Detroit mayor vetoes city budget with “drastic” cuts

DETROIT (Reuters) – Detroit Mayor Dave Bing on Wednesday vetoed a budget approved by the city council that he said would have forced police and fire layoffs, cutbacks in transit services and loss of “millions” in federal aid.

The 2011-2012 fiscal year budget would “drastically compromise public safety” and the layoffs would require payments for accrued vacation and sick time that would bring Detroit closer to the appointment of an emergency financial manager, Bing said in a letter to council members.

In his April budget address, Bing said Detroit must cut $200 million in spending or face the appointment of an emergency financial manager. Under Michigan law, the emergency manager has broad powers to turn around failing cities.

“Some believe that this is the time to make drastic service cuts simply to send a political message rather than working together to address unsustainable structural costs,” Bing said in a short televised address.

“Our fiscal crisis is too important to become just another political battle where no one wins,” he said.

Bing in April outlined a plan to balance the budget over five years that included a temporary gambling tax increase, cuts to personnel costs and a one-year suspension on employee pension payments.

Detroit’s population has been dropping over decades due to high unemployment, crime, beleaguered schools and a faltering auto industry. The city’s population peaked in 1950 at nearly 1.9 million, but the 2010 U.S. census found 713,777 residents, down from 951,270 in 2000.

Bing’s proposed budget was $3.1 billion, including $1.22 billion of general fund spending. Detroit’s fiscal year begins July 1. The council made other cuts.

The council approved budget would have cut $8.4 million for the police and $4.1 million for the fire department, resulting in reduced police patrols and increased response times for police, fire and medical emergencies, Bing said.

The cuts also would force the shutdown of the people mover train that circles downtown Detroit, requiring repayment of federal grants that supported it and jeopardizing a light rail construction project along Woodward Avenue, he said.

The cuts also might have forced elimination of Sunday bus service, closure of some recreation facilities and cancellation of some revenue-generating summer festivals, he said.