A news service for the people of Michigan from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy

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City Claims Significant Workforce Cut; Budget Says Otherwise

Analyst: '[E]xploiting voters' fear of crimes to extract more money...'

For the second time in two years, the city of Oak Park is asking for a tax increase via a public safety millage, saying it has made signficant cuts in its workforce but that those efforts didn't save enough money.

The city's budgets online, however, appear to dispute the claims of how deep those cuts were.

Voters will be asked May 8 to approve a 1.14 mills Public Safety Millage for 10 years. Voters approved a 1-mill Public Safety Millage last year, but the city now says that wasn’t enough because of a drop in residential property values. The city says the new millage will cost homeowners on average $36 a year.

The city lays out its claim for why it needs more tax dollars on its website. Oak Park says that it’s “overall employee workforce already has been cut by about a third in the past four years and was reduced significantly before that period.”

In 2007-08, the city had 231.37 full-time equivalents (which includes full-time and part-time jobs), according to its online budget. That number dropped to 197.34 in 2011-12, a 14.7 reduction.

In terms of strictly full-time positions, the city had 195 in 2007-08 and has 161 in 2011-12, a 17.4 percent reduction.

But the numbers tell a different story about workforce cuts in the years proceeding that more recent span. In 2004-05, the city had 199 full-time positions and 235.02 full-time equivalents. When compared with the full-time equivalents number in 2007-08, that means the city cut 1.5 percent of its workforce and classified that as "reduced significantly.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Oak Park has been losing population for several decades. The city is down about 1.5 percent since 2000.

City Manager Rick Fox and Mayor Marian McClellan didn’t respond to an emails seeking comment.

Jack McHugh, a fiscal policy analyst at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, has been a critic of public safety millages.

“There’s no such thing as a ‘public safety tax hike’ — there are only tax hikes, period,” McHugh said. “The money all goes into the same pot, and government public relations campaigns that claim otherwise are scams, exploiting voters’ fear of crime to extract more money for government in general.

“Given Michigan’s economic troubles, few can doubt that cities could trim salary and benefits with no impact on workforce quality,” McHugh said. “But this won’t happen as long as they can spin and confuse and frighten enough voters into approving tax hikes.”

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