Voluntary Separations and New Plante Moran Contract

At Wednesday’s Budget Meeting

By, Crystal A. Proxmire


At a special budget meeting on April 21, 2010 City Council discussed how the voluntary layoffs might affect the $3.1 million budget deficit for the FYE [Fiscal Year Ending] 2011.  They also voted to hire Plante Moran at an hourly rate to give them a cost analysis of remodeling City Hall in order to accommodate a smaller staff and a central public access point for service.


One of the ways Council began to trim the budget was by offering a voluntary separation incentive program [VSIP] to encourage non-union employees to retire early.  This included an incentive payment of $1,000 for each year of employment, retirement health insurance for employees who were on staff over 20 years, but not the 25 years which was the previous requirement, and one year of health insurance through COBRA at the City’s expense. 


Eighteen employees accepted the VSIP, although three of the positions vacated will need to be refilled (1 code enforcement, 1 rental inspector and 1 librarian). Those leaving will be done on April 30, 2010, although some of will return to their positions on a temporary contractual basis to help with the transition to “the new reality,” as members of council call the new era of lean government. 


Among the other early retirees are Administrative Assistant Shirley Ahlgrim, Community Development Director Marsha Scheer, Finance Department Personnel Technician, Assessor/Treasurer Jay Singh, and Fire Chief Roger Schmidt.  James Aiello, a Lieutenant in the Fire Department, and Traffic Control Officer Steve LaRowe have accepted offers, as have three clerk-typists, and several Department of Public Works staff, including Superintendent Jack Crowley.  Police Chief Michael Kitchen is considering taking a buyout as well.


Leaders from every department presented budget proposals to the council over the past few weeks.  Council will know on Monday what the results of the collective bargaining agreements has been.  City Manager Bob Bruner presented a list of General Fund Budget Proposals which includes ideas brought forward by members of each department.  These proposals give council options for what changes they may want to implement to make the budget work.  Some of the ideas on the table include closing the Recreation Department, laying off between 12- 29 employees including police and firefighters, selling City-owned parking lots to the DDA, increasing traffic patrol and ticketing and several other options.  The City of Ferndale website (http://www.ferndale-mi.com/) gives links to budget documents and proposals, and you can look at previous stories in The Ferndale 115 News.


Council members will review the list of ideas and will meet again next week to begin discussion over what to options to implement. 


They also voted 4-1 to hire Plante Moran on an hourly basis to provide an estimate for how much it would cost to renovate City Hall to provide one access point for customers, since there will no longer be as many employees to help people.  City Manager Bob Bruner has asked Plante Moran to keep the cost of providing the estimate to under $2,000. 


Mayor Craig Covey opposed the contract, saying that when times are tough it’s okay to put a sign up on a window directing people to another desk, or to use inexpensive partitions and potted plants to change the layout. 


Kate Baker said that we need to consider what face the city wants to show to people who are coming in to open new businesses or to make improvements to their homes.  “We’re not falling apart like other cities are, and I think that’s something Ferndale is proud of.  We want people to feel good about being here,” she said.


Councilperson Scott Galloway pointed out that “As the City asks the fewer and fewer remaining employees to do more and more work; we should do our best to provide them an environment where they can do their work efficiently.”


Councilperson Melanie Piana, whose full-time job at the Suburbs Alliance has her in the City Hall building all day, has a unique perspective.  “With the counters the way they are, there are a lot of interruptions,” she said.  She suggested that Plante Moran work with the clerks and departments that currently use the space, to get their ideas for what would make most sense for the jobs they have to do.


Bruner has asked that Plane Moran return their estimate within one week, so that Council can consider it with their budget decisions.