Warren council approves Mayor Lori Stone's first budget with changes

Anne Snabes
The Detroit News

Warren — The Warren City Council unanimously passed the city's fiscal year 2024-25 budget Tuesday evening, the city's first under Mayor Lori Stone, but not before making some changes, including reducing the communications department's proposed budget and adding a police captain position.

Stone, who was elected in November, proposed a  for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1. The council made many amendments to her budget, many of which were minor, before approving it at the council meeting.

Changes to the communications department included eliminating the Newsbeat newsletter and revising the department's budget for part-time employees. Council Secretary Mindy Moore said the department has "been living off their savings account."

"It's a little concerning, because we knew they were in trouble and they've not been tightening their belts," Moore said, adding that the department had asked for a larger budget than in the current one.

Warren City Council Secretary Mindy Moore addresses a speaker during the city council meeting, Tuesday, April. 12, 2022, in Warren, Mich.

The council approved the amended budget in a 7-0 vote. Highlights include $19.8 million for road construction and over $21 million for water main and sewer line improvements. The council also unanimously approved a 7.5% increase to the city's water and sewer rate.

The budget was reviewed by four new councilmembers and three incumbents, and developed by the mayor. The last City Council and former Mayor Jim Fouts often sparred, including about lawsuits. The current council president, Angela Rogensues, said Tuesday there was a "night and day difference" between the budget process this year and previous years.

Fouts wouldn't permit his department heads to directly speak to the council during the last two budget cycles, and they couldn't come to budget hearings, according to Rogensues and council attorney Jeffrey Schroder. Budget hearings are held up to the approval of the budget that allow council members to ask department heads and other city officials, such as the city assessor and fire commissioner, questions.

"So we were left with having to approve a budget to the best of our ability, without having conversations with department heads, because he did not allow us to," Rogensues said.

She said department heads and Stone participated in the budget hearings this year. Rogensues noted that Stone was "an active member in defending her budget" and she answered questions.

What the amendments were

Moore asked that the Human Resources director's salary remain at $118,615, instead of raising it to $140,000.

"I would note that many of the changes we made were based on our feeling that there was not justification for the expenditure," she said, adding that Stone's administration can bring back requested changes to the council at a later time. "We will certainly consider any reasonable request."

Moore also proposed that the city add a contractual city project manager position, which costs $50,000. She said that the city has many projects, and the project manager could oversee some of them.

Among the other amendments she announced was the addition of a captain position to the Police Department, at a cost of $133,577. "We were given very good justification for adding that captain position by the Police Department," she said.

The council eliminated Newsbeat, a magazine sent to Warren residents promoting upcoming events, including classes offered by the Parks and Recreation Department and events run by the library. Moore said the council is proposing that those marketing materials be sent out by individual departments in a "more modest mailing" and not in a glossy magazine.

Moore said that under Stone's proposed budget, the Communications Department would only have enough money in its fund balance to cover its costs over the next year and a half or so. The council's cuts "at least give them another half a year to operate."

The department will keep the part-time employee budget at $300,000. The department had proposed increasing it to $450,000, and cutting the department's "community outreach programs" budget.

Moore said the amendments would have a minor effect on the size of Stone's $349.9 million budget. She said the council won't have the new budget amount until City Controller Richard Fox does the calculations.

Water and sewer rate hike

Fox has previously said that the water and sewer hike would cover the cost of pay raises for water employees and help pay for water main replacements and upgrades to the waste incinerator.

Moore said that nobody wants to increase water rates. "None of us do either," she said. "But our system requires it. We have a lot of repairs to be made."

Councilman Jonathan Lafferty said the rate increase is "absolutely necessary, and the tough decisions have to be made."

Fox said the city plans to spend $12.1 million on repairing and replacing local roads and $7.1 million on major roads in the new fiscal year. It also will spend $600,000 of federal Community Development Block Grants on road improvements.

The total city tax rate for the upcoming year is 27.3852 mills, a slight increase from the current year's 27.0913, due to a rise in the police and fire pension millage rate.