December 13, 2012GROSSE POINTE WOODS — The year 2013 is still weeks away, but the Grosse Pointe Woods city council decided not to wait to begin budget talks for the next fiscal year.
Faced with declining revenues that could mean a $700,000 shortfall and a strong message from voters the way to balance the budget is to make cuts rather than raise taxes, the council has directed department heads to look to ways to cut costs as well as new revenue sources.
The council, meeting as the committee of the whole, heard from two department heads at its meeting Monday, Dec. 10, and while the budget talks are still very much in the "discussion" stage, many of the recommendations could have a dramatic impact on city services.
Nicole Byron, parks and recreation supervisor, had several suggestions for cutting costs in her department, including cutting park hours and eliminating the park bus service. One immediate cut involved closing down the paddle tennis courts, which are used during the winter months.
"The heater needs to be repaired, and at a cost of $10,000 to repair the heating element, I'm recommending we not replace it and just close the courts entirely," she told the council.
She also recommended closing the rectangular baby pool at Lake Front park. According to public works director Joe Ahee, the pool is leaking and the liner would need to be replaced at a cost of $18,000.
"We're recommending the pool be closed, and what we call the 'mushroom pool' be used instead," Ahee said.
Also on the proposed chopping block for parks and recreation are the park bus service and the water slide.
According to Byron, the city could save $29,500 by shutting down the slide, and with the city facing $11,000 in repair costs to the park buses, she's recommending the bus service be eliminated, which would also save operating costs.
Other cost saving measures proposed by Byron are eliminating morning lap swimming, limiting the hours the diving well would be open, and cutting back on park hours, with a proposed opening time of noon instead of 10 a.m.
She also proposed charging for park passes and implementing a fee for guests. "According to our records, we have 25,037 guests each year. If we implemented a fee of $1 per guest, we could raise a significant amount," she told the council.
She also favors implementing a fee for winter storage of kayaks and increasing the fee for summer swim lessons.
Councilman Mike Koester reminded the council the city parks are not a necessity, but an amenity the city offers, and cuts should be made accordingly.
But councilwoman Vicki Granger said the council needs to remember all Pointes have municipal parks, and the parks and what they offer are an important part of determining where someone might buy a home in the area.
Ahee also proposed several cuts for his department, including eliminating curbside leaf pick up, cutting back on street sweeping and possible cuts in snow plowing, both sidewalk plowing and street plowing.
He also recommended eliminating fall tree plantings and spring mulching, as well as cutting back on the city's holiday decorations.
Other department heads will also be making recommendations to the council as the budget talks continue in 2013.
"We are undertaking an initial budget review," said city administrator Al Fincham, "and we wanted to get an early start looking at our options. It's a dynamic, on-going, changeable process."