroit "access at least $1 billion from the state and federal governments as a one-time fix in recognition of the city’s one-industry status." This is simply not going to happen. The State of Michigan is already wrestling with its own budget problems. They are already grabbing every federal dollar available to plug that hole and Washington isn't sending any more.

The complete list of each of Ms. Watson's suggestions is available here.
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