City Budget Exercise

This group activity is designed to simulate the City’s budget process. Its purpose is to provide an interactive experience that will help you better understand the factors that influence the City’s budgetary decision-making process.

Necessary Items:

Key Terms


This activity requires people in your group to play different roles. You will need someone to play:


  1. Create groups of 3 to 4. Each group serves as the City Council, and each group member serves as a City Council member.
  2. The mayor and City Council have $10 million worth of revenue to spend on all City responsibilities for the year. Each group’s task is to balance the budget, which means they can’t spend more than $10 million while making sure to pay “fixed costs.”
  3. The person role playing the city’s Chief Financial Officer will read to the group the mayor and City staff recommendations fort City Council to allocate the money.
  4. Four group members should read the scripts for the community requests (page #) The group will hear from engaged citizens –– City employees, City retirees, and general residents who will ask for more money and resources.
  5. City Council members must evaluate the requests and discuss amongst their group to determine whether they will change the staff recommendations to meet the requests. Council members should use the “Individual Worksheet” (page #) to make any changes to the allocation of money. 
  6. After Council members are done making changes, they should use both the “Budget Information” worksheet and the “Individual Worksheet” to develop a proposed budget.

Community Request Scripts

Members of the group should read these scripts to make requests of the City Council.

Note: The scenarios in this exercise are simulated. They might address common issues, but they do not reflect actual testimony or budget amounts.

Police Officer Union Representative

Good morning, Council President and members of the City Council.

I am Officer ______________.

I have been on the Detroit Police Department for 15 years. I am dedicated to my job. It’s true that about half of police officers no longer live in Detroit, but we do care about our jobs.

Our contract with the City has made us promises about wages, benefits, and pensions. In bankruptcy, some of those promises were broken. I am out here on the streets, and I see that some of the lights are still out and the dispatch system breaks down without notice while I’m trying to do my job.

One of the biggest issues facing the Police Department is the lack of trust between many young men in the community and the Police Department. This makes it dangerous for everyone.

I want you to increase the Police budget by $200,000 so we can repair precinct buildings and develop a program to build trust and understanding between young men and the Police Department. 

Firefighter Union Representative

Good morning, Honorable Council President and Honorable members of the City Council.

I am Firefighter___________________.

I have been a firefighter for 20 years.

There are still many problems in the Fire Department. Our firehouses are in disrepair, and some of our equipment needs to be replaced.

But there are still so many abandoned houses and commercial buildings in Detroit, and it’s very dangerous to go into most vacant buildings. On top of that, with the unreliability of the dispatch system, we could get trapped in a building and not have a way to call for backup.

The EMS vehicles are being replaced, and we are proud that response time has improved, but more work needs to be done to give Detroiters dependable EMS service.

Therefore, I am asking your honorable body and the Council President to increase the Fire Department budget by $100,000.

Thank you.

Youth Representative

Good morning, Council President and members of the City Council.

My name is_____________.

I am 16 years old and I go to _____________High School.

I have lived in Detroit my whole life.

People talk to me about Detroit’s glory days, but that sounds like a fantasy to me. I live in a neighborhood where people are trying so hard to keep up their houses.

The streetlights are getting replaced, but the traffic lights are broken half the time, and you almost never see a cop car when you need one. Some of the abandoned houses have been removed, and the Neighborhood Watch does look out for us. After school, I used to go to the rec center to play ball and hang out. It’s a lot safer than in the street. It has reopened now but the programs are really limited.

So, please, I am asking on behalf of young people in our neighborhoods, put more money in the Parks and Recreation department budget. Please show us that we do matter and that you do care. Please give us an additional $300,000 for the Rec department budget.

Community Representative

Good morning, Council President and members of the City Council.

I am___________________, and I am a lifelong Detroit resident of 68 years. I live in District 7.

I am here today because I am frustrated, angry, and scared.

We elected you to take care of the City, and it’s gone from bad to worse. I know you try. I know that these financial problems started 60 years ago, but I pay taxes today and am dealing with a constantly worsening situation.

As you know, the bus system –– in spite of so many efforts, is still woefully inadequate. Did you know that tens of thousands of Detroiters work outside the city? Many need reliable mass transit to get to those jobs. This is a crisis.

I am asking that you please add $400,000 to DDOT, because so many Detroiters rely on it to get to suburban jobs and to schools throughout the city.

Thank you.

City Government Retiree Representative

Good morning, Council President and members of the City Council.

I am a retiree from the City, and my name is_______________.

I worked hard for 35 years and retired expecting that I could count on my health insurance and my pension check, which I believed was guaranteed to me by the Michigan Constitution.

In bankruptcy, my pension was cut and healthcare drastically reduced. My wife and I are older and in poor health. I am asking that you reinstate City-paid health insurance for retirees at a cost of $1,000,000.

I know that the recommended budget does not fund healthcare for retirees, but I am asking you to reinstate City-paid retiree health insurance.

Because if not, I have to foot the bill.