Department heads from the City of Saline met with Saline City Council to propose their budgets for the upcoming year.
There were several highlights from Monday’s budget work session. The Saline Police Department may finally have a resource office in Saline Area Schools. Police Chief Jerrod Hart is also proposing to beef up the police cadet and reserve programs and is also planning a new system that could see volunteers enforcing parking rules in city lots. Meanwhile, there may be new batting cages available at the Saline Rec Center. The center will dip into is fund balance next year as the city reduces its $150,000 subsidy to the center’s operations and instead pays debt required to repair the Rec Center roof.
City council hoped to hear from Chief Hart, Director of Parks and Recreation Carla Scruggs, and Department of Public Works Director Jeff Fordice Monday. But with council going pouring over the line items the discussion was protracted. Council spent about 45 minutes speaking with Scruggs, made it half way around the table with Chief Hart and did not have the opportunity to speak with Fordice.
One of the surprises in the budget discussion was the revelation that Parks and Recreation took in $104,074 more than it spent. Part of that was due to an increase in membership revenue. Some of that was due to putting off some capital improvements. That surplus leaves the Recreation Department with a fund balance of $559,151. But the city expects Parks and Recreation to dip into the fund balance next year. In recent years the city’s general fund has subsidized the Rec Center to the tune of $150,000 annually. The city still plans to spend $150,000 from its general fund this year, but most of that will go to paying off loans taken to fix the Rec Center’s roof. Only $23,000 will fund operations.
As a result, Parks and Recreation is trying to stretch its dollars. Some projects, such as replacing doors in the pool area, will be done over two years to lessen the impact on one annual budget, Scruggs said. The department is delaying plans to redo the south side parking lot, which is expected to cost around $90,000.
“I don’t believe we can get any more frugal with our programs. We’re always very cautious about getting the best deals and saving money,” Scruggs said.
Councillor Janet Dillon, noting plans to defer some capital improvements, asked what would change in coming years to allow the department to pay for them. Councillor Dean Girbach questioned the wisdom of delaying capital improvements while sitting on a $559,000 fund balance. But City Manager Todd Campbell said the reduced subsidy the Rec Center will quickly eat away at the fund balance.
Still, Scruggs said, the department is working to create more recreational activities for residents. One new feature this year will be batting cages that can be set up in the gymnasium. Scruggs expects they will generate revenue. With the closing of Curves and Snap Fitness, Scruggs is also hopeful the Rec Center will attract more members.
Mayor Brian Marl recommended Scruggs research low-cost projects that could improve the aesthetic of the Rec Center.
“It’s important to make sure the finances are secure, but it’s even more important to make sure people are using (The Rec Center). I think you’ve done an excellent job accomplishing that goal, of getting people in the doors, being physically active and engaging in fellowship,” Marl told Scruggs.
Monday night was Jerrod Hart’s first budget presentation as police chief. He made a couple of notable proposals. One of those proposals has been talked about for a couple of years. Hart proposed having one of the department’s senior officers working as a resource officer in Saline Area Schools.
“In the city of Saline we have five schools, over 3,000 students and 350 staff members who will strongly benefit from a school resource officer,” Hart told council
According to the proposal, the school district would pay about 75 percent of the officer’s salary. The city would then use that savings to hire a new officer.
“The officer will be assigned to the schools nearly year-round – in school all year and then doing things like Safety Town in the summer. For the schools this will be like gaining another school administrator if it’s done right. They’re going to have a decision maker they lean on for advice,” Hart said.
The city and school district are talking about a three-year contract.
Hart said he and Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Curt Ellis would bring the proposal to School Board in May.
The second notable proposal is a volunteer operation, similar to the one employed in Hart’s prior department. Volunteers in Public Safety programs are used around the country and Hart wants to use them in Saline. They could be used for parking enforcement in Saline’s public parking lots. The city has not shied away from tighter parking restrictions because it can’t afford to pay officers to enforce the rules consistently.
“We’ll give them training a polo shirt, a baseball cap and some khakis,” Hart said. “We’re convert a retired police car into a VIPS car.”
VIPS can also be used to watch homes and perform checks when neighbors are on vacations.
“In my short time in Saline, one thing that I’ve noticed is the spirit of volunteerism,” Hart said.
The program will be paid for in part by a $2,500 grant from the Washtenaw 100.
Councillor Dillon said she liked the idea because it would give the city a chance to enforce parking while keeping officers on the roads. But she questioned what kind of liability the city might face if they had an over-zealous volunteer.
Hart said all volunteers will undergo a background check. In addition, they would work in pairs, in part to keep each other in check.
Hart also said it’s his goal to revamp the city’s reserve officer program and cadet officer program.
Mayor Marl asked Hart about the department’s manpower situation. Currently, the department tries to have a dispatcher, sergeant and two road patrols on every shift. Marl also asked about a part-time force that’s dwindled to almost nothing, which he said reflected what’s happening in police departments around the state.
Hart said he sits in on Washtenaw Community College police academy interviews and he’s able to talk too many young, up-and-coming officers. Hart said he thinks he can sell young officers on the Saline Police Department by promising a wide-range of experience.
“You might not get the title of detective, but you get to follow a case from the incident right through to its conclusion. It’s a unique department,” Hart said.
In terms of manpower, Hart said it can be delicate system. With a dispatcher at training Monday, a sergeant worked as a dispatcher. The two officers worked the roads. That left Chief Hart to process a felony arrest at the courthouse in Washtenaw County.