July 04, 2012 - Clarkston City Council approved a 2012 budget with a surplus and a balanced 2013 budget during their public hearing on June 25, but the votes were not unanimous.
"We spent $48,000 less than what we took in," Councilman Thomas Hunter said of the 2012 budget.
The savings were due in part to the light winter, Treasurer Sandra Barlass pointed out. As a result of the mild weather, Department of Public Works (DPW) expenditures were lower and the city's utility bill was less than anticipated during typical Michigan winters.
As for the 2013 budget, which Councilman Richard Bisio estimated would have a $60,000 shortfall in April, "we've successfully dealt with what could have been a serious operating deficit."
The city is in a better situation than other municipalities, which are laying people off and cutting services, Bisio added.
"We do not have to dip into our fund balance – that's a positive thing," he said.
The city didn't cut services or staff, but balanced the 2013 budget by eliminating the Planning Commission's salaries, slashing the Historic District Commission's budget, and other measures.
All the council members agreed to waive their pay in 2013, and the Finance Committee "went through a lot of line items and figured we could do with less," Bisio explained.
Although he believes there's much to be positive about when it comes to the city's finances, Bisio is not pleased with the process the city is using to budget.
"We follow a process of spending first and budgeting later; that's not in compliance with state law," Bisio said during the Public Hearing.
On the other hand, City Manager Dennis Ritter feels the city could not be misappropriating funds because "our auditors have reviewed [the budget], and they are satisfied with it."
"As far as I'm concerned, that's a personal opinion based on [Bisio's] interpretation of the law," Ritter said.
Not only does Bisio feel the City's budgeting process involves misappropriation of funds, he also thinks it lacks transparency.
The city is "taking things that would be budgeted in the general fund or in the road funds and pushing them off into a fund that isn't budgeted and from which the council has not appropriated any funds or approved any expenditures," he said. "It's not transparent how we're spending our money and where it's coming from."
Bisio also has concerns about the city's long-term financial plans.
"If we follow the course of spending as we have in the past, the budget is going to be a guideline, but the city will spend more than what is budgeted and amend the budget later on to catch up with what we've actually spent," he said.
The city can pay operating expenses with its fund balance, which is the accumulation of surpluses from previous years, but "one of these days it is going to run out," he said.
As a result of Bisio's apprehension about the budget and misgivings about the city's process, he voted "no" on every budget resolution, and each passed 4:1. Mayor Joe Luginski and Councilman Stephen Hargis were absent.
The next meeting of the City Council is Monday, July 9, at 7 p.m. at the City Hall on Depot Road.
Clarkston News reporter