Review board appoints adviser for city finances

Brian J. O'Connor
Detroit News Finance Editor

Detroit — The state-mandated panel appointed to oversee the city’s post-bankruptcy finances appointed a financial consultant and approved a version of Detroit’s four-year financial plan Monday.

At its regular monthly meeting at Cadillac Place, the nine-member Detroit Financial Review Commission voted to approve the appointment of Martha Kopacz’s Boston-based Phoenix Management Services as the commission’s financial consultant. Kopacz was one of two bankruptcy experts who advised Judge Steven Rhodes during the city’s historic bankruptcy as to the feasibility of the city’s proposed plan of adjustment.

During the final months of the bankruptcy trial, Kopacz testified that the settlements between the city and its creditors had pushed Detroit to the “skinny end of feasibility.”

Now her job will be to help the commission make sure the city sticks to the plan.

“Right now, the focus is on harmonizing the city’s budget with the plan,” she said after the commission’s Monday meeting.

That meeting also included the presentation of the city’s four-year financial plan, which remains a work in progress. City Chief Financial Officer John Hill presented the plan, and is continuing what he called a conservative approach to managing the city’s money while modernizing Detroit’s woefully outdated and decrepit management structures, including a purchasing system that still required administrators to shuffle pieces of paper up and down the floors of city hall.

On Monday, Hill discussed an approach that will build up the city’s financial reserves during the 2015 fiscal year, but dip into those reserve in the 2016 budget year in order to stay on track with the plan to invest $1.7 billion in city services and infrastructure. Hill also told the panel that he would convene an extra revenue estimating conference in May to get more accurate numbers, since a February conference was held earlier than usual.

Commission member and Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones asked the panel to consider — if city revenue is high enough in May to allow — voting to restore benefits for City Council staff members, who lost benefits during the fiscal crisis while the city was under emergency management. “Council has lost a lot of staff because people need benefits,” Jones said.

The commission also approved contracts, including approval to purchase 20 buses. Plans call for the city to acquire 80 buses, and the city has already moved to purchase 31 using grants and other sources.

The next commission meeting is set for 2:30 p.m. April 20, also at the midtown Cadillac Place state offices.

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