March 27, 2012 at 5:02 pm

Detroit deputy mayor: Cash needed to sustain any deal with state

"I'm not going to say we don't have a deal unless there's money, but I think we all have to come to an understanding that there needs to be money to make this plan work, no matter who is going to do it," Lewis said during a 20-minute roundtable with reporters in his City Hall office. (David Coates/The Detroit News)

Detroit — Deputy Mayor Kirk Lewis said Tuesday that any financial stability agreement with the state has to come with money attached — in addition to borrowed funds — if the troubled city is to come back.

Kirk Lewis, chief of staff for Mayor Dave Bing, said that although Gov. Rick Snyder has taken a "strong position that there's no money coming to the city," Detroit can't solve its problems without it. Lewis is serving in Bing's stead as the mayor recovers from intestinal surgery at Henry Ford Hospital.

"I'm not going to say we don't have a deal unless there's money, but I think we all have to come to an understanding that there needs to be money to make this plan work, no matter who is going to do it," Lewis said during a 20-minute roundtable with reporters in his City Hall office. "I think the governor is a businessperson. He understands that turnarounds don't happen without resources."

Lewis said it's the view that "you can't sustain a turnaround unless you have some infusion of money, because the things that we need to get done — a new payroll system, a new general ledger system — things that are necessary to get done take money.

"So at some point as we sit down with the state, we're going to have to clearly address this issue about how we fund this."

Lewis spent the morning briefing City Council members on the need for state-backed borrowing of $137 million in bonds. The council is expected to vote on that issue Tuesday afternoon.

Lewis said progress continues on reaching an agreement with the state soon. He stopped short of saying the mayor would not sign an agreement that wouldn't have cash attached to it.

Lewis called references to Public Act 4, the state's emergency manager law, and the term consent agreement "toxic when you are trying to get a deal done," so the city wants the agreement called something else.

"What we felt, what was the outcome? Financial stability," he said. "So that's what we felt this agreement should be called."

Lewis said "I think we're comfortable with" current discussions of who will appoint members to a nine-member financial advisory board that will oversee the city's financial restructuring. The current plan gives the governor four appointees, the mayor and council two each, and the governor and mayor would decide on the ninth appointee.

"To be clear, the folks that we would envision on this board would not have a political lean to them," Lewis said. "These folks should be there to really drive to a common goal of helping the city and turn itself around and become financially stable."

Lewis said the city is also proposing the creation of a project manager who would report to the mayor.

"What we have developed in this agreement is that all of the elected officials - the mayor and City Council - would retain their elected powers and responsibilities and we would maintain all of this under the charter," Lewis said. "It's really important that those things stay in place."

That means the mayor and council would still debate and approve budgets — but Lewis said city officials suggested that they forecast the budget two and three years, out instead of just one year.

Although the charter doesn't call for a chief financial officer, Lewis said the city will go out and hire one at the behest of the state, but all appointed officials would still have to report to the mayor under any agreement.

Lewis said city administrators disagree with the state's assessment that recent concessions approved by city unions will not be enough to get the city out of fiscal crisis. City council members have also expressed doubt that the concessions will generate enough money; the council's fiscal analyst has estimated that figure to be about $8 million if the deals are ratified.

Lewis called the concessions "historic…. the city sat down with our union partners and negotiated an agreement when they didn't have to."

"It's something we're going to have to address once we finalize the financial stability, and we're going to have to reconcile the (tenatative agreements) to what we wind up agreeing to from the state," he said.

Lewis said the mayor is doing better each day and that they both meet every evening to update him on city affairs. "He's very competitive. He wants to be here."

lfleming@detnews.com

(313) 222-2072