Do you take the federal dollars?

By Rod Meloni - Reporter, CFP ®

TAYLOR, Mich. -

When Uncle Sam offers you millions in cash, do you take it?

That's the question Taylor's elected officials are about to go to war over. While the simple answer sounds like a no-brainer, certainly you take the money; it's never that simple.

Taylor is much like every other Michigan community; it's cutting everything in sight to balance its budget.

Over the past year it slashed 32 firefighter and emergency medical technician positions, closed two fire houses, lost membership in mutual aid agreements. It was a wrenching political war that left more than a few scars. In the middle of the muddle, the fire chief asked Mayor Jeffrey P. Lamarand if he could apply for federal firefighter dollars [known as a SAFER grant] the mayor said yes, but felt the $6 million was inadequate for the job and said ask for more.

The chief did and the federal government surprised everyone by setting aside $8 million for Taylor's fire department.

"Hip Hip hooray" said everyone, believing a lot of firefighters would regain their jobs and the residents could breathe a little easier at night knowing until the mayor started looking into the fine print of the deal.

He says after crunching all the numbers, looking at the prospects for Taylor's financial future, he decided the $8 million only postponed the painfully inevitable need to slash 32 firefighters. And the downside of taking the money pushes pension costs up further and other benefits costs if and when he has to cut the jobs yet again. He says he sees no likelihood of a future uptick in city revenues. He views it as re-living the agony again needlessly. So, he is telling the feds to keep their cash.           

While the mayor is the administrator, he still has to deal with Taylor City Council.

Many on council say don't even think about sending back the cash. They believe bringing back the firefighters solves the immediate safety issue and on top of that it gives the mayor time to try and figure out how to adjust emergency services in the future so that the city can keep the services it's always known. Because council believes so strongly in it, it is going to pass a resolution directing Lamarand to keep the federal cash and use it to reconstitute the fire department? Lamarand says he will not do so, and will veto the resolution. Council says it has the votes to override. So where does this leave Taylor? Headed to court to see who holds sway in this dispute.

What we are watching is the result of the decade long decline Michigan has experienced.

It used to be city council meetings and mayoral budgets were the droll dull stuff of a boring legislative process. You don't make headlines there when times are fat.

Well, we're looking positively skeletal and the fights over the remaining scant resources are ugly.

Detroit's just gone through it, Taylor is going through it. Until property values start to jump back up in meaningful ways, this kind of fight is likely to find its way to your city or town very soon.

Would you keep the federal dollars? Good question, especially considering the federal government is broke too.

The only difference is they can print the money and in the end those government goodies are really just smoke and mirrors too.


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