City Council met for a fourth work session this week to again discuss the budget. The purpose of this meeting was a final critique of the proposed budgets prepared by Deputy Treasurer Joanne McDonough.
After City Manager Todd Campbell introduced the meeting, Mayor Brian Marl began the process, by suggesting an additional small line item for the general fund budget. It would be a contribution toward funding a coordinator for the Saline Community Substance Abuse Coalition.
The busy leaders of the group do not feel they have the time to commit to the kind of work needed to make the group effective. They are seeking funds to hire a part-time coordinator who would become the face of the group.
Fire Chief Craig Hoeft has found funding sources, including substantial financing from Saint Joseph Mercy Health System, but more is needed. Marl suggested putting a place holder in the budget for a contribution of about $3,000 per year from the city.
Council agreed to the modest contribution, but wanted to steer clear of any administrative responsibilities for the new position. Councilwoman Linda TerHaar suggested that neighboring townships may want to contribute as well.
Council members asked a variety of other questions, most of which were about small details, and were quickly handled by McDonough, Campbell or Treasurer Micki Jo Bennett.
Councilman Dean Girbach was concerned that the statement of a $250,000 deficit reported in the Saline Post could be misleading. He wanted it to be clear that the city does have a significant reserve to draw upon when the budget doesn’t quite balance.
Marl spoke positively of the upcoming County Road millage proposal. In its current form it would be a four-year extension of the 0.5 mill tax that was voted in two years ago. It includes a contribution for non-motorized trails in an amount not less than 10 percent.
“I think it’s a solid proposal,” said Marl. “It’s not perfect, but it will be beneficial to us if it passes. And ultimately, not only will it be beneficial to us, but it will also give us some certainty and help us plan for the future.”
TerHaar asked about options available to pay for road repair. She wanted to know if there was any way to fund this besides pay-as-you-go and long term bonds where the city is paying beyond the lifetime of the repair.
A bake sale was jokingly suggested. Campbell spoke about the possibility of a special assessment levied for roads used primarily by a specific neighborhood.
“I resent the fact that the State of Michigan does not give us a plethora of options - enough tools - to generate funding to meet our infrastructure needs,” Marl said.
McDonough then spoke about a proposed increase in sewer rates. The cost for replacing the sewer main in Michigan Avenue came in much more expensive than had been estimated.
The city was forced to accept the sewer bid because it was a component of the lowest bid for the entire Michigan Avenue project. The city was “held hostage” as Girbach put it.
If the sewer rates were raised to pay the extra cost in one year, they would need to increase by 18 percent. By spreading the payments for the Michigan Avenue main across two to five years, as recommended by auditors at Plante Moran, the hit is reduced to 8.3 percent.
After his smoothing effect, the cost for the average residential homeowner will be an extra $17 a quarter, McDonough said. For the city’s biggest industrial water user, American Soy Products, the increase will be reduced from about about $7,000 to $3,000 a quarter.
Several council persons expressed appreciation for the effort to smooth the rate changes and ease the pain.