Budget overhaul

May 4, 2005 at 12:00 am

In a normal budget year, the process works like this: Detroit’s mayor presents his budget for the upcoming fiscal year to the City Council, which holds hearings that focus on the operations, expenditures and revenues of each department.

The council makes minuscule amendments — usually about 1 percent of the total spending package — and sends it back to the mayor, who holds a veto option, which can be overridden by a two-thirds council majority. No matter what happens, city ordinance dictates that a budget be adopted by May 24.

This year, things will be different.

The prevailing opinion is that Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s budget is completely unrealistic. Council can’t legally scrap Kilpatrick’s entire plan, but it can break from past tradition and subject it to a major overhaul — which is exactly what council decided to do last week.

Council began by seeking the advice of Auditor General Joe Harris, who recently delivered a blistering critique of Kilpatrick’s budget (“The Harris Manfiesto,” Metro Times, April 27). Harris met Saturday morning with a few council members and a group of council staffers to begin laying the groundwork for a new — er, amended — budget.

Mayoral spokesman Howard Hughey said Friday he hadn’t heard about an alternate budget, but says he hopes council will keep the mayor’s office abreast of its plans. “We need to work together,” Hughey says. “We don’t need to be working in a vacuum.”

Councilmember Sheila Cockrel says the first step in the council’s budget process is determining which revenues are reliable, and which aren’t. Harris previously said that, rather than being truly balanced, Kilpatrick’s proposed budget will leave the city $300 million in the hole.

Saturday’s meeting, Harris says, focused on determining priorities for charter-mandated city services and services that aren’t enshrined in charter or ordinance but are considered essential.

This being an election year, it remains to be seen whether council can come together and make the hard cuts necessary. Given how divisive that body is, we’re not betting on it. But who knows — maybe this disaster will force them to work together for the common good.

Harris, for one, is confident that a way will be found to slice $300 million from the city’s $1.5 billion general fund budget.

“We will have a balanced budget,” Harris says, “but it’s going to hurt a lot of people.”

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at [email protected] or