February 20, 2014 at 11:38 pm

Ficano: Deficit elimination plan 'gets us to viability'

'The reality is, this is a good plan as compared to what anything else that has been offered through the EM or through the bankruptcy that (county employees) could face,' Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano said on Thursday. (Steve Perez / The Detroit News)

Detroit — Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano expressed confidence Thursday in his deficit elimination plan designed to erase the county’s $175 million deficit by the end of fiscal year 2015.

In an hour-long editorial board meeting with The Detroit News, Ficano defended the plan unveiled last week by newly hired Chief Financial Officer Mark Abbo, saying the plan imposes the least amount of pain to employees. The proposal may be bolstered by recent bankruptcy developments in Detroit, which showed people the difficulty of going through the state-appointed emergency manager and bankruptcy process, he said.

“The reality is, this is a good plan as compared to what anything else that has been offered through the EM or through the bankruptcy that (county employees) could face,” Ficano said.

The plan hinges on a $122 million deal involving spinning off a Downriver wastewater treatment plant to a separate authority and an $81 million reorganization that would allow the county to use a delinquent tax revolving fund against the general deficit.

The proposal also involves more than $23 million in concessions from county workers, including a 5 percent across-the-board pay cut.

“This is a plan that actually works if everyone is willing to step up and make the tough decisions,” Ficano said. “This plan gets us to viability; it gets us to stability and it’s not as Draconian and won’t hurt organized labor as much as if they had to face an EM or, God forbid, a bankruptcy.”

The plan would first need to be approved by the county commission and the state. It would then have to be ratified by the unions.

Commissioners asked Wednesday for further information on how Abbo came up with the numbers. Union members said they have already absorbed the majority of concessions.

“When we look at the benefits that are being cut and the wages, 80 percent is being cut on the backs of the workers,” said Al Garrett, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 25.

The county has been running deficits for years and is required by the state to submit the plans. Previous plans have been rejected, and the county continues to spend more than it receives in tax revenues. The county is expected to rack up an additional $30 million deficit this fiscal year if the budget is left unchecked.

Officials hope to have the plan passed by March.

When asked if the county was headed for an emergency manager if the plan were derailed, Ficano said he would try again but admitted the process would become more difficult.