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Rescue plan falls short for parks



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December 29, 2010 - Independence Township Trustee David Lohmeier's bid to save Deer Lake Beach and Fourth of July festivities was shattered in a tie vote, Dec. 21.

Lohmeier and Trustees Larry Rosso and Neil Wallace voted in favor, while Supervisor Dave Wagner, Treasurer Curt Carson, and Trustee Mark Petterson voted "no." Clerk Shelagh VanderVeen was absent.

After cutting Parks and Recreation special events and Deer Lake Beach from the 2011 budget, Dec. 7, Lohmeier suggested a compromise. It would have amended the supervisor's budget by $64,400 and reduced pay for an administrative assistant, who hasn't been hired yet, from $80,200 per year, full-time, to part-time, $20,800 per year, $20 an hour, 20 hours a week.

Lohmeier said the office should be thoroughly covered, between the supervisor, part-time deputy supervisor, and part-time administrative assistant.

"We should be able to get good coverage of that office with those three individuals," he said.

Lohmeier said $28,000 of the reduction could be applied to Parks and Rec to fully support manned operation of the beach at the same level of service as 2010, and $20,000 would be designated to a Fourth of July Clintonwood Park event. The remaining $16,400 would be placed in the general fund balance.

"My concept here is to make due with less administratively to maintain the services people value," he said. "To challenge and give the tools to our parks and rec. director to take on the task we're asking him to do without hamstringing him."

The Township Board hired Ken Elwert as Independence Township Parks and Rec. director this past December. Elwert is the former director of Lapeer County Parks and Rec.

Wagner said the administrative assistant would not be his personal secretary, but work in many departments.

"That is the intention (and) that's how it's always been," Wagner said. "With those departments it's very hard to function without that assistance."

Rosso felt a part-time clerical position to coordinate with the deputy supervisor was a "reasonable compromise."

"I can't justify a full-time person when we're cutting back on services," he said. "If we can bring back what Mr. Lohmeier suggested, everything from our 2010 budget, that would be great if there is a way to do that."

However, Rosso noted he would like to hear from Elwert and see what he has to say.

"I think he's going to offer a lot of insight in what we can and cannot do, simple as that," Rosso said.

Carson agreed he was in favor of the parks and rec. activities too, but pointed out one of the strengths of the new director was "his ability to do things with very little resources."

"He's come from running a whole county parks and rec. department on less than a quarter of the funding we have in our budget for a township," Carson said. "I believe with the roughly $2.2 million toward parks and recreation, which is over 35 percent of the general fund budget, we can run virtually any program we want to run. I believe we need to give this new director the latitude to come in and make these things happen."

Carson said he wasn't interested in just "throwing money at the department" because the board feels it's available.

"If they were to come to the board and say, 'hey, we don't have the resources to do this and we can prove to you why,' then I'm more than happy to make something work," he said. "But I don't want to give it to them just so they can spend it."

Petterson said he had "half a mind" to vote for Lohmeier's proposal, but he too wanted to hear from the new director.

"I understand what you're saying and you make very good sense, but I also want his opinion before I vote for this," Petterson said to Lohmeier. "I would move you to table it until we can get him in."

Petterson also said the true cost for Deer Lake was closer to $32,000, once personnel costs were factored in.

Lohmeier argued the beach was "effectively closed" as an unmanned operation and residents will lose far more than $32,000 in property values.

Wallace said the township's goal is not to employ people but to provide services.

"We have running room, we have time," he said. "We should be giving him (Elwert) the concepts and saying 'here's what we want you to define for us (and) here is some money to do it with.'"

Lohmeier thought the decision was a "no-brainer" and was bothered by the "hypocrisy" of his fellow board members.

"To say 'I am 100 percent in favor of these programs, I don't want to cut any of them, but I'm not going to vote for it,'" Lohmeier said. "What got said that night for those people who voted no was 'services to the community are less important than whatever their political alliance happens to be.'"

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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