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Detroit budget process churns on with Law, Health Department talks

Another Detroit city department says it simply can’t function if proposed budget cuts go through.

The law department says “there is no way” the unit can run on what’s allotted in Mayor Dave Bing’s budget proposal.

Corporation Counsel Krystal Crittenden told the Detroit City Council the city’s new charter gives the law department new responsibilities.

Bing proposes slashing their budget by more than half. But the Council moved to restore most of that funding.

The cuts concerned City Council member Saunteel Jenkins. She feared they could actually cost the city more in the long run—and put it on a path to violating its consent agreement with the state.

“If we don’t have a law department, we’ll still violate the consent agreement, because we’ll end up spending more than what we currently spend on the law department on private firms who will be fighting these cases,” Jenkins said.

City clerk Janice Winfrey has also said she can’t run elections on Bing’s proposed budget.

The Council also heard about how the city plans to shift its health department to a non-profit. Bing’s proposed budget zeroes out funding.

Health officials propose transferring nearly all the department’s functions to an Institute for Population Health in Detroit. Such an institute would be part of the National Network of Public Health Institutes.

Health department director Loretta Davis says similar models exist in other states and a few major cities. And she says the plan makes sense because Detroit’s health department is almost entirely grant-funded.

 “One of the things that the executive office has consistently mentioned is that there has been difficulty in managing grants,” Davis said. “And so it believes that an institute would be able to manage these funds more efficiently, and more effectively.”

But Council members expressed serious concerns about the plan.

Council members JoAnn Watson asked why the city didn’t simply merge health services with the existing Detroit-Wayne County Health Authority. Detroit is the only city in Michigan with its own health department; others are run at the county level.

Others questioned the new non-profit’s status, and whether it would be able to be up and running later this year. It’s a brand-new organization established just his month.

Detroit’s budget process is ongoing. And because of the consent agreement, it’s very different now than in past years.

In addition to the Mayor and City Council, a financial advisory board, new appointees and state officials will have a major say in the budget process.

The city's new fiscal year starts July 1.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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