This article is republished from Press & Guide, originally written by Briana Gaskorski and can be found here.
Despite several hearings, special meetings and study sessions, the Dearborn City Council has still not passed the 2019-20 budget.
One of the main points of concern in the budget is regarding retiree health care.
In October 2018, the council voted to take out a $35 million bond in order to raise retiree healthcare funding to 46 percent of expected levels. That would put the fund about 6 percent over state requirements.
The proposed city budget still calls for about $2 million this year to be put into the healthcare fund.
“I was actually here when you voted on the bond,” Eric Cullum, president of the Dearborn Police and Fire Retirees Association said. “I’m asking the council to seriously consider the actuary number, mainly because if not, what I fear is that in five years I’ll be back begging and pleading with council for more money even though the bond issue is there. I’m asking the council to consider keeping up with this figure.”
Cullum also said this isn’t the first time this has been an issue.
“The record says that we are 46 percent funded and 40 percent is the state level,” he said. “What I’m asking is that the council consider giving us a little bit more to reach that actuary number. My concern is, always, is that we seem to keep finding ourselves falling back into this issue and this dilemma which is basically, ‘we meant to fund it, but we didn’t.’”
Councilman Mike Sareini said that he’s always been very adamant about bonding.
“I know this was a difficult decision and we were on a time limit as the bond was going to expire,” he said. “We borrowed the money and we are making the payments, but I also believe that we have to keep our house in order and follow what the actuary states, which I believe states we have to put in $15.7 million which includes the debt payment.”
Sareini said by shorting the actuary number, there could be bigger concerns later on.
“By shorting it by $2 million when we are six or seven months from when we just borrowed, I think is not very prudent,” he said. “State law requires us to put at least 40 percent in and we were below, we met that by bonding. But to turn around six months later and say, ‘don’t worry about it, we’ll make it up later,’ in my opinion, I cannot support that. I don’t see how we can borrow money and then say don’t worry about we have to pay.”
Councilman David Bazzy said discussing healthcare is like herding cats.
“Unless you’re in the beginning where you’ve got all your cats contained, all you’re going to do is find yourself trying to herd cats into a process that’s changing,” he said. “Aging cities like ours with less employees, are going to have a difficult decision to make.
“As a council, we have to look at all of these things. For me, when we look at these numbers and we see the cost in the budget, the fixed costs that can’t go away and the other costs of operating a city for its 100,000 residents and its multitude of businesses that make their homes here and their employees that come here, we have real decisions to make. And in those decisions, there’s difficulties. If we stop making Dearborn a family-friendly place and we stop growing our tax base, we can stop worrying about whether we fund retiree healthcare because in five years at such a deficit.”
Bazzy also said that he hopes it doesn’t come down to the most difficult choice.
“If this comes down to a choice,” he said. “Between fully funding post employment healthcare or giving the community a level of services that they need to live here, want to be here, raise their families here, I’m choosing the families right now. We’re not at risk at the post employment healthcare, and healthcare is such a flux, that unless there’s a real change, we will never stop chasing and talking about herding cats.”
Paula Hamilton-Stokes, a retired city employee and Dearborn resident, said that while she doesn’t understand the ins and outs of healthcare in the budget, she does understand the promises made to retirees.
“The one thing that I’m sure of is that as an employee of the city of Dearborn with a young child to raise alone,” she said. ”When they came to me and said, ‘you will get no raise. You will get no raise this year, you will get no raise next year, you won’t get a raise for five years. You can deal with the bank any way you’d like, we can’t give you the money. Hang in there with us, Paula. You’ll get it one of these days but you’re not gonna get it now and what we will do is we will stand with you honorably and make sure you have your healthcare.’”
Hamilton-Stokes said that despite working for the same pay for five years, she was grateful.
“I was so grateful to have a job with the city of Dearborn, it was like a dream had come true for me,” she said. “I couldn’t believe how blessed I was. My whole life has been about this city and how much I care about it. My whole life revolves around this city. I understand that if you don’t have the money, you can’t pay the bill, but there’s an honor and a code to stand by the people who stood by the city when they were going through hard times. It’s a family, you stand together and do what you have to do.”
Hamilton-Stokes also said the she expects the city to pay her the same respect she gave them.
“I trust you all to show the same due diligence on my behalf,” she said. “That I extended to all of you when I showed up to work every day, thrilled to be here.”
Council President Susan Dabaja said that the city took a strong stance in stating they wanted to support their retirees.
“We have a duty to all of the retirees,” she said. “We also have a duty to the families that live here right now. We have a task of keeping up with our commitments and also creating a vision or an opportunity for people to believe that Dearborn will continue to be their home or that they want to be a part of Dearborn’s community.”