Detroit has third year of balanced budgets; state oversight could end soon

It's too late to impress Amazon — but here's good news for Detroit's image.
And city residents can't hate it.
Detroit's latest financial report shows the city finished its third consecutive year with a balanced budget. Topping that, Detroit ended with a surplus in the general fund budget of $53.8 million, according to a summary released Thursday.
That means that the city is poised to have its last layer of state oversight lifted, perhaps as soon as March.
"The law says if we have three years of consecutive balanced budgets, the state oversight ends," said John Hill, the city's chief financial officer

Although the state-appointed Financial Review Commission turned some powers back to the city in recent years, the group still approves all city contracts over $750,000 and those of two or more years in duration, Hill said. 

Officials said the city's turn-around has been rapid and thorough-going since Detroit hit bottom, financially speaking, less than five years ago. It was July 2013 when Detroit became mired in the nation's biggest municipal bankruptcy.

If the Financial Review Commission does vote to waive its oversight, it won't go away. Instead, the group would continue to vote each year for the next decade whether to resume oversight if the city somehow stumbles back into red ink, said John Naglick, the city's finance director — and a former financial director of Pontiac, during its time under three state-appointed emergency managers. 

Detroit's consistently strong numbers are accompanied by efficiencies inside city hall, officials said. The city's latest annual financial report — for the fiscal year 2017, which ended June 30 — was signed, sealed and delivered to Mayor Mike Duggan four months earlier than the previous year's report, according to the city's summary. Duggan is a member of the state's Financial Review Commission, along with state Treasurer Nick Khoury, Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones and others appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder.

Duggan issued this statement Thursday: "Balancing our third consecutive budget shows that this administration, in close partnership with City Council, is able to effectively manage the city's finances (and) helps set the stage for the end of active state financial oversight." 

The latest good news "provides a base ahead of the city's budget developmental process" to lay out detailed projected budgets for the next four years, through fiscal year 2022, officials said in a conference call Thursday.

The practice of budgeting for years in advance was pioneered by Oakland County in the 1980s, then became widely adopted by municipal and county budget setters over the last two decades, according to national experts on public financing.

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