By Rosemary K. Otzman
The Van Buren Township Board of Trustees met in a special work/study meeting on Monday to consider proposed amendments to the $13.6 million budget for 2013 and to look at ways to cut the 2014 budget they will be putting together.
The amended budget will be put into official format and presented to the board at an upcoming workshop for further discussion.
The 2014 budget hearings will be at days set aside in October, but board members will be considering ways to cut the budget before then.
Treasurer Sharry Budd said $800,000 is coming to the budget from unrestrained landfill funds and that needs to be cut back.
Deputy Supervisor Karin LaMothe gave a presentation on $444,437 in new, departmental cuts, but she included as part of the total the unexpected reimbursement from the U.S. Coast Guard for the Princess Laura sinking.
VBT had paid $15,299.50 to the Western Wayne County Fire Department Mutual Aid Association for the work on Princess Laura and on July 1 the USCG awarded VBT $18,781.19 for its claim.
Trustee Jeff Jahr said that shouldn’t have been listed as part of the reduced expenses, since the township had paid for the work out of its “other” account and was being reimbursed, with about $3,000 extra, that would go back into that account.
LaMothe noted that several projects are being postponed from the 2013 budget until early 2014, including technology infrastructure and HVAC upgrades. Jahr said this was only kicking the problem down the road, if those projects needed to be done.
She listed reduced 2013 expenses made by directors and noted that during the week of July 15-19, all VBT employees were asked to submit anonymous suggestions for cost savings and revenue enhancements. The suggestions were provided in a list for the board to consider.
She also presented a spreadsheet, put together by her and DDA Director Susan Ireland, with tax information from SEMCOG and Wayne County about the 43 communities in Wayne County, not counting Northville and Grosse Pointe Shores, which are in multiple counties.
She said Sumpter Township was the only community in the county that paid lower taxes than VBT. Both pay the 0.7 library operating millage, but that was not included in the totals because the money goes directly to the library.
VBT has a tax rate of 4.9144 (4 mills for public safety plus .9144 for township operating), which amounts to an estimated $157.71 tax dollar paid per resident.
Sumpter Township has a tax rate of 4.7904 (3 mills for police, 1 mill for fire, and 0.7904 for township operating), which amounts to an estimated $156.68 tax dollar paid per resident.
Actually, the City of Woodhaven has the lowest with $123.20 tax dollar per resident.
City of Belleville residents pay twice as much as VBT or Sumpter, with a tax rate of 18.1260 mills and tax dollar paid per resident of $356.99, plus the 0.7 library millage.
Although some municipalities charge for trash removal, Treasurer Budd pointed out VBT residents have never had to pay for trash removal because of an agreement with the landfill.
When Trustee Brenda McClanahan asked how much the township had in its fund balance, Budd said $3.9 million. The landfill account is separate and carries $8 million more, Budd said.
When Trustee Reggie Miller asked how the township is compared to last year at this time, Budd said, “We’re in worse shape this year than last year,” adding, “We are taking in less and less.”
Trustee McClanahan said with the police not hiring two officers, as planned, but just one this year, “Your overtime will start going up.”
Public Safety Director Greg Laurain said he has reduced his department’s total by $100,000, but he has money in there to hire two officers, but he is worried about the costs of benefits. He said he is down to 39 sworn officers, including himself, from 46 officers four years ago. He said one officer is retiring this year and two officers retiring next year.
“We need full and frank budget hearings when putting together the 2014 budget,” Jahr said, referring to police needs.
There was discussion about how to use the funds available to provide what the residents want.
Clerk Leon Wright said the landfill funds are expected to run out in 11 years and, “We’ve got to start making adjustments now… What are you going to live off of, what level of services will you have in 11 years? … You can’t just flip the script overnight.”
After more discussion, former Supervisor Paul White said he felt they were putting a lot of pressure on the directors by requiring the directors to write up narratives on their budget cuts in a short period of time, as they had been discussing.
He noted that there has been a drastic decline in general fund revenue from 2008 to 2013, with property taxable values dropping 25.7% from 2008-12.
White criticized some of the recent budget decisions and said the 2012 Audited General Fund Budget could very easily be used as a guideline in amending the 2013 general budget.
Although White didn’t read the final lines on his prepared remarks that were provided to the press, his statement to Supervisor Linda Combs would have been: “Come to work and do your job. Do not allocate your authority and responsibilities to someone else.” He obviously referred to the new role of Deputy Supervisor Karin LaMothe.
By Rosemary K. Otzman