After an initial set of cuts were made based on township council suggestions in an effort to lower the tax rate increase to 1.9 percent, the council took a second vote Monday, and, with a decision at 3-2, opted to set the tax rate increase at 3.03 percent instead.
"As much as it pains me to go above 2.5 percent, I am of a mind that based on the additional changes I have seen, some of which are reasonably significant, I will support the 3.03 percent tax levy increase because I think it does the least damage," said councilman Howard Norgalis. "But I think the budget still represents the opportunity for more cuts."
When the budget was originally handed over to the township council in March, the tax rate increase was set at 6.5 percent—.
At the April 19 meeting, the council decided in a , and set about trying to find areas to cut from the budget to ensure that levy could be set.
But after going through an initial set of cuts, the council was able to see the tax rate increase lowered to 3.03 percent—and the members were split on whether more could be done.
"From my standpoint, I certainly commend the administration for hearing from the council and taking another hard look at the budget, and coming back with suggestions that are certainly better," Councilman Matthew Moench said. "This is significant by more than half of what we proposed."
But, Moench said, he doesn't think that should be all.
"I am more convinced than ever that we could hit the 1.9 percent," he said. "In my opinion, the council voted for 1.9 percent, and the only question now should be how do we get to 1.9 percent."
Councilman Filipe Pedroso agreed, but added that he was never actually comfortable with even the 1.9 percent.
"I am not ready to go to 3 percent, I was already hesitant to go to 1.9 percent," he said. "There are things that probably can be cut more, so the administration should be put to the challenge."
But Township Administrator James Naples said he is concerned about what more cuts could do to the township.
"This is your budget, and we have tried to provide the guidance," he said. "We supported the 6.5 percent increase because of programs, tried to provide guidance and work toward a compromise, knowing the council's position."
"I do not believe 1.9 percent is workable, and I think it would be detrimental and hurt a number of different programs," he added. "We tried to hit spots that have the least impact on programs. But the administration has handed its budget in, this is the council's decision."
With the amendments made to the budget, as approved by the council, the amount to be raised by taxes drops from the originally proposed $21,580,373.41, to $20,912,497.41, a 3 percent decrease.
Changes in appropriations to different parts of the budget include cuts in overtime work and salaries for snow removal, the office of emergency management and the police department. The cuts in the budget also include a lowered cost for a township assessment because the bid from the outside company came in lower than expected.
The most significant cut is of about $144,000 to the police department as the council is considering altering a township ordinance that allows for three more police officers than are currently employed by the township. According to the ordinance, the township is required to fund those additional three police officers in case the department deems them necessary, but the change will eliminate the funding for those three positions.
For council president Allen Kurdyla, he said he always felt the 1.9 percent increase was too low, which is why he voted against it in the first vote.
"I think the 3.03 percent increase to the budget is closer to the area where I believe it could be," he said. "I do feel that 1.9 percent is too low, so I would absolutely support the 3.03 percent."
Despite concerns from some council members that cutting the budget to a 1.9 percent increase requires the loss of too many programs and people, Moench said he believes that there is room for more cuts.
"The council has voted for 1.9 percent, and my opinion is that's where the budget should be at and that's a sustainable number," he said. "The cuts the administration has proposed, while helpful in reaching the budget, many have no impact on how we do business, and there are additional items to be cut that will not harm services."
"I think 3 percent is too high, and most people have not gotten a 3 percent salary increase," he added.
Also being considered for change in the budget is an increase in capital improvements in the sewer budget after a vote to approve a bond ordinance for appropriations of $2,075,000 for sewer utility improvements failed by a 3-2 margin.
Four votes in favor are required to pass a bond ordinance.
Norgalis voted against the ordinance because he said he believes it should be a capital ordinance, not labeled as bond since the township is not borrowing money.
"The public perspective is that we are borrowing money," he said. "We are leading residents to think we are borrowing money when we are just taking money from the bank."
Director of finance Natasha Turchan said they could change the ordinance to a capital one, but it could delay the budget because an amendment is needed to appropriate money through the sewer capital budget for projects that include the North Branch truck line manhole rehabilitation, Finderne area rehabilitation and more.
"The bond ordinance gives a longer life because the budget lapses at the end of the year, as do funds that are not used," she said. "We would have to pass a capital ordinance to authorize the expenditures."
Turchan said this has to do with the sewer budget though, so it will not impact the newly determined tax rate.
Still—with a vote of 3-2 that had only Moench and Pedroso voting against—the council voted to change the tax rate increase once again to 3.03 percent, which will amount to an about $30 increase in taxes.
Norgalis said there are actually two parts to the budget that everyone should understand, and which goes into that 3.03 percent. About 1.34 percent is the actual budget for the township, and the remaining about 1.66 percent accounts for extraordinary expenses carried over from 2011, including litigation and emergency appropriations.
Public hearing for the budget and these new amendments—including the one concerning the sewer capital funds—with the change in tax rate increase will be held May 21.