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Reps. propose communities maintain PAT to save money

January 26, 2011 - From households to governments, everybody's tightening their belts these days.

That's why Orion Township Treasurer Alice Young and Trustee JoAnn Van Tassel submitted a proposal last week to the Polly Ann Trail Management Council to make its budget leaner and operations more efficient.

"The whole object, of course, is to try to cut costs," said Young, who serves on the trail council with Van Tassel. "We're all trying to cut costs – all the townships and villages – with taxable values going down."

The 14.6-mile non-motorized trail runs through Addison, Oxford and Orion townships along with the villages of Leonard and Oxford. As such, each community helps fund its upkeep through annual contributions and oversees its operation by appointing representatives to serve on the PAT Management Council.

The heart of Young and Van Tassel's proposal involves each of the five communities taking on the added responsibility of maintaining its own section of trail.

Right now, the largest line item in the PAT budget is $15,000 annually for the trail manager position.

"A large percentage of the trail manager's time is spent on maintaining the trail," the proposal stated. "If the various municipalities would assume some or all of the routine maintenance in their respective communities, the trail manager's duties could either be curtailed thereby lowering his/her annual compensation, or better utilized for grant writing and promotion of the trail."

Right now, Addison Township has 5 miles of the trail, Oxford Township has 4 miles, Orion Township 3.4 miles, Leonard Village 1.3 miles and Oxford Village 0.90 miles.

Young noted her proposal is patterned after how the Paint Creek Trail, which also runs through Orion, is maintained by its communities.

Having each community do its own regular maintenance would also curtail the budget's second highest line item, the $6,000 set aside for equipment/materials/maintenance.

Young noted her proposed change only applies to the day-to-day trail maintenance, not special projects or larger jobs.

"Anything major this council should pay for including a major resurfacing," she said. "We wouldn't expect each community to do that."

This proposal comes as the trail council is in the process of seeking a new manager. The previous one, Troy Farwell, resigned in December. To take his place, council last week contracted with Lois Golden to be the interim manager at a rate of $20 per hour with a maximum of $400 per month.

Golden served as PAT manager from 2004-06 and as director of Lake Orion's Downtown Development Authority from 2006-09.

For the most part, the cost-saving proposal met with favorable comments.

"I'm not opposed to asking our communities if they can handle this," said Council Member Sue Bellairs, who represents Oxford Township.

Council Member Pauline Blanka, who represents Leonard, noted that her village's DPW already does many things for the trail including cutting tree limbs, cleaning the restrooms and plowing the parking lot at the trailhead, and mowing.

"I think it's good that we are (doing this)," she said.

It was noted that Orion Township also currently maintains its section of trail.

However, some officials expressed reservations, including Oxford Township Treasurer Joe Ferrari, who was sitting in the audience. "I wouldn't have each community do it," he said.

Ferrari feared there would be complaints if one community did a better job of maintaining the trail than another.

"My idea of good might be different than your idea of good," the treasurer explained.

He suggested the best way to handle it would be to bid out maintenance for the entire trail as a single job to be performed by one contractor. Each community could then pay a percentage of that price.

Trail Council Member Bob Godkin, of Addison, agreed that there needs to be "consistency" in how the trail is maintained.

"You can't have Addison doing it one way and Oxford doing it one way," he said.

Godkin's concerned that Addison Township, which has no DPW or parks and recreation department, won't be able to adequately maintain 5 miles worth of trail.

"I'm not saying it's impossible, but it would be pretty darn hard to get enough volunteers out there to take care of that trail like it should be," he said. "I don't know where you're going to get the labor to take care of the trail like it's been taken care of."

Blanka noted there are already volunteer groups maintaining designated sections of the trail and there have been no complaints.

"I don't think it always has to be done exactly the same," she said. "If the community's willing to do it, they should be able to do it."

Although she favored bringing the proposal back to the respective municipal boards and gathering facts, Bellairs urged the trail council to keep in mind that some communities have more money than others and some have resources like a DPW or parks department, while others do not.

"We don't want to lose the whole aspect of it (being) a community trail and we have to take care of it equally," she said. "It isn't who has the most money wins; it's a community trail."

Young and Van Tassel also suggested the possibility of reducing the trail council's meeting schedule from monthly to bimonthly or quarterly, thereby placing less demand on the trail manager's time.

Each municipality is expected to discuss the reorganization proposal at its respective board meeting and provide input for the trail council's next meeting in February.

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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