By Rosemary K. Otzman
At the end of a brief Van Buren Township regular meeting on Nov. 19, Ernie Tozer got up to address the board on the proposed budget and the way the agenda has been laid out to keep residents from “real-time” discussions of issues.
With public comment allowed on agenda items only before they are discussed by the board, “We have no knowledge of the details of requests or the board’s position.” He said he would prefer the public be allowed to offer comments during discussion and before the board votes.
“It’s been over two months since my last request for ‘real-time’ discussion by the public,” Tozer said.
Tozer referred to details of the proposed budget he read in the newspaper. Since the budget workshop was not put on cable television, the newspaper reports were the only way the public heard of the details presented.
Tozer said it was announced in the newspaper report that the finances were 7% over budget for 2014 and it was suggested all departments cut 7% or even up to 10%.
He said Supervisor Linda Combs was quoted as saying, “You can’t cut your way out of this mess. You have to generate more revenue.”
Tozer said three part-time positions were upgraded to full time and one position was upgraded to deputy supervisor. He spoke of money being moved from one line item to another to cover the upgrades.
Tozer mentioned the signing bonuses given to salaried personnel with the decision being made by the three full-time elected board members, “unilaterally, without board input.”
He spoke of the full-time Human Resources person that is wanted by the clerk. Then, there is longevity pay for people who should just be glad they have a job.
Supervisor Combs said there is no extra money spent, there is no deputy, no raises given.
“We have several things staring us in the face, such as the bond for Visteon,” Tozer said. “If something happens to the landfill, this township would be bankrupt.”
Combs said the township has people working on the Visteon bond and, “We are not operating at a deficit. We’re deciding how much to take from the landfill fund … We’ve been doing that for 12 years.”
“Nobody says we’re OK,” Tozer replied. “We’re 7% over … We’ve got our handing the cookie jar … You’re writing checks out of my checkbook.”
Clerk Leon Wright said he respects Tozer’s opinion, but, “We are not in a deficit … the landfill fund is a source of revenue … The issue is, how much to use … We don’t get enough revenue money to balance our budget … since 1994 we’ve been using landfill funds to balance the budget.”
Tozer said he didn’t make up the 7%, “It’s in the paper.” He suggested the board be a little more careful of what they say.
“Lay people are listening to you … I’m not making this stuff up,” Tozer said, adding the board appears to be figuring out how far to reach into the cookie jar.
Harry Rosech said he wanted to support Tozer, saying it’s not just that they’re into the cookie jar, but they’re taking out more than is going in and there will be a day of reckoning.
Cobblestone Ridge Estates
Following Tozer at the end of the meeting was Julianne Chard, who introduced herself as president of the Cobblestone Ridge Estates Homeowners’ Association.
She said people have told her they have heard on the street, at the hardware store, that the township is considering changing its Planned Residential Development (PRD) agreements and this is a great concern.
She said one third of the money from the manor at the front of the development has not been paid to the homeowners’ association, as agreed, which puts them $20,000 in arrears. The developers are using the cash to take liens off the basements built and that have gone back to the county for nonpayment of taxes since 2006.
She said quite a few properties are in foreclosure.
“Wayne County now owns those empty basements, which have been sitting empty since 2005, 2006,” she said, noting there is fencing around them and cattails growing in them. She said the basements are derelict and should be demolished. She suggested the township petition the county to demolish them.
Chard said she wants to know why there are no performance bonds, why they have been cancelled. When she asks for Freedom of Information Act access to the paperwork, she is denied for “client-attorney” privilege.
“Many of my neighbors paid full prices for their properties and they have a lot to lose,” she said.
Chard said the developers have 50 other developments across the state and this is only of the many LLCs they have.
She said there is no performance bond on $200,000 worth of paving and VBT continues to let him pull permits. She said homeowners are afraid “when he walks” that they will have to pay for the paving themselves.
“When you change the PRD, have homeowners sign off on it, 100%,” she recommended to the board.
Tracy Herold, secretary of the homeowners’ association, said, “As a taxpayer, I hope you will listen when we call, send somebody out.”
She said you can always tell the developer doesn’t care, but she hopes somebody is paying attention.
Combs said the township attorney is working with an agreement with the developer. She said the township staff is working to solve the problems and, “Unfortunately, things take time.”
In other business at the Nov. 19 meeting, the board:
• Approved the second reading and adoption of the rezoning of a parcel at 45109 S. I-94 Service Drive from R-1B (Single Family Residential) to C-1 (General Business) to make way for the retention pond for the proposed Tucker Insurance building next door;
• Approved the $14,000 easement acquisition at 12249 Ryznar Drive so a sanitary lift station can be installed;
• Removed from the agenda the proposed Consent Judgment between the township and Victoria Park, LLC, for completion of Victoria Park subdivision, a former Planned Unit Development (PRD). The revised agreement from the VBT attorney is slated to be on the Dec. 2 work/study agenda and the Dec. 3 regular agenda;
• Approved Resolution 2013-20 to be submitted with the SAW (Stormwater, Asset Management and Wastewater) $700,000 grant application to the State of Michigan Department of Environment Quality;
• Approved a lease agreement between VBT and Wayne Disposal for the Beck ball field for $1 a year for 99 years. In 2009 VBT entered into a host community agreement with Wayne Disposal and as part of this agreement and upon receipt of its TSCA (Toxic Substance Control Act) permit, Wayne Disposal will lease the ball fields to the township. Wayne Disposal will continue to pay the property taxes;
• Approved award of federal Community Development Block Grant funding for improvements to the Beck ball field. The three contracts for phase 1 work are: $111,775 to Sole Building for new dugouts; $23,038 to Davenport Brothers for new fencing on Field #7; and $52,621.09 to Superior Play for playground equipment. Over $48,790 of 2009 CDBG funds must be spent by the end of the year or returned to Wayne County;
• Approved The SMART 2014 Municipal Credit Contract, estimated at $20,000 for Recreation Transportation and $8,348 for Senior Transportation, for a total of $28,348. Local match of $32,597 is met by the VBT general fund and in-kind services;
• Approved the 2014 VBT Holiday Schedule of 13 holidays and the 2014 Board of Trustees meeting schedule, with only one meeting held in the months of January, August, and November. Otherwise, regular meetings are held at 7 p.m. on the first and third Tuesdays of each month, with the work/study session at 4 p.m. the day before; and
• Heard Supervisor Combs announce the township is looking into subleasing its Beck ball fields so others besides Little League can use them. A meeting was set for Monday, Nov. 25 at 5 p.m., to hear proposals. She said Little League will take priority, but she wants to make the fields available for other organizations to use.
Police Captain vacant position
On Thursday, Nov. 14, at 4:07 p.m., an item for the Nov. 18 VBT work/study meeting was added as agenda item #4: “To discuss the Police Captain vacant position.”
The item was requested placed on the agenda by Treasurer Sharry Budd and Trustees Brenda McClanahan and Reggie Miller.
At 7:30 a.m. Friday, Nov. 15, it was announced that the Deputy Clerk got a message from the Supervisor’s office not to revise the agenda, so the item was recalled. It was not mentioned at the Nov. 18 work/study meeting.
Historically there have been two captains positions in the police department. Then, in 2012, Captain Ken Brooks retired and last July Captain Greg Laurain was promoted to public safety director, leaving no captains.