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Albion city council, Andrew French, Mayor Joe Domingo, Mike Herman

>Albion leaders trying to erase budget deficit, council to hold special budget meeting


>With the clock running out on 2010, a debate is brewing on how to solve the city of Albion’s $210,000 budget deficit for 2011.

On Nov. 15, the City Council approved letters of understanding from the city’s unions that would save the city about $105,000 in health insurance costs, with the concession that the remaining $105,000 be drawn from the undesignated fund balance.

Mayor Joe Domingo showed opposition to that decision Monday by proposing a $105,000 cost-savings plan that included smaller raises for non-union employees and cuts in overtime allowances.

After several hours of passionate dialogue, the council set up a special budget meeting for 7 p.m. today in the council chambers to determine whether to pass the originally proposed budget or to make changes and possibly lose the unions’ consent.

Domingo said he felt council members had not taken it upon themselves to find ways to “trim unnecessary fat” from the budget. He suggested a plan that cut the city’s overtime fund from $184,800 to $144,500 and reduced non-union employee wage raises from 4.8 percent — the equivalent of two 2.4 percent raises after non-union workers took a pay freeze in 2010 — to a pair of 1.5 percent wage increases by July 2011.

Domingo said his motivation is to be smarter with taxpayer money and leave the undesignated fund balance alone.

“Once you take (money) out of the undesignated fund, which was built by all those people that were laid off previously to this point in the last eight years … what good does the undesignated fund do if we treat it as a savings account to write checks out of and we go broke?” he said.

City Manager Mike Herman, who would get a $4,898 pay raise with the original budget proposal, said he doesn’t feel the city can incur any layoffs and maintain the same level of service, making the agreed-upon union contract the right choice. If the negotiations are reopened and the $105,000 in health insurance savings are lost, layoffs could result to help cover that amount.

“For the council that’s been in place since 2003, they have made difficult budget decisions every year,” Herman said. “We have laid off, going from 103 people to 61 people, a 40 percent reduction in (seven) years. … But we’re getting to a point where we just can’t cut staff without seeing a decline in services.”

Domingo said he doesn’t understand why almost $185,000 is allotted for overtime in the new budget when the 2010 total was around $140,000.

Herman said public safety secured special grant moneys for specific projects this year, and the last time the overtime allowances totaled roughly $140,000 without special funding was in 2002.

Councilman Andrew French said it would be foolish to risk the $105,000 in concessions from the union employees to consider an overtime agreement that likely wouldn’t work based on recent history.

“We have one code enforcement person and he can’t do his job with the regular set hours,” he said “And if we want to have fewer officers out on a call or a drug raid or we can only have so many officers out because we run out of overtime, that’s fine — but I’m not happy with that.”

Herman said the city needs to remember the large group of people who assembled at a December 2009 council meeting, outraged at the possible layoff of four public safety officials. He said things are changing rapidly at state and federal levels and council would be best off utilizing a “wait and see” approach.

“If you read my budget memo, there are so many unknowns,” Herman said. “We have a new governor, we have a big new amount of people in the state Legislature, we have new people at the federal level and many of our funding sources come from the feds and the state.”

Almost $1.2 million came from revenue sharing in 2010, more than 30 percent of that from the state level.
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As published in the Jackson Citizen Patriot on Dec. 9

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About rjwalters

I am what you think I am — a journalist. Actually when I was hired at my current job, which by the way is Sports Editor of the Hillsdale Daily News in Hillsdale, Mich., I applied for a position titled "Wordsmith", so at my best I'll call myself a writer attempting to be a wordsmith extraordinaire.

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