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Township's 2012 budget finalized

December 21, 2011 - By Joe St. Henry

Review Editor

Members of the Orion Township Board, approaching a state-mandated year-end deadline, approved the community's 2012 budget on Monday, Dec. 19.

Faced with continued revenue declines, the board allocated money from township's general fund to provide a balanced budget – at this point, approximately $835,500 to cover a projected shortfall. Going into 2012, the general fund balance is $4.8 million.

Township Treasurer Alice Young was not thrilled about making this move.

"We can't sustain taking a (potential) hit to the general fund like this next year," she said before the meeting. "We have to give serious thought to making additional cost-cutting moves in 2013."

Township Supervisor JoAnn Van Tassel, however, pointed out a similar general fund allocation to balance the budget in 2011 did not materialize. In fact, the township added nearly $600,000 to the fund this year.

"We accomplished this through careful spending and, if we do the same next year, I hope we will be able to add money to the fund again."

Township officials also hope property values begin to recover, which will add revenue. "We're hoping they have leveled off and we'll start seeing increases next year," Young said.

A series of special budget workshops and other meetings were held during the fall with township department heads and others to determine how to save money amid continued revenue declines, while maintaining adequate services to township residents.

The possibility of cutting township positions to reduce expenses was not really an option, the supervisor said.

"We made massive cuts two or three years ago," she said. "Our staffing is at a good level now. There's nothing to gain just to cut."

Overall, Van Tassel thought the budget process went fairly smooth.

"It was a little hard piece-mealing the budget in the workshops, but I got good input from the board this way," she said.

Trustee John Steimel, however, was not sure if department heads answered his budget questions clearly.

Nevertheless, Van Tassel was pleased with the board's ability to not only set the budget for next year, but also establish forecast budgets through 2015. This process was new compared to years past.

"Forecasting will help provide early warning signs of trouble down the road and help us keep track of what areas to look at moving forward," she said.

The supervisor admitted the forecasts are based on assumptions that may or may not come true. For example, if the nation gets a handle on healthcare costs, she said, maybe there will not be a 15 to 20 percent increase each year. But, she cautioned, "we can't count on this happening."

During 2012, the township also will be negotiating new contracts with two units of the Teamsters Union – DPW and clerical workers. Van Tassel said she expects to reach "resolutions to cost issues" related to healthcare expenses with both groups.

(The clerical unit's contract expired earlier this year; the DPW unit's expires at the end of next year.)

Unfortunately, due to a shortfall in the Police Fund budget – which is paid for through a separate voter-approved millage – the township was forced to cut two Oakland County Sheriff's deputies from its roster of officers that patrol the community.

"We realize revenues have dropped tremendously," said Oakland County Undersheriff Mike McCabe. "I'm glad for the residents' sake that it's not more than two officers being cut. We'll still be able to provide the quality police protection that the community needs."

The township board did approve allocating $250,000 from the General Fund to the Police Fund to maintain the police liaison position at Lake Orion High School, as well as two other deputies. Van Tassel said a special mileage to pay for the police liaison position and related activities will be put before voters in 2012. Next year's ballot also will include separate renewals of the existing police and fire fund mileages.

"If they are not renewed, then the township will be in a world of hurt," Van Tassel said. "The general fund will be depleted real quick to cover the police and fire costs."

Other key categories for township budget expenditures for next year include:

Buildings and Grounds: The $774,000 budget includes maintaining the township hall, Orion Center, the Friendship Park pavilion and Wildwood Amphitheater. It also includes management of the township grounds and fields, and playground maintenance. This department's roster includes two full-time and two part-time positions, as well as a number of seasonal workers.

Community Programs: The $795,000 budget now combines both parks and recreation activities and those designated for seniors. These funds will facilitate various summer and fall youth camps, township-sponsored leagues, instructional programs, fitness/health programs, senior tours and trips, and craft programs for various ages.

Management of special events, such as the Dragon Dash, Barn Daze, Big Rigs, Senior and Green Expos, plus the township's summer concert series, also are funding through this budget. The department's budget includes seven full-time and two part-time positions, plus contracted instructors as needed.

According to Community Programs Director Lisa Sokol, this department will manage the staffing and programming of the new Orion Center. She expects to begin offering classes there by March 1.

The new facility will cost more than the current senior center in the village of Lake Orion to maintain simply due to its size, but Sokol said the Orion Center is much more energy efficient.

"We provided the best budget projection we could," Sokol said in November. "The Orion Center really needs to be operational for a year or so, before we know what we are working with from a cost standpoint."

Van Tassel and Sokol both said the Orion Center must live within its means when it opens.

"The board was very realistic when establishing our budget," Sokol said. "We know there are still things that need to be purchased and I'm planning some fundraising to help offset some of these costs. We just can't afford everything out the gate."

The township also plans to generate building revenue through membership fees, class fees and facility rentals. A stream of seniors are registering to join the senior center, in anticipation of the new building, Sokol said, estimating more than 1,500 have signed up to date.

Building Department: The $548,000 budget includes building inspectors and staff, covering both commercial/industrial and residential construction in the township. Van Tassel said these activities increased in 2011 compared to recent years past and she expects this trend to continue.

"I've had talks with people interested in expanding a number of industrial facilities in the area next year," she said. "I expect our building inspectors to be even busier and working with the same staffing."

The department's budget includes five full-time plus three trade inspectors under contract and used as needed.

Clerk's Office: The $486,000 budget (plus another $161,000 for election expenses) covers three elections next year – a presidential primary, regular primary in August and general election next November.

The clerk's staff registers voters, coordinates absentee ballots, processes candidate applications, coordinates mileage announcements and manages election activities. There is no increase in staffing, with the department featuring the township clerk and five full-time employees.

Planning Commission: The $247,000 budget includes handling site-plan approvals for various buildings and processing applications. This department features three full-time employees.

In addition, the Township manages a Water and Sewer Fund that is paid for via user fees. Next year, the fund will be $10.3 million. This includes engineering and construction costs, with hook-up fees paid by homeowners and businesses, as necessary. Van Tassel said a large portion of the Water and Sewer Fund is allocated for Detroit water and sanitary services.

This department features a department head, along with eight DPW and two clerical full-time workers.

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