The Howell City Council adopted a scaled back budget for the 208/2019 fiscal year.

The budget was approved during Monday night’s meeting before a sparse audience and following a public hearing during which no one spoke. That was in stark contrast to the last two meetings filled with residents voicing concerns and hurling threats. The City has been facing budget pressures for years but is now at the point where revenues need to increase or services need to be reduced. Council indicated intent to pursue a Headlee Override election, after a surprising 4-3 vote against instituting a city-wide public safety special assessment at the last meeting. As a result, the budget had to be revised and Council adopted the 2018/2019 budget Monday without the anticipated revenue from the public safety assessment to the tune of approximately $861,000. Should the Headlee Override fail if put before voters, which was the initial thought of many members in pursuing the public safety assessment, deep cuts will have to be made and all options are said to be on the table. Council has agreed the current financial path the City is on is not sustainable, due to a broken state funding model and years of making different budget efficiencies.

Mayor Nick Proctor said the budget continues to be under siege and encouraged discussion on where to cut services, noting the City is 100% behind its police department. Proctor noted the City will not be contracting with any other agency for law enforcement services, adding he is also not inclined to make draconian service reductions in their policing model that might place the safety of residents at risk - stressing Council is firmly behind the men and women of the department. On chartering a new path forward, Proctor said he believes they’re now confronted with a fractured Council that requires a bit of healing and trust building, which will take some time. Proctor stated it’s not a setback for Council - they have a problem and will fix it. He says it’s only a step back to collectively assess and chart a new way forward to solve the fiscal problems the state model imposes on Howell and all Michigan communities, adding they will regain their unity of purpose and he looks forward to their collective discussions during next month’s budget work session.

Items eliminated, not deferred, from the budget include the reconstruction of South National Street, work on West Brooks Street and the resurfacing of Warbler Way and North Chestnut Streets. Also cut was lighting at Page Field and demolition of the Barnard Center. Councilman Dr. Bob Ellis commented that his priority issues when he ran for office were parking, roads and blight reduction. He feels the City has done a good job with parking but now he’s frustrated roads won’t get fixed and the Barnard Center won’t get demolished. Ellis says it’s an old building that can’t be repaired for more than it would cost to build a new building. He says it’s frustrating to have a blighted building owned by the City but they can’t take it down because they don’t have the money.

A number of outside factors have been at play to impact the City’s budget including a reduction in state shared revenue, the impact of the 2008 recession and loss of 27.6% of taxable value, limitations of Proposal A and the Headlee Amendment. Council and staff have repeatedly stated the fiscal stress is not unique to the City and similar communities are looking at either enhanced revenue or reduced services. Mayor Pro-Tem Steve Manor commented there is no pot of gold hidden anywhere. He says needed infrastructure projects will only get older and conditions will worsen by delaying them, while the costs of doing the work will continue to increase exponentially.

Council will begin consideration of when to schedule a Headlee Override, possible service reductions and the general budget process going forward during an upcoming work session. That is open to the public and will take place at June 18th at 5pm at the Howell Area Chamber of Commerce building. (JM)