By Rosemary K. Otzman
A proposed budget of $15,039,055, up from the 2014 budget of $13,657,027, was discussed at length by the Van Buren Township Board of Trustees during two days of meetings last week.
Also discussed were the amendments to the 2014 budget.
VBT Supervisor Linda Combs had prepared the proposed budget for their consideration.
Under state law, both the amended budget and the proposed budget must be approved by the board by the end of the year.
Some of the expenditures discussed were:
• The Museum. Last year there was talk of closing the museum or putting the director back to part-time status because of funding problems, but then the township decided to keep on funding the museum as is. The problem continues. The township is the only municipality paying its share — $32,000 – of the tri-community agreement. The City of Belleville pays $10,000 from its general fund and the Belleville Downtown Development Authority adds another $1,000. Sumpter Township cut off paying anything in March 1998 when it was having serious budget problems. Supervisor Combs said she has left messages for the leadership of Belleville and Sumpter, but they have not returned her calls. Board members asked her to set up a meeting with city officials and its DDA Coordinator Carol Thompson to talk about the museum. Also, the township will look into using some of its new EQ tipping funds that were expected to be $260,000 a year, but have come in at more than $400,000;
• Raises. The budget proposes 1.5% raises for everyone;
• Supervisor’s Office. Board members again questioned Combs’ plan to hire a new executive assistant at a salary of $65,433, now that Karin LaMothe was gone. They also questioned the need for a confidential secretary at $13,536 ($13/hr.) for three days a week;
• Attorney. Township Attorney Patrick McCauley said he would not raise his rates for 2015. Clerk Leon Wright said directors are calling the attorney and, as clerk, he signs off on paying, but there is no way for him to substantiate calls. Trustee Jeff Jahr said the procedure ought to be formalized and, “I don’t think anybody should be going to the attorney without going through the supervisor first.” He said the questions asked need to be on file so people aren’t asking for answers to the same questions;
• Cable. Director Alwena McCrackin showed off her quad copter (drone) she bought for under $3,000 with cable TV “peg” fees. She showed aerial photos taken with the drone. Then she asked for a staff of 2-4 part timers and a substantial raise, from $37,764 to $60,000, saying she is being paid less because she is female and male department directors get more. She was told the board would consider her request;
• Senior Services. Senior Director Lynette Jordan also wanted a raise from the present $49,000 to $60,000. She also asked for her part-time senior coordinator position to be put back to full time, as it was in 2008. Jordan also would like to get rid of the shuffleboard court and replace it with a greenhouse so the seniors can grow herbs, vegetables and flowers. The board said they would consider her requests;
• Internet Technology. Steve Rankin, director of the IT Department, did not ask for a raise from his proposed $69,487, that includes the 1.5% raise. The Public Safety IT Coordinator Ken Dandy was moved into the IT Department for 2015. He will get $58,322. Also the new GIS IT employee will be under Rankin. He said there will be no problem for dispatch to be able to set off the proposed emergency sirens, send out a Nixle alert, and put a notice on cable TV all at the same time. Also, a change from Springbrook to a new software for use by the treasurer’s department was discussed. The change would cost $170,000, but it was supported by Treasurer Sharry Budd. The board agreed this merited more discussion;
• iPads for the Board. Clerk Wright said the board has been talking about going paperless and he has a price of $6,090 for ten iPads, at a total cost of $9,370. The ten would be for the seven board members, plus Rankin, McCrackin, and Deputy Clerk Joanne Montgomery. He said the iPads would do a bunch of stuff instead of killing trees. The cell phone hookup is $30 each the first month and then $10 a month after that. Trustee Phil Hart said, “The pricing is good, but does the board want to do it?”;
• Public Safety Department. Public Safety Director Greg Laurain read a 12-page report on the proposed 2015 budget and then last Wednesday’s budget session was adjourned and continued on Thursday morning. The proposed budget totals were up in all sections of his department: police, fire, dispatch, and animal control.
Last year, the VBT Board held a second budget session before finalizing the budget in the last meeting in December.
By Rosemary K. Otzman