News Story

A City At the End of Its Rope

Allen Park strikes out with subsidized film studio; can't get concessions from government unions and is forced to request an emergency manager

ALLEN PARK —  It was an odd fact to come out at a city council meeting, but again, these are not normal times for the city of Allen Park.

On Tuesday night, it was revealed that the city is now paying finance charges on a credit card bill from the Home Depot because it can’t pay off the balance of a couple of hundred dollars.

Residents have had enough and now they’ve convinced city leaders of the need for help.

This week, the Allen Park City Council stated publicly that it needs an emergency manager to be appointed under Michigan Public Act 4.

Public Act 4 was passed last year to help financially distressed cities and school districts take tough action to avoid bankruptcy. A state-appointed emergency manager would have the power to break union contracts, if necessary. Currently, there are four cities and two school districts under emergency management.

“I think we’ve been honest with everyone. We are at the end of the rope. There is no end to the hill," said City Councilman Harry Sisko, who had difficulty maintaining his composure when talking about the issue.

“There is no discussion any more. I think it’s needed," he said. "I think it’s a wake up call for everyone.”

The city council voted to draft a letter to be sent to the State Treasurer requesting a review team. The council will vote on a resolution on the matter on Tuesday, March 20.

Council members and members of the public said the last straw was failure to get contract concessions from the city police and fire unions. 

“They basically said, 'too bad, let the citizens pay for it,' ” said Marcie Degiulio-Galka, a lifetime resident who attended the meeting. She said the city got itself into deep trouble when it paid millions for the failed Unity Park movie studio, which sits mostly vacant and in disrepair next to City Hall.

“Sure that was a mistake but why are are we still in trouble," she said. "It’s these police and fire union legacy costs, health care and playing games with the pension.”

She is angry that the pension program allows officers to collect nearly their entire salaries under the current formula.

Many city residents also are dubious of a millage request the city is making on the May ballot. Residents are worried the millage will not be capped and that it will not be used to pay off the debt as promised. City residents turned down a similar millage request in November.

Bob Armstead is one resident who has been pushing for an emergency manager.  

“We have met a number of the triggers. Something needs to be done," he said. "The citizens did not vote on this (movie studio). Now they’re asking us to vote on a millage to bail ‘em out. A lot of people are frustrated and angry."

The mayor and several council members have been replaced, but Armstead says he thinks further investigation by federal officials will be needed to sort out what happened with the failed studio deal.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.