How should the City of Detroit spend an “unprecedented” $230 million budget surplus?
Mayor Mike Duggan proposed setting aside $74 million for next year’s budget and spending $156 million on neighborhood improvements, capital projects and to shore up the city’s Retiree Protection Fund and Risk Management Fund. City Council members heard a presentation from finance officials in Duggan’s administration Wednesday and could vote next week on a proposed amendment to the current fiscal year budget.
Under Duggan’s plan, $79.5 million would go toward capital projects like sidewalk replacements, upgrades for the Detroit People Mover, parks renovations, the demolition of blighted buildings, tree removal, bulletproof vests for police and other items. The proposal also includes $5 million for the health department to support COVID-19 prevention and $2 million for a citywide survey of blighted and vacant properties in partnership with the Detroit Land Bank Authority.
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Duggan also seeks to add $60 million to the Risk Management Fund, which is used to cover the cost of legal claims, workers compensation, settlements and other expenses. It’s a significant boost to the fund amid a five-year high in the cost of taxpayer-funded settlements. Irvin Corley, the city’s executive policy manager, said the risk management fund was previously under-budgeted.
Another $10 million is proposed for the Retiree Protection Fund, which will be important as the city is set to resume payments to its two pension funds in the 2023-24 fiscal year.
Deputy Chief Financial Officer Steve Watson called the $230 million surplus “unprecedented” and much larger than the city has had in recent years.
Watson said the 2020-21 budget was “extremely limited by design” to ensure the city would maintain a balanced budget through the COVID-19 pandemic. Watson said the shift to remote work had less of a hit on revenue collected from non-resident income taxes than expected.
“By the time we closed books on fiscal year 2022, our revenues had exceeded pre-pandemic levels, income taxes were recovering tremendously and the wagering taxes outpacing our best expectations of what the new gaming revenue would hold,” Watson said Wednesday.
Council members had a handful of questions for city officials Wednesday, but offered no objection to Duggan’s plan.
Council Member Fred Durhal said the supplemental appropriation could help jumpstart priorities that will be included in the next budget. The Budget Finance and Audit Committee forwarded Duggan’s spending plan to the full council with a recommendation to approve it.
Capital improvement projects proposed by the mayor could begin this summer, if approved.
Here’s a breakdown on the proposed spending plan:
- $20.5 million neighborhood sidewalk replacement program to address approximately 70,000 damaged sidewalk slabs across the city.
- $18.1 million for the Detroit Fire Department for overtime payroll expenses
- $16.2 million to renovate 20 city parks on a faster schedule than previously planned. Upgrades include new landscaping, playground equipment, and other amenities.
- $13.9 million for a new Department of Transportation transit center at the former state fairgrounds site.
- $13 million to demolish dangerous or unsalvageable buildings.
- $6 million toward the replacement of four Detroit People Mover passenger rail cars. An additional $3 million from the Detroit Transportation Corporation and additional funds from federal grants will cover the total $32 million cost.
- $5 million to remove “thousands” of dangerous and dead trees. The city has removed more than 30,000 dead and dangerous trees from city property over the past eight years.
- $2.4 million to replace bulletproof vests and body armor used by the Detroit Police Department.
- $1.6 million for the Detroit Department of Elections to implement ballot manager software, and cover inflated costs from 2022 midterm elections.
- $901,000 for planning work and charging infrastructure to get ready for new electric vehicles used by the city’s Municipal Parking Department.
- $300,000 to the Public Lighting Administration for operating expenses
Land Bank Planning Director Robert Lin said the blight study is part of an ongoing effort to identify properties that need some form of city intervention, including code enforcement, nuisance abatement or a demolition order. Lin said the land bank doesn’t have a clear picture of privately owned blight.
“As the land bank has made progress in selling and demolishing all of our problematic properties, many of the most problematic properties out there at this point are not owned by the city or the land bank,” Lin said Wednesday. “Our goal is to better understand the universe of privately-owned blight.”
Lin said the survey data will inform community engagement efforts, so the land bank can work with block clubs, community development organizations, council members, and residents
“Then we try to refer these properties to various teams working to address problem properties,” Lin said. “This will both allow us to operate all these programs much more quickly, but it will also serve as an accountability measure.”
Duggan’s proposal also would set aside $74 million in surplus revenue for his proposed budget for the next fiscal year. Duggan’s 2023-24 budget proposal will be presented to the City Council on March 3.
Detroit is expected to collect $2.3 billion in revenue for the 2024 fiscal year. A total of $393 million is projected to come from income taxes, with another $258 million from wagering taxes collected from casinos and online gambling, $137 million from property taxes and $46 million in utility taxes.
The city is estimated to lose $25.7 million in income taxes that would have been collected from remote workers.