DEARBORN — In a news report published by the Michigan Capital Confidential (MCC), the news agency discovered details about the fiscal year budget of 2011 for the city of Dearborn, after imposing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) on the mayor’s office.
What they had discovered was that several city officials received an income raise compared to the amount they recieved in 2010, or at least this is what appeared to be so on paper. This information has been met with mixed reaction, considering the city made bold budget cuts within the last year due to the city’s reported $8 million deficit along with a millage raise. that passed a November vote.
According to the report published by the MCC, there were eight officials within the city who received pay increases that ranged anywhere from 8 to 13 percent over the previous year. Among these positions included The Director of Economic and Community Develop, whose gross pay was increased from $95,667 in 2010 to $104, 509 in 2011 and The Director of Recreation, who saw a gross pay increase from $94,312 in 2010 to $106,395 in 2011, up 12.8 percent based on the information that was obtained from the FOIA.
Mayor John B. O’Reilly’s office has gone to some great lengths to try to debunk this report, citing some misleading information within the report and clarifying a few points.
“Those were not salary increases,” stated Mary Laundroche, The Director of the Department of Public Information, who was also one of the eight officials mentioned. “These were retroactive payments made based on the settlement of union contracts that were signed in 2008 and 2009. Political appointees by the city charter are entitled to receive those settlements based on their contracts.”
On the budget report, the eight employees’ increases come out to an extra $73,492 when compared to the amount they received the previous year. But adding up those totals and comparing them to the previous year would be considered very misleading, according to the Mayor.
Those retroactive payments were actually given to the employees over a three year period, but the totals get listed in 2011, after union contracts were settled. This makes it appear like increases were given only in this particular year. According to the Mayor, there was a 1 percent average increase in 2008, a two percent average increase in 2009, and a zero percent increase in 2010. The three percent total increases were then reflected in the 2011 figures.
“The real important message here is that if there is the contention that these eight employees received salary increases over everyone else, it’s simply not true,” Laundroche added.
Other differences reflected in the figures come from longevity pay, mileage, overtime and paid time off days, which some employees sold back to the city. Laundroche says that these particular eight people that were listed in the report are not “top” employees like how it was suggested and do not receive special treatment.
Mayor O’Reilly, who has held that position since the tragic passing of the previous Mayor, Michael Guido in 2007, says every Mayor is expected to lay out the salaries of their department heads for the whole term within the first month they get into office. He also says the city of Dearborn's salary for department heads are very comparable to other cities in the area.
"The city did a coherent and extensive study in 2005 by looking at comparing the salaries of directors from other cities," the Mayor noted.
The mayor also says that he's lobbying to cut salaries across the board by 10 percent within the coming years, in an effort to give the city an appropriate budget plan.
In the previous year, many noted budget cuts were made across the city, including the closing of the Hemlock Park pool and the Whitmore Bolles pool, so it's justifiable that the Mayor's office would go to great lengths to explain the situation with the MCC report.
"This report miss represented Dearborn," the Mayor stated. "We have a good system with nothing to hide. It's all out in the public."
The mayor's office might have a valid explanation in regards to the income increases, but in a year when the city was hit hard with massive cuts, it still leaves a bad taste in some people’s mouths.
“The majority of us have been walking on egg shells all year long,” states one employee who works for the Dearborn Public Library and wished to remain anonymous.
It seems to be true that the majority of the city workers have in fact gotten the short end of the stick. For example, all three of the library assistants employed by the city have made less in 2011 than they did in 2010. The city’s four attorneys were also among those that received a reduced income in 2011.
The Mayor himself says he is also willing to take a salary reduction when he lobbies for the ten percent salary decreases, even though he is entitled to be omitted from that.
"That is a sacrifice that I'm willing to make," he noted.
In an effort to wind down on the city’s $8 million shortfall, the mayor and the city council approved of last years budget by calling for the elimination of the Dearborn Health Department and Snow Branch Library, whose doors closed last summer. Talks of closing down the remainder of the Branch Libraries, with plans of only keeping the Henry Ford Centennial opened were also on the table.
Laundroche notes however that thus far the Branch libraries have been able to remain opened.
“It’s no longer our intention to close anymore Branch libraries,” she noted. “It also helps that voters approved of the Library millage, even though it doesn’t completely cover the costs of those operations. Looking at these issues is a long process.”
The mayor proposed a three year budget plan last year as a response to the deficit the city faced, but the budget plans can only be approved one year at a time. It does however give the city a better vision on where they need to be financially in the upcoming years.
The next city budget meeting will take place on March 8 as the city council begins to plan the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins on July 1st.
The city council will approve of the new budget by late May or early June, depending on how well it is received by the council. Any citizens with concerns or questions are welcome to attend the meetings before final decisions are made.