Troy, Mich, with it’s reputation for being one of the wealthier and safer cities in Michigan, has been seeing budget cuts for the past year and a half. City employees and public safety services continue to be cut without tax dollars from citizens. Director of Human Resources for city hall Peggy Sears discussed how the recent budget has changed the city since her 33 years with Troy..
Alyssa Firth: What is your job and title?
Peggy Sears: Human Resources Director
AF: What do you do on a daily basis?
PS: My job is to oversee the recruitment functions, although right now there’s not a whole lot of that going on, and labor relations functions. Much of what I do involves contract negotiation and grievance administration, consultation with employees, and supervisors and department heads.
AF: What kind of job losses has city hall seen in the last year?
PS: Tremendous amounts. In January and March we had two small layoff periods, but then in July we laid off 43 full-time and 82 part-time employees, so we’ve reduced our workforce by probably about a third.
AF: How is it affecting local government?
PS: Well I’ll address it in two ways. One is operationally it’s making the department have a very difficult time accomplishing what they want to do because they don’t have enough people to do it so they’re faced with reducing the level of service they offer and they’re not used to doing that. The public, however, seems to feel that we’re not doing enough, that we’re hiding funds, and they don’t want to see a reduction in service. So that’s made it contentious and difficult for the city to operate, trying to accomplish what we need to accomplish, thinking what we’re doing is for the public good, but then knowing that the public is skeptical, how we’re going about that.
AF: How is it affecting the atmosphere and work morale at the office in city hall?
PS: Well the attitude by the public has been very disheartening and people are kind of amazed at the distain that has been shown by a lot of the residents. In terms of the layoffs themselves, it’s been very demoralizing. Often times in government, you find that people are almost like a family. Many of them have been there for years and years. I’ve been there for 33 years and you get to know your co-workers very well and when you lose that it’s like losing a part of your daily life. That with having to do more with less just has put a strain on everyone. Those that are left are sitting there wondering, you know, “When am I next?” So, we’re facing additional reductions this coming July and it’s just made it a very difficult and unhappy place to be.
AF: So you mentioned the public isn’t really acting the way you’d wish?
PS: No, they don’t think that the employees are doing enough. They think the employees should take further cuts and we have received concessions from many employees and a lot of them taking furlough days. We’re negotiating additional changes in health insurance and we’re negotiating with the union groups, but what we’re negotiating isn’t the level of what certain members of the public, and very vocal members of the public, want to see. Then at the same time they want us to continue to provide the level of service we provided with the staff that we had five years ago and we just can’t do that.
AF: Are any changes be made to make improvements locally?
PS: Yes, many. Departments individually are streamlining what they do. They’re looking at getting rid of the functions that are not critical to their operations. City wide, we have privatized the entire building department. We have privatized the golf course. A significant amount of work that comes out of the engineering department is performed by outside consultants and we have hired an association of Troy to come in and do an efficiency study to see where we can further achieve cross-savings and also to evaluate our salary and benefits to see whether they’re in line with other areas. So hopefully from that we’ll get some results and hopefully also earn some credibility with the public.
AF: Are there are any state policies or legislatures coming up that might improve the local business or the local jobs that you know of?
PS: Not that I know of. Much of what comes down actually binds our hands from being able to do what we need to do faster or implements policies that are costly for us to put into play. The new health insurance act, for example, is going to increase our health insurance costs, no doubt about it, and right now we don’t know by how much. We can’t forecast what we’ll take into consideration next year when we do the budget, but that’s going to impact us and erode some of the savings we’re achieving with the current negotiations.
AF: What do you think needs to happen in Troy to create more jobs, or one thing at least?
PS: We need a millage pass. We have the lowest millage rate in Oakland County for full-service city and the residents don’t understand that and don’t appreciate the significance of the loss of property values and what that has done to our ability to provide the service we need to survive. Unless we can get additional funds from a millage increase, we’re just going to continue to reduce the level of service and just have minimal service to survive and provide residents with a safe environment to live. We aren’t going to be able to offer quality of life
AF: Compared to how long you’ve worked, is this the worst state Troy has been in?
PS: Absolutely. I hired in in ’77 and in 1980 we went through a very small round of layoffs. No I think that was in 1982, and two years later we hired some of those people back. We did end up privatizing the custodial operations, but that was very small in comparison to what we’re going through right now.
AF: When do you think Troy will get out of the slump that it’s in right now?
PS: The projections right now are that it’s going to be between 12 and 25 years for property values to get up to where they were before the recession. So until that happens, we aren’t going to see a change in the revenue that we need to make changes in the budget. It’s going to be difficult for quite a few years still.