Duggan details 'conservative' budget forecast

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — Mayor Mike Duggan's administration on Tuesday shared a "conservative" budget forecast with the City Council and his hopes to maintain a balanced budget and emerge from strict oversight by 2018.

Duggan opened Tuesday's presentation for the 2015-16 budget to council members by noting he's had "almost nothing" to do with a two-year budget set by the city's former emergency manager, but that he's committed to its execution.

The mayor said he's "quite confident" the 2015 fiscal year will end with a balanced budget, as will the 2016 fiscal year.

The city will adopt a 2017 fiscal year budget a year from now. If that budget year finishes balanced, the city could get out of a control period put in place under state legislation adopted in 2014, Duggan added.

The city currently operates under the controls of Detroit's new Financial Review Commission, which must sign off on its four-year budget plan, certain contracts and other financial transactions.

"In early 2018, we could return self-determination to this community," Duggan told the council, adding the commission "won't go away" but its input would be minimized. "It's going to take a lot of work."

Beyond a balanced budget for three straight years, Detroit must have an approved four-year financial plan and post every contract that the city awards online within 30 days, among other things.

But even if Detroit achieves its goals, it must remain cautious, Duggan said.

"If we get out (of oversight) in 2018, and we run a deficit in 2019, they (the review commission) come back, and we have to start the three-year period all over again," Duggan warned.

Council President Brenda Jones on Tuesday said that while the work on the budget is done, "our work is just beginning." She also expressed her confidence in the city's ability to balance its books.

"I'm looking forward to keeping a balanced budget for the next three years and even years to come after that," she said.

The mayor appeared before the council one day after the review board adopted Detroit's revenue estimates for the coming fiscal years.

On Monday, Detroit's Chief Financial Officer John Hill detailed the financial forecasts for the nine-member commission. For 2015, the city projects general fund revenues will be $1.39 billion. The budget projections were also the subject of a state-mandated revenue estimating conference on Friday.

Hill on Monday told the review commission that in 2016, the city's reserve fund will be bigger than projected.

Then-Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr set a two-year budget prior to his exit in December.

The estimates adopted by the review commission peg general fund revenues around $1.39 billion for 2015, up slightly from the $1.35 billion laid out in Orr's budget plan. The 2016 fiscal budget estimate is $1.08 billion, lower than Orr's $1.16 billion projection.

More than 60 percent of general fund revenues are income, property, wagering and utility taxes, plus state revenue sharing dollars. The remaining is from sales and service fees.

Duggan noted the city has "serious deficiencies" in its income tax collection, the city's largest revenue source.

Avenues and legislation are being evaluated to improve those collections, he said, noting a five-step strategy. By April 2016, the state will have taken over collection of the city's income tax.

Duggan voiced his support for a statewide ballot initiative in May to boost road repair funding by $1.2 billion annually.

If the measure is voted down and the Legislature decides to come up with general fund monies to pay for the road problems, it has the potential to negatively impact state revenue sharing allocations. "That's what I see the risk being," he said.

The city must submit a four-year budget plan to review commission by March 23, or 100 days before the state of the city's fiscal year on July 1.

After the mayor and the City Council sign off on the budget, the review commission will have 30 days to approve or reject the financial plan, officials said.