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Twp. rejects village offer to partner for $70K grant

September 15, 2010 - Too many questions. Too many concerns. Too many uncertainties. Not enough information.

In the end, all of these things contributed to the Oxford Township Board's 4-3 decision to not partner with the village in applying for a grant that could have meant up to $70,000 in planning services and staff resources from Oakland County to help both municipalities develop a sustainability plan together.

"I feel the county is to be commended for suggesting this type of a joint program," said township Treasurer Joe Ferrari. "However, I struggle with the fact that $70,000 worth of taxpayer money is being spent on this project when both the township and the village really know what we need to do for better cooperation."

The program is called the "Local Model Showcase Sustainability Partnership" and the idea is for the county to "work with two or three geographically contiguous communities that have demonstrated a commitment to sustainability and want to take the next step by collaborating to create and adopt an inter-jurisdictional sustainability plan."

Sustainability is basically an environmentalist concept that involves meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

"Such a partnership will integrate economic, community and environmental goals and identify and prioritize existing and needed efforts for advancing sustainability through the development of an action plan," according to a letter from the county.

The county plans to contribute $50,000 in contracted professional planning services and $20,000 in staff resources to help whichever communities are awarded the grant. The planning process would begin Oct. 1 and conclude June 30, 2012.

The deadline to submit a proposal for this grant was Aug. 31. The village already applied and took it upon itself to include the township in anticipation that the township would agree to the partnership.

Village Manager Joe Young told township officials it's a "great opportunity to move forward."

"It's quite far-reaching," he said. "It could involve a number of different aspects of our community and how we can continue to grow and sustain our presence here."

But township officials weren't quite as enthusiastic.

Trustee Sue Bellairs was concerned about whether this sustainability plan could give the county more power over the locals. The phrase "implement policies and measures" in the county letter bothered her a great deal.

"For a long time we've been hearing the county wants to take over everything. The county wants to eliminate the townships, eliminate the local control," she said.

Bellairs indicated the information provided wasn't clear as to exactly how Oxford would benefit from this program and if it would cost the local governments any money.

"At the end of the day, when the last dust has settled, what are we going to have and what is it going to do? I know it's going to cost us money in between. I see that coming," she said.

Bellairs also wasn't thrilled with the prospect of the county spending $70,000 in taxpayer money on things the locals already know.

"We already know what we need between the village and the township," she said. "I think we know the things that we can do. I don't know what this is going to do to benefit both parties."

Young disagreed.

"We do not know everything," he said. "We do not know what's out there, what's available, what we should be targeting, how we can benefit from what other communities have done. That's the value I see in getting that expertise."

Ferrari saw this grant request as asking for county money to do things the local governments "can handle themselves."

"If we really want to take this on, let's do it together," he said. "I don't need to spend $70,000 of the county's scarce resources on this."

But Young's attitude was if the county's doling out the money, why not take it?

"Someone is going to get this money," he explained. "Why shouldn't we have the money here in our community? We can benefit from it. It's going to spent. Why should we pass up our chance because we don't necessarily agree with the intent. The money's there. It's earmarked for that project."

Trustee Mike Spisz supported the township's participation.

"Yes, each community probably knows what's best (in order) to get us to work better (and) closer together. But it's still going to cost us funds to take those steps," he said. "I understand (Ferrari's) point, but if we can move one step closer and have the county help us, it would be beneficial."

Ferrari reiterated his main objection is the spending of county tax dollars.

"I know the county's struggling with their budgets, too," he said. "I just don't think this is a good expenditure of taxpayer monies."

Young pointed out the county is advocating and funding this program because whatever improves local tax bases helps the county's overall tax base.

"The county's using this as their way to help grow economically because it benefits them as well," he said.

Township Supervisor Bill Dunn, who voted against the partnership, pointed out that lots of money was spent over the years on numerous studies of the M-24 corridor and "nothing was done."

"That's my concern, that it's going to be for naught," he said. "That it's just a waste of money."

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.
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