Key Highlights of the Proposed SAGINAW CITY CHARTER

Posted In: Politics, Local, Opinion,   From Issue 640   By: Greg Schmid

28th June, 2007     0

The City of Saginaw has been an embarrassment to good government for many years.  Now that 'the company' has left the company town, a City Hall full of politicians who irresponsibly view federal and state poverty-based grants as their best source of revenue, has allowed Saginaw to slide into economic ruin.

City bidding practices award minority based entities contracts while virtually ignoring solid local businesses or even allowing them an opportunity to bid, in clear violation of State and Federal law.

Lack of accountability is a critical problem.  Numerous examples exist, many long forgotten. Twenty years ago the city received a $ 1 million development grant for the once-proposed site of the Sawmill Theme Park, did nothing to develop the property, so the DNR wanted the money back, however the city could not return what it didn't have.  Ten years later, over $100,000 was wasted on antiquated software purchases.

In the past 25 years the citizens of Saginaw have witnessed a 'dumbing down' at City Hall.  Two decades ago the Supervisor of the Water Department was required to hold an Engineering Degree. Today, a GED is all that's necessary to land the job.

Indeed, a former City Treasurer, in a deposition for a lawsuit filed back in the '90s by the Landlords Association over water billing practices, stated that she was "not very good at math."

The list of travails and absurdities can go on-and-on.

Saginaw has had a 7.5 mil "Tax Cap" since 1978 (typically cities set this rate at the state maximum of 20 mils), which was authored by Charter Commissioner Al Schmid.

But since that time the City has increased its income tax to 1.5%, and the city has imposed a 3 mil garbage millage, a 3 mil bus millage, and a 6 mil "public safety assessment' - all outside the property tax limit and all under state laws which pre-empt city charter limitations.

The only answer to promote limited government is to lay a foundation for rational representative government in the city and get power out of the hands of irresponsible politicians, faction leaders, and partisan puppets.

These changes can be a model for political revitalization of rust belt cities all across Michigan.

Summary of the Major Features of the New Saginaw City Charter:

* Term Limits for all elected officials (Mayor and Council persons). Saginaw has never had any term limits. We also change the appointment system for council orchestrated vacancies (now by appointment, which results in assured re-election as an incumbent). The new proposed charter makes runner- up in last election the replacement whenever a council member steps down.

* Voter District System for Council. Four representative council districts drawn across the city (and across the river) will take race out of the political culture, and make politicians more accountable because they are representing relatively small districts (10,000 registered voters each).   

In the at-large system now in place, factions engage in bullet voting and a recent mayor got elected to council with 4,000 votes out of 40,000 registered voters in the city.

The new charter also adds primary elections to insure that the eventual winners get over 50% of the vote, and therefore have the mandate to lead.

Primary elections are the basis for all county, state, and federal elections because they help prevent the vote splitting phenomenon.

Why should we shortchange ourselves?
* Mayor Elected by the People.
Presently the council appoints the mayor, who has no powers whatsoever. The new proposed charter gives the mayor administrative responsibility.

A professional city manager will still run day-to-day business under the politically accountable mayor, but the cost of the city manager should go down significantly from the present $127,800 employee compensation package cost.        

* Line-Item Veto.  The Mayor can prevent budget games and overspending. This will save millions by letting the mayor make surgical spending cuts every year.

* Public Safety Commission - Combined Police/Fire administration is not a dream or a fairy tale. Will it work in Saginaw? It's working across the United States.  In Michigan cities like Albion, Beverly Hills, East Grand Rapids, Farmington, Greenville, Ironwood, Petoskey and Kalamazoo all have combined public safety departments. Cities combining their departments vary in population from a low of 4,000 to a high of 151,000. Salaries vary from a low of $36,000 to a high of $64,000 per year.

Benefits to Saginaw include an increase of 70+PSO's (public safety officers), increased community involvement, five neighborhood Publc Safety precincts, double PSO's on patrol, quicker response time, and more public service for less money.

This saves about 15 Supervisor positions at a cost savings of about $90,000 per employee compensation package cost each, which amounts to a $1,200,000 saving each year.

Public safety as we know it began in the 1950s as a cost effective way to provide quality police & fire protection to a community while saving the community payroll cost of a department.
* Administrative Consolidation
- 24 city departments consolidated into 7 departments over a 1-year long phase-in period designed to make the downsizing of white-collar supervisors manageable.

This will eliminate the need for about 25-30 supervisory jobs at city hall at about $90,000 employee compensation package cost each and save over $2 million per year in overspending.

Eliminating the City Attorney department alone will save $350,000 or more and eliminate the duplication of service currently going on through contracting legal services to outside entities.

* Keep the Tax Rate Cap at 7.5%.  The 1978 Tax Freeze set the maximum millage rate at 7.5 mils. The new charter keeps the rate cap at 7.5 mils.  Back in 1978 the tax freeze also froze the maximum total revenue that the city could raise from taxes, without regard to inflation. This was because municipalities were responding to tax limitations by simply raising property assessments, thereby claiming they were not raising your taxes even though you had to pay more money.

State Proposal "A" now keeps "taxable value" increases in line with inflation, and prevents this abuse of the assessment process.

Therefore, we did not carry over the total revenue freeze in the new charter, so as not to be accused of being punitive to the city.

When the opposition falsely     claims we have "repealed the tax cap", they cling to this to justify their misrepresentation.

* Recreation Program. Earmarks 1 mil from property taxes to resume a youth recreation program, which has been abandoned in favor do-nothing programs. This guarantee is funded from the property tax levy.        

* Mandatory Annual Public Hearings Before the 1.5% Income Tax can be renewed, mandatory public hearings will create a downward pressure on the Income tax.

Unfortunately, the state would not let us do more - this was a big reason they returned the charter to us once and refused to put it on the ballot in May.   

The new charter also provides for mandatory annual Public hearings on whether the council should put Act 78 rescission on the city ballot. Act 78 creates an all or nothing arbitration, which makes it impossible for cities to negotiate with unions.

Most cities are rescinding this state law optional arbitration program. Most recently Traverse City rescinded Act 78.
* Cost Control Remediation Process.
An Ombudsman is established to investigate overspending in each department of city government, and obtain competing bids from private providers or other government providers, then call public hearings and start the process of replacing internal department spending with lower cost providers of quality city services. This will save millions in overspending by department heads that do not want to fall into the sights of a cost cutting ombudsman. Priceless.

 * Council and Mayor compensation: The new city charter will pay councilpersons $10,000 annual salaries, which are reduced if the councilperson is absent from meetings.

Current Councilpersons get less than $2,000, but they act like they are volunteers. We need people on council to feel like they owe us a good professional effort and who can afford to spend the time necessary to keep the city government together.

The mayor will receive a salary just above that of the highest paid city employee, without any benefits. This will go down as the city manager salary ($110,000) is reduced due to the more limited political role the manager will play under the new charter.

The total increase in official's salaries is about $185,000 more than the current "volunteer" system. This is a $185 thousand investment against over $3 million savings just in administrative streamlining under the new charter.    

That is a good investment on any day of the week.
* Mandatory 2 year Budget Planning
.  Failing to plan is like planning to fail. This forces the city to think a little further ahead. Many grant awards require that an entity project a three to five year budget. The amount of grant money Saginaw has lost over the years by failing to compile long-term projections is astronomical.


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