Financial Health Team Looks into Significant Cuts in City Services

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Tuesday, October 18, 2016, 10:10 am
Chris Root

Above: ELFD Chief Randy Talifarro (left) and ELPD Chief Jeff Murphy who presented last week on possible cuts.

East Lansing's Financial Health Team is putting on the table possible ways to both cut costs and increase taxes and fees as it continues to work on a set of recommendations to address the major budgetary problems the City is facing.

In response to the Team’s request, heads of City of East Lansing departments, including the Chiefs of Fire and Police, are working to figure out where further staffing cuts might come from.

At a public forum on October 13, East Lansing’s Financial Health Team’s (FHT's) Citizens Communication and Services Working Group received data from all East Lansing City departments about how they might cope with reductions to their budgets of either 5% or 10%.

East Lansing Planning Director Tim Dempsey, speaking on behalf of City Manager George Lahanas, explained that the City already has reduced its full-time staff by almost 30% since 2005—from 393 to 290 people. (See graph below.) Part-time staff have been reduced even more—from 77 to 41.

Dempsey pointed out that about 75% of the City budget covers personnel costs. Budget reductions are likely to mean both reducing services and laying off staff.

Dempsey’s slide presentation showed how the City’s budget is allocated among various departments and what services might be cut to achieve hypothetical 10% budget reductions in each of these functions: general government; public safety; parks, recreation, arts, and public works; planning and economic development; the East Lansing Public Library; 54B District Court.

Overall, eliminating some 30 of the 290 full-time staff positions would be needed to meet such cuts.

Public safety is the largest component of the City’s budget, accounting for $21.5 million of the $83.6 million total. Consequently, East Lansing’s Police Chief and Fire Chief were asked to provide more detailed presentations about their departments.

Police Chief Jeff Murphy’s presentation showed how the 54 sworn police officers are allocated: 20 day-shift patrol officers; 21 night-shift patrol officers; 9 working in the detective bureau; and 4 in administration. This total of 54 is already a significant reduction from the 67 sworn police officers who worked for East Lansing in the mid-1990s.

Murphy presented several hypothetical cuts to reduce the police budget by 10%. The Police department could eliminate the Cadet program and the 24-hour police desk that they staff. ELPD could also move the three officers dedicated to East Lansing Public Schools (mostly at the high school), liquor control, and narcotics investigations to road patrol. The department could cut P.A.C.E. staffing by 50%. And ELPD could eliminate seven sworn officers.

Implementing all these staff cuts probably would leave only two investigators instead of nine and would mean there would be no back-up officers available to road patrols.

Fire Chief Randy Talifarro explained in some detail in his presentation how the department’s 46 firefighters are scheduled onto daily shifts of 11 to 13 firefighters and emergency medical technicians (EMTs). These emergency personnel staff two fire trucks and one ambulance at the Abbot Street firehouse and one fire truck and one ambulance at the MSU firehouse.

The impact of potential staffing cuts to ELFD is complicated by technical and safety requirements for staffing this equipment. Cutting one or two firefighters can lead to losing the use of a three-person fire truck.

The Fire Chief also pointed out that trying to save money by cutting the number of EMTs would also lead to reducing revenues from ambulance service.

Talifarro also showed how the number of both fire and ambulance (EMT) runs have increased over the last 14 years.














When asked about the causes of the increase of almost 40% in the number of total runs, Chief Talifarro pointed to the increased breadth of services the department provides, including incidents involving hazardous materials, as well as the growth on the north side of the city, much of which consists of student housing.

FHT member Haka pointed out that the number of MSU students has increased during this period. MSU enrollment has risen from 41,148 in 2005 to 50,543 in 2015.

According to Dempsey, some examples of non-public-safety programs that might be eliminated to achieve budget cuts include veterans and drug special courts, children’s programming at the Library, the Community Relations Coalition, and operating the swimming pool at Hannah Community Center. Other examples appear in the slide show that Dempsey showed.

All the examples of possible program and staff cuts were developed in response to the request from the FHT; none is being specifically proposed or advocated for at this time.

There was ample time for questions from the public at the October 13 meeting, but few residents were in attendance. Approximately 25 people were in the audience, and of those, 15 were police and firefighters in uniform, and at least three others were members of City staff.

Most of the questions came from City Council member Erik Altmann and the two members of the FHT Working Group that organized the meeting, Sue Haka and Ray Vlasin. Haka and Vlasin are among the 11 people who have volunteered many hours to serve (uncompensated) on East Lansing’s FHT.

The FHT's recommendations are due to City Council in mid-December.


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