Ficano hopes to stave off emergency manager with more cuts to employees, selling assets

DETROIT (WXYZ) - After racking up deficits for six straight years, Wayne County CEO Robert Ficano introduced what amounts to a Hail Mary pass: an effort to keep the county out of the hands of an emergency manager and maybe save the CEO's job.

"If we don't find a way to make this happen, there are others that are going to make it happen for us," said county CFO Mark Abbo.

His message to county commissioners today was simple: sink or swim.  Abbo introduced the CEO's deficit elimination plan that Ficano hopes will slash a staggering $175 million deficit in just one year.

"The plan that was put forward today was very bold," said Wayne County Commissioner Shannon Price. "It's going to make a lot of people unhappy."

Ficano's plan hinges on making deep cuts and selling county assets, like its wastewater treatment plants.  Ficano wants to spin them off to the suburbs, who would create an authority to manage them.  Commissioner Kevin McNamara said that would be a tough sell.

"You're going to ask them to pay for the debt of the county in its entirety. It's not fair," he said.

The other major hurdle involves convincing Treasurer Ray Wojtowicz to let Ficano skim $81 million from the delinquent tax revolving fund and use it to draw down the deficit. But it's money the treasurer doesn't want to give up. Without it, Ficano's deal is virtually dead.

"A lot of things have to change," said Commissioner Diane Webb. "But they failed to answer how we were able to get the authority to do those things."

From the prosecutor, Ficano wants to cut a million dollars by losing lawyers and putting an end to looking into sexual assault back log kits that aren't funded with a grant.  Ficano deemed those as "lower priority" operations.  Prosecutor Kym Worthy hasn't even seen the plan yet, but had plenty to say about Ficano today at a press conference. She said her office can't keep up with crime in the county.

"I attribute it to a CEO who doesn't give a damn about public safety.  Who gives it lip service and doesn't fund it," Worthy said.  "We are really, really suffering. Seriously suffering.  We are not dispensing justice as we should, or as swiftly as we should."

If Ficano gets his way, things may be moving even slower in her office.  He wants to cut 7 more attorneys from Worthy's office, who says she's already lost 75.

There are the hits to employees planned, too: cuts to wages and retiree healthcare and pension benefits and increasing how much employees pay towards their 401ks.   

Employee Wendy Lukianoff said it means more anguish for her and her colleagues.

"It just feels like we at the bottom always have to pay for mistakes for those at the top," she said.

Ficano's proposal also called for the reduction in county judges, jail beds and limiting overtime. The plan did not include cuts to Ficano's staffing levels. 

The deficit elimination plan is subject to change and ultimately requires approval from the state.

Contact Investigator Ross Jones at rjones@wxyz.com or at (248) 827-9466.

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