Monday, January 28, 2013

Saginaw mayor presents ordinance enforcement plan

Saginaw mayor presents ordinance enforcement plan to close budget gap

Mark Tower | mtower@mlive.comBy Mark Tower | 
on January 28, 2013 at 8:45 AM, updated January 28, 2013 at 9:16 AM
Saginaw City Council Strategic Planning session Jan. 26, 2013
View full sizeSaginaw Mayor Greg Branch at the City Council strategic planning session at the Castle Museum on Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013. 
SAGINAW, MI — Mayor Greg Branch's proposed solution to Saginaw's fiscal crisis: Write more traffic tickets and ordinance violations as a way to bring in additional revenue.
The mayor alluded to the idea vaguely during a Saginaw City Council meeting in December and has now submitted a formal proposal with budget estimates. On the high end of the options he presents, Branch estimates more than $5 million in added revenue the city government could collect by making the change. 
Branch's idea consists of creating a "municipal ordinance violation bureau," incorporating state traffic laws into the city's code of ordinances and the deployment of city police officers and firefighters specifically tasked with enforcing misdemeanors, ordinance and code violations.
"We've been leaving a lot of money on the table," he said. "I think there are a lot of opportunities for us there."
City Manager Darnell Earley said he received the mayor's proposal on Jan. 20, but has not yet had a chance to look at it.
"We haven't had a chance yet to analyze what is being proposed," Earley said.
He said he plans to have his staff look at the mayor's proposal more closely and come back to city council with an assessment sometime in the next few months.
The idea 
Branch said city leaders need to transition from a mindset of "retreat" to a proactive one.
"For more than thirty years, Saginaw's public safety efforts have been in a state of strategic retreat," he writes in the proposal. "Each round of cuts has been — in the battle against crime, against blight, against fire — an act of retreat. Each time, we've given up ground."
Branch said prioritizing enforcement of "quality of life" issues in Saginaw could result in both increased revenues and would hopefully even discourage continued disinvestment in the city and prevent more serious crimes.
"In so doing, we are taking the most proactive stance possible: we are not only no longer retreating from advancing crime and blight, but attacking it, head-on and aggressively," Branch writes. "This is the only realistic way we can resist eventually being overtaken by it."
The revenue 
By incorporating the state traffic code into local ordinances, according to Branch, the city can process tickets through the new ordinance violation bureau and keep the revenues normally shared with the court system.
The mayor's revenue projects for such a plan could result in up to $4.3 million in added revenue, after subtracting costs, in the police department alone. That highest of estimates in the proposal estimates four dedicated officers, two more devoted to commercial vehicle enforcement on I-675 and an average of 18 citations issued per shift.
Similar deployments in the fire department could result in up to $1.2 in added revenue, according to Branch's projections. That scenario assumes eight firefighters, 12 citations per shift and a 75 percent collection rate on citations issued.
Saginaw fire union president Tom Raines said he thought the mayor's revenue projects a bit "optimistic," but said he is on board for further discussion of the idea.
The city manager said, though he will investigate the mayor's idea further, he firmly believes that cuts must be made on the expenditure side of the city budget to address the budget problem.
"That proposal, in and of itself, is not the solution to our problem," Earley said.
Because of increasing costs and decreasing revenues, planning for the city's future must involve budget cuts, he said.
The city manager is proposing a contract with Saginaw County Sheriff William Federspiel for police services, which could stave off staffing cuts in the police department. His backup plan is a reduction in the police force to 55 officers from the current level of 73.
Earley has also recommended downsizing the fire department from 50 to 35 employees.
Mark Tower Email Facebook Twitter | 989-284-4807

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