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City Publicizes Citizen Input on Budget Crisis

February 17, 2010

Today, the City of Grand Rapids published the results of the community meetings held last fall, where residents, businesses and the faith community shared their ideas on how the city can save money or generate income to offset the budget deficit.

The public feedback was organized into three categories; ideas the City has already implemented, frequently asked questions and the Top 20 Budget Gathering Suggestions.

In the section on ideas the city has already completed or continues to work on, there were 65 suggestions. Some of these ideas were: better enforcement for fines or parking tickets; pay extra for police when at public events; sell off city assets; use court community workers for park maintenance; cut some police and fire programs; and eliminate city staff perks like use of city vehicles and limit city staff who attend conferences in Michigan.

There were also ideas that have already been embraced that are not just about eliminating costs or making government more efficient, instead they advocate for privatization of city services. Some of these services that have already been privatized are corporate sponsors of City pools and item number 23 in the document states, “The City contracts with private firms to provide hundreds of services.  We continue to examine City services to understand if they can be provided as effectively and for less cost by a private firm.”

The document identified as the Top 20 Budget Gathering Suggestions continues this trend of privatization and downsizing of government. Here are the Top 20 suggestions as determined by the city:

1)   Reduce the wages and benefits of city employees

2)   Reduce the number of city employees

3)   Increase efficiencies in providing City services

4)   Increase flexibility in City employee deployment

5)   Reduce expenses; take home vehicles, travel, meals, and purchases

6)   Privatize City services

7)   Seek grants from the State and Federal government and foundations

8)   Sell City assets

9)   Generate financial sponsorships to support City services

10)   Assure that the full cost of services are identified and adjust fees towards full cost recovery where possible and appropriate

11)   Charge non-residents higher fees

12)   Allow the public to donate to support City services

13)    Assess a fee for collecting taxes for other public entities

14)    Collect outstanding fines for parking tickets

15)    Collect local sales taxes

16)    Increase personal income tax

17)    Eliminate or consolidate departments and consolidate services with other public entities

18)    Eliminate impediments to consolidation of services within the City and partnering with other entities

19)    Engage individuals, organizations, and businesses in providing services

20)    Increase transparency in City service operations and performance

I attended one of these public input meetings on the city budget and offered a suggestion that was not included in their final report. I suggested that the city look at cutting or eliminating the amount of money they provide to businesses in the form of subsidies, tax breaks and abatements. The city argues that these subsidies and tax breaks are necessary to have businesses come to Grand Rapids in order to create jobs. However, there is no evidence on the City’s website that these subsidies have indeed been an economic benefit to the city. A good resource on this issue is the book The Great American Job Scam: Corporate Tax Dodging the Myth of Job Creation, by Greg LeRoy.

Another suggestion that was offered up at the meeting (also not included in the report) I attended was from Mike Saunders who said the city should enter into talks with Congressman Ehlers and Senators Stabenow and Levin on the matter of how much tax money is leaving Grand Rapids to fund the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As of today, according to the National Priorities Project, the amount of tax money leaving GR to fund these two wars since 2001 is $503,636,680.00. 

One last issue that should be raised is an evaluation of the process the city took. Even though an estimated 500 people participated in the community meetings in November and December the public had no say in how to prioritize the suggestions and ideas they provided. One process that could be adopted by the City of Grand Rapids is the Participatory Budgeting Project model. In this model the public directly participates in deciding how municipalities use tax dollars. The model began in Brazil in 1989 and is widely used throughout the world and in the US.

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 1, 2010 3:07 pm

    GR should stop giving the police so much money for interventions that aren’t working. A high percentage of crimes prosecuted in Kent County are drug related. Drug offenders have high recidivism rates. Put money towards treatment-on-demand, not towards incarceration or forced treatment instead of incarceration. Give people the option to change their lives outside of the criminal justice system.

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