July 18, 2012 - While most local governments are plagued by the problem of having too little money in their coffers, the Oxford Township Board engaged in a 31-minute debate last week over how best to allocate its budget surplus.
The township has a $671,803 surplus from its 2011 fiscal year. This surplus is part of the township's overall fund balance, which as of Dec. 31, 2011 amounted to $2.698 million.
"We are penny-pinchers," said Supervisor Bill Dunn.
Of the $671,803 surplus, township officials voted to allocate $250,000 to solving the long-standing drainage issues in the Elk View Estates subdivision (see related story on Page 3); $200,000 to the safety path fund; $100,000 for cemetery repairs and improvements; and $50,000 for road funding.
What will become of the remaining $71,803 will be debated at the township's Aug. 8 meeting.
It was Trustee Mike Spisz who lobbied for the township to make a decision regarding these excess funds.
"I push, every time we have an excess (in the budget), to allocate those funds somewhere," he said. "And if we are unable to allocate those funds somewhere for some type of project, we (should) give this money back to the taxpayers. That's why I asked for this to be put on the agenda."
Spisz opposes the idea of the township just sitting on all this extra money without having a plan for it. He said "in some cases," it could be argued that the township does "too much" penny-pinching.
"I wouldn't argue that," replied Treasurer Joe Ferrari.
"I would never argue that," added Trustee Sue Bellairs.
It should be noted the surplus wasn't created solely through the township's conservative style of fiscal management. More than half of it was the result of a onetime financial boon from the state.
Last year, the township received a lump sum payment of $370,918 in state revenue-sharing funds as a result of its population increase.
Based on the 2010 U.S. Census, the township has the third highest population percentage increase (28.2 percent) in Oakland County. It went from 16,007 (including the village) in the 2000 Census to 20,526 residents when the federal count was conducted two years ago.
"We're not going to have $400,000 fall in our lap every year," Dunn noted. "This is a one-shot deal."
Spisz kicked off the debate by proposing the allocation of 50 percent of the $671,803 to the safety path fund and the other half to road funding. That was shot down 6-1.
Dunn expressed his concern about putting nearly $336,000 into the road fund when "we don't even own the road."
All the roads within the township, with the exception of the village, are owned and maintained by the Road Commission for Oakland County. "What happened to the road commission? It's their roads," Dunn said. "If all these communities keep kicking in money to upgrade the road commission's roads, they're just going to be crying poor forever.
"They're the ones collecting the gas tax. They're the ones peeing the money away on too many people (at) the top end of the commission (while there's) not enough people on the (road) graders."
Dunn suggested putting $50,000 to $75,000 in the road fund "because we still have some road work to do."
There was also much discussion about how much to put into the safety path fund.
Some officials were concerned about the fact that whenever money is allocated to this fund, it seems to get spent fairly quickly. Dunn quipped that money "doesn't gather any moss" in the safety path fund.
"The safety path (committee) jumps on things and spends money because (after) we meet as a committee, the people go out and do things," explained Jack Curtis, a township planning commissioner who serves on the committee.
Spisz noted the committee has a priority list of new paths it's working to see constructed. The estimated total to make just the first four priorities happen is approximately $861,000. Prior to last week's $200,000 allocation, the safety path fund had $28,000 in it, according to Ferrari.
"When I was out there campaigning four years ago, people wanted the safety paths – they all wanted them," Bellairs noted. "They just didn't want to pay a millage for them. They wanted to use (the money) we already had and we're doing that."
Bellairs was referring to the 10-year, 0.25-mill safety path tax that was proposed in August 2008. Township and village voters failed it 1,686 to 1,164.
As for the $100,000 allocated for the cemeteries, Dunn indicated the money will be used to put a new roof on one of the mausoleums, resurface – or possibly pave – some of the cemetery roads and make improvements to graves that need it.
"We have probably (at least) 50 different plots that need to be upgraded because if they're not, we're going to have bodies falling out," he said.
The aforementioned burial plots are part of hills being held in place by old stone retaining walls, some of which are now crumbling and in pretty poor shape.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.