Ten members of the local VFW post sit behind bulletproof glass at the Pontiac, Mich., Police Department, answering phones, directing residents and running errands. They work a total of 60 hours each week to help a department that has cut about 50 officers in recent years. “Our main concern is to keep as many officers on the street as possible,” said one volunteer.
Last year, Pontiac borrowed more than $21 million to pay its bills, and voters approved four new taxes to raise $3.2 million for police, libraries and programs for seniors and youths. That might not be enough. The seat of Michigan’s wealthiest county is nearly broke, and it’s not alone. While budget problems in Detroit and the state are well-known, many suburban communities also find themselves in financial straits. Even such sacred cows as public safety have been hit. Michigan communities large and small have cut an estimated 1,600 police officers and 400 firefighters since 2001.