Michigan Town Grapples With Shrinking Public Sector | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

Michigan Town Grapples With Shrinking Public Sector

Tammi Warren has lived on the same winding street in the Detroit suburb of Inkster, Mich., all her life. But as she drives down the block in her Ford pickup, Warren points to several houses on her street that stand vacant, casualties of the housing market collapse.

Vacant houses mean less tax revenue for the city, and less revenue makes it harder for Inkster to provide basic city services.

"[The] city of Inkster has eliminated 38 positions," says City Treasurer Mark Stuhldreher. "It's about 25 percent, roughly, of the workforce."

The situation in Inkster illustrates a larger paradox currently at work in the labor market: While the private sector is slowly adding jobs, the public sector continues to shed them. The federal government's most recent labor report shows payrolls at private employers growing by 140,000 in November, while government agencies cut 20,000 jobs.

When I visited Inkster's City Hall to interview Stuhldreher, there was no one behind the information desk, and the city clerk's office was empty. The only sign of life in the lobby was the man sitting behind the cashier sign taking payments for tax and water bills.

Stuhldreher says about 70 percent of the city budget is spent on people's salaries and benefits. So this month, Inkster laid off 14 police officers in an effort to make ends meet — that's about 20 percent of the department.

At Franchesko's diner, Inkster resident Darrel Osborne says he's troubled by news of cutbacks in the police force.

"Inkster police is like our family," Osborne says. "We come to the restaurant; they make you feel safe to eat."

Osborne points to the restaurant's new security cameras, which the owner put in when news of the police layoffs hit. The diner is a favorite spot for Inkster police, but with fewer officers on the force, there are fewer of them coming in for the $2.25 breakfast special.

Osborne says the restaurant isn't the only place feeling their absence.

"When I ride through the neighborhoods in Inkster, you used to see them out in their cars patrolling the areas and everything," he says. "You don't see that no more, due to the layoffs."

But Inkster is still faring better than some Michigan cities. Pontiac has dismantled its entire police department, contracting the work out to the county sheriff, and it's about to get rid of its fire department as well.

Bettie Buss is a municipal finance expert with the Citizens Research Council of Michigan. She says higher pension and health insurance costs have also added to the challenge.

"Unless property taxes increase, which means that the value of properties increase dramatically, the situation's not going to change," she says.

Buss says that in the meantime, cities will look to revamp pension plans and collective bargaining agreements. Sharing services and even merging communities are also options for local governments looking to stay in the black. But in the end, there appear to be few good alternatives to laying off public workers.

Copyright 2011 Michigan Radio. To see more, visit http://michiganradio.org/.

WAMU 88.5

Art Beat With Lauren Landau, Oct. 1

Music from West Africa and photography from South East Asia come to the D.C. area.

NPR

From Kale To Pale Ale, A Love of Bitter May Be In Your Genes

Researchers have found a gene that affects how strongly you experience bitter flavors. And those who aren't as sensitive eat about 200 more servings of vegetables per year.
WAMU 88.5

Legal Limbo No More: Bill To Go Before D.C. Council Lays Out Ridesharing Rules

Cab drivers in D.C. have long complained that their app-based, ridesharing competition are unregulated. Now D.C. Council member Mary Cheh is introducing a bill that would address these concerns.

NPR

'Ello' Aims For A Return To Ad-Free Social Networking

Ello is the viral social network of the moment. Ad-free, invitation-only and with the option of anonymity, it's generating tons of chatter as the latest alternative to Facebook.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.