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Down to the wire

Board denies budget

December 16, 2009 - When Independence Township Supervisor Dave Wagner was asked if his recommended budget for 2010 had changed since the prior Dec. 8 public hearing, he said "not at all."

"This budget is what is and it simply needs to be approved," Wagner told the Clarkston News Monday. "We got meetings scheduled immediately and we can look at this restructuring."

The budget was denied 4-3 at last Tuesday's meeting. Clerk Shelagh VanderVeen along with Trustees David Lohmeier, Neil Wallace, and Larry Rosso voted "no." Wagner, Treasurer Curt Carson, and Trustee Mark Petterson voted "yes" to pass the budget.

"With all due respect, I think continuing on this line with this budget is disrespectful to a number of members of the board. You are ignoring the thoughtful input and hard work we've almost put in all year," Wallace said. "There is just too much fudge that's gone on in here, we've brought this up to you and we don't have an answer to it."

Lohmeier said he's gone from being angry at former meetings to "disillusioned."

"I don't know who is giving you advice Mr. Wagner or maybe this is just you, but I can't believe we're here on Dec. 15 and you ran this same budget back again with some minor tweaks," he said. "I'm just stunned."

Wagner's budget he proposed on Dec. 8 public hearing included reducing one full-time and one part-time in Assessing, two full-time positions in Building, one part-time position in Clerk's office, two full-time in Parks and Recreation, and one part-time in the Treasurer's office, as well as the reduction of three Sheriff's Deputies.

According to Wagner the proposed budget maintained the core Parks and Recreation Programs, kept Deer Lake Beach open with an emergency phone, maintained Senior Center Staffing along with senior programs requested by the Senior Center and eliminated the Fourth of July Fireworks.

He also said the budget "maintains the services the community has come to expect from Independence Township." This included a reduced assessing department, a reduced building, planning and Zoning department, and a full-time ordinance officer.

Wagner brought the total $5,021,970 general fund revenues under with $18,562 under budget.

He reduced administrative departments of the clerk, treasurer, supervisor and assessing since the 2009 budget combined by 13 percent. He lowered facilities and maintenance by 10 percent, building by 53 percent, and 30 percent to Parks and Rec.

Lohmeier brought forth recommendations, at Tuesday's meeting, which he has thought was a more fair and balanced approach to the budget and was "taxpayer focused." His proposal maintained critical services such as fire, police, and public works, while prioritizing valued services like Parks and Rec., library, and quality of life services.

Compared to 2009, Lohmeier recommended a combined reduction of 21 percent in administrative departments (Treasurer, Clerk, Supervisor, and Assessing.) As well as a 20 percent reduction in facilities and maintenance, a 62 percent reduction in building and a 21 percent reduction in Parks and Rec. would maintain many of the special events, minor sports, and pre-school programs.

Lohmeier's "taxpayer focused" budget comes in $20,000 under budget.

VanderVeen said she feels like the "sacrificial lamb," because her work load hasn't reduced but increased and she's not sure how she will do it with the cuts that have been made.

"I feel I'm being unduly focused when there is other people (departments) who should pony up a little bit," she said.

Lohmeier also allocated $15,000 to general fund administrative fee reduction, and $25,000 allocated to capital/emergency.

Wagner said he had allocated zero for capital because they're not looking at any projects right now.

"There is nothing out there we're going to be doing in the near future or the far future from the way it looks," he said.

Petterson said at the Dec. 8 meeting he wanted to be careful when it came to the restructuring because he didn't want "overcorrect and lose too many people or too many things."

"If we get out there and just start slashing departments, cut, cut, cut, cut clear across the board. After all the smoke is cleared what have we come up with,' he asked. "You come up with a lot of problems, so I want to make sure when we're correcting we're doing it fairly, not over correcting because we're going to end up in a ditch."

Rosso said there was still time for negotiations between the supervisor's budget and Lohmeiers budget.

"My goal is to get a consensus," he said. "I don't think I'm naive to think this board cannot find a consensus budget, ever at this juncture."

Carson disagreed.

"State statute requires us to pass a balance budget, it does not require us to restructure or reinvent government by the end of this month," Carson said. "We need to do additional things down the road, but we got a budget we can pass and go into January and sit down and buckle our helmets on and go back to work."

The board will meet at township hall Monday Dec. 21 at 7:00 to discuss and vote on the budget again.

Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.
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