Tough Choices at Battle Creek City Hall Fueled by State Disinvestment in Cities

Battle Creek City Manager Rebecca Fleury discusses the financial struggles of her community during a news conference Wednesday, May 25, 2016.

Battle Creek City Manager Rebecca Fleury discusses the financial struggles of her community during a news conference Wednesday, May 25, 2016.

Police station bathrooms used as storage closets. Frost collecting on firefighters’ beds. Having to clear a building due to fumes from drug evidence stored in a poorly ventilated evidence room. These are some of the regular challenges Battle Creek City Manager Rebecca Fleury and the city’s nine-member commission deal with on a regular basis.

During a news conference today (May 25, 2016), Fleury painted this vivid picture of what it’s like to operate a community today after years of state disinvestment of Michigan’s cities.

“Talking about this is difficult because no one wants their community portrayed in a negative light,” Fleury led off during the news conference. “I have the best job in the world in the greatest city, and work for nine passionate and dedicated elected officials and we all feel the same: Operating a Michigan city is extremely difficult right now and to say everything is fine is not right. Every Michigan city is struggling. Battle Creek is no exception.”

Fleury spoke as part of the official release of a new deep-dive report examining changes that have affected the finances of Michigan municipalities over the past 20 years. The report, produced by the non-partisan Great Lakes Economic Consulting (GLEC), provides data on how a variety of state policies, from revenue sharing cuts to limits on growth of property tax values, have created a crisis in Michigan cities that is preventing the state from achieving its economic potential.

Cover of a new report about the financial crisis facing Michigan communities.

Cover of a new report about the financial crisis facing Michigan communities.

The study – “Michigan’s Great Disinvestment: How State Policies Have Forced Our Communities into Fiscal Crisis” – also explores ideas for improving overall fiscal stability for municipalities. Read more about the report here from the League’s Anthony Minghine. View a press release about it here. Also speaking at the event were Minghine, League CEO and Executive Director Dan Gilmartin; Robert Kleine, economic consultant with GLEC, and public policy expert Josh Sapotichne, an assistant professor at Michigan State University.

Battle Creek is one of Michigan’s urban core cities with a population of 53,000. Since 2002, the state has diverted $7.5 billion in revenue sharing from Michigan communities. Battle Creek alone has seen $23 million diverted.

“I should not have to ask my elected officials to choose between a fire station and police station. When both are needed. But that is what we are facing right now with our budget for fiscal year 2017, which begins July 1. … Our fiscal year 2017 proposed budget includes a .5 millage increase in order to balance the budget with a bond payment built in for a police station, but not a fire station. We simply can’t afford both, forcing our elected officials to consider tough choices to make ends meet.”

She explained that the city today has fewer police and fire officers than they did in 2006 and 100 fewer city employees. But residents expect and deserve the same level of service.

Speakers from Wednesday's news conference from left - Josh Sapotichne, Rebecca Fleury, Robert Kleine, Dan Gilmartin and Anthony Minghine.

Speakers from Wednesday’s news conference from left – Josh Sapotichne, Rebecca Fleury, Robert Kleine, Dan Gilmartin and Anthony Minghine.

Speakers from Wednesday's news conference from left - Josh Sapotichne, Rebecca Fleury, Robert Kleine, Dan Gilmartin and Anthony Minghine.

Speakers from Wednesday’s news conference from left – Josh Sapotichne, Rebecca Fleury, Robert Kleine, Dan Gilmartin and Anthony Minghine.

She then listed some of the things Battle Creek would have if there had not been $23 million diverted from the city’s revenue sharing, including adequate police and fire facilities; a funded capital improvement program that the local news paper recently described as a “wish list;” fully funded pension programs; funds to eliminate blight in neighborhoods; parks with updated play structures and regular maintenance; appropriate staffing levels; fully implemented street maintenance programs, just to name a few.

“It is time to address Michigan’s municipal finance issues. Battle Creek is ready to be part of the solution,” Fleury concluded.

Well said!

Matt Bach is director of media relations for the Michigan Municipal League. He can be reached at mbach@mml.org and (734) 669-6317.