Public hearing was for those who pay, not those who take
May 19, 2010 - I have to compliment the Oxford Village Council.
Last week's public hearing concerning the setting of a millage rate for the 2010-11 fiscal year went very well.
The public was allowed ample opportunity to speak its mind. I was particularly impressed with resident Jan Drogosch who was both eloquent and feisty. She used to serve on council and I sincerely wish she'd run for office again.
It truly seemed as though most of the council really listened to what the residents had to say and took their message to heart.
What occurred at the village meeting was an example of a productive dialogue between taxpayers and officials – something we don't often see around here.
There was only one part of the hearing that really ticked me off. That was when Oxford Downtown Development Authority Director Madonna Van Fossen got up and started cheerleading for the village government and herself. Now, I know it's a public forum and as such everyone has a right to speak, but Van Fossen's cheerleading bothered me for a couple reasons.
First off, she is neither a resident nor a taxpayer of the Village of Oxford. She lives in Orion and is simply an employee here.
Her stake in this community is not a home or a business or even a rental property, it's a paycheck and some benefits.
To me, a public hearing regarding the setting of a millage rate is supposed to be for the people who actually pay the taxes, not those who earn their living off of them.
Now, if DPW Superintendent Don Brantley or Police Chief Mike Neymanowski had spoken, I would not have minded a bit because both of them live in the village, own homes and pay taxes here. They have a real stake in this community beyond their jobs.
The part of Van Fossen's speech that really bothered me was her talk about the sacrifices being made by village employees like herself.
"The employees of the village – the police chief, the DPW supervisor, myself, the clerk, the village manager – have all agreed to take pay cuts," Van Fossen said. "We have all agreed to pay more of our health insurance. I share the same sentiments you do. I live paycheck-to-paycheck and so do a lot of these people. So, we feel the pain. We're all doing the best we can do."
"All of the employees of the village, myself included, are certainly out for your (residents) best interests as well," Van Fossen continued. "I, too, am looking out for their best interests. I, too, work hard at my job. And although maybe I don't pay as much as you do with your health insurance, the time and the effort that I'll give is . . . I feel as though I do a darn good job. I feel as though the employees of this village do a darn good job. We are taking concessions and we are doing the best that we can."
If she hadn't kept including herself in all this, I probably wouldn't be this upset.
It's true Van Fossen is taking a $998 pay cut in her annual salary (bringing her down to a mere $48,901) and has agreed to pay a combined $430 more per year for her health insurance and retirement benefits.
But what many of you out there in Leader land don't know is that back when the DDA was crafting its 2010-11 budget, Van Fossen was pushing hard for a 5 percent pay raise.
She requested a $2,500 "merit increase" and wanted to receive it as a single payout.
When I first heard about this, I was absolutely appalled. I even penned a column.
Here's an excerpt from it:
"What's wrong with this picture?
Property values are declining.
Property tax revenues are decreasing.
Governments – including Oxford township, village and school district – are looking for ways to cut budgets to avoid deficits or draining their fund balances to zero.
All around us, government employees are being asked to take pay cuts and pay freezes or are being laid off.
Yet, the DDA director wants a bonus.
Again, what's wrong with this picture?"
Fortunately, the DDA budget committee had the good sense to put the kibosh on the requested pay hike.
When I heard her proposed bonus was no more, I scrapped my column and let it go.
But listening to Van Fossen's speech about sacrifices last week produced so much bile in the back of my throat, I had to pen this column to set the record straight and vent.
To my knowledge, none of the other non-union employees in the village government asked for a raise except her. And the only reason she went along with a pay cut was because all of them were doing it.
Funny, she didn't mention any of that in her speech. Guess it slipped her mind.
Then again, there's no positive spin to the truth.
NOTE: I had a good time last week serving up meatballs at the Oxford United Methodist Church's weekly free community meal.
The folks I served were all so grateful and appreciative that I must commend the church for creating this wonderful program and commend all the volunteers who put on this dinner every Wednesday from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.
From the kitchen staff to my fellow servers to the cleanup crew, these are the type of volunteers that make a community great.
They're not sitting around coming up with marketing slogans, T-shirt ideas and glossy ads to promote their cause. They're simply rolling up their sleeves and feeding their fellow man – that's real community spirit.
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.