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Green space, conservation added to Village budget

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At their third and last budget workshop last Saturday, Feb. 28, Village Council members approved motions requesting that Village staff include in the 2009 budget $100,000 for green space and $50,000 to upgrade Village-owned facilities for energy conservation.

The actions mean that Village staff will include these items in the 2009 budget, which Council needs to pass before April 1. The budget’s first reading will take place at Council’s next meeting on Monday, March 16, and a final reading will be passed within the following two weeks. Both readings will include an opportunity for public input.

At the Feb. 28 workshop, which focused on the Village’s general fund, Village Finance Director Sharon Potter stated that even with these allocations, the Village’s 2009 reserve fund, which is the amount in the budget not allocated to projects that remains at the end of the year, is about $1.7 million. The amount is more than 50 percent of the Village’s total general fund of $3.1 million. In recent research regarding the reserve funds in area communities, Village Manager Mark Cundiff reported that the funds ranged from 10 percent to 50 percent of the municipalities’ general funds, with the average reserve around 23 percent.

“We’re in very good shape right now in terms of our reserve,” Council President Judith Hempfling said. “At the moment we can feel comfortable.”

The Village reserve fund has increased even though Village income revenues are estimated to fall by about $100,000 this year, an amount that includes $55,000 less in income tax, $27,000 less in state and county revenues and about $20,000 less in investments. Operating expenses are estimated to increase by almost $200,000 due to increased personnel costs.

The reserve fund has increased in spite of those losses because the Village will spend less in capital projects this year, and the decrease in capital spending is significantly more than the decreased revenues, according to Cundiff in an interview this week. The Village will spend about a half million less in capital projects this year because the Village in recent years has addressed many Village needs, including upgrading roads and purchasing equipment, Cundiff said.

Greenbelt increase

The $100,000 allocation for green space was a $50,000 increase over the amount that Cundiff had recommended at a previous budget workshop. According to Potter, she originally planned to take the additional green space monies from surplus in the Village’s roads and parks programs. However, Council members stated that the greenbelt fund increase will come from estate tax revenues, which have in the past been earmarked for green space. Last year, the Village had more than $100,000 in estate tax revenues, Cundiff said this week.

Tecumseh Land Trust leaders had earlier encouraged Council to add at least $100,000 to the green space fund this year to bring the total to almost $250,000, after several years during which the fund has stayed at low levels. Jacoby greenbelt farms on the town’s western edge may come on the market this year, and Council needs that amount of green space money to preserve the land, TLT leaders said.

“Jacoby greenbelt preservation has been a 50-year-old goal that’s stated in the Village Comprehensive Plan,” Hempfling said on Saturday. “It has long been a high priority for the community.”

Council voted 4–1 for the increased green space allocation, with Hempfling, Lori Askeland, John Booth and Karen Wintrow voting for the increase, and Kathryn Van der Heiden voting against it.

While she supports green space preservation and supported the original $50,000 allocation to the greenbelt fund, Van der Heiden opposed the increase, stating, “We have to be cautious in these economic times.”

Villager Sue Abendroth urged Council to keep the additional $50,000 in the Village reserve rather than put it in the greenbelt fund, but possibly use it later for green space. However, Council members emphasized the need to set the money aside for green space. If Council later decides the money is needed elsewhere, it can pass a resolution to remove it from the greenbelt fund, according to Council Clerk Deborah Benning.

Council members were unanimous in their support for $50,000 for energy conservation upgrades in Village-owned facilities, a move that had been recommended by the Phase 2 report of the Electric System Task Force.

“This is money being spent that will recover itself,” Wintrow said. “It’s not money out the door.”

A request from John Booth, representing the Village Human Relations Commission, for an additional $10,000 for that group to fund activities such as the 365 Project, sparked additional discussion. While she supports the work of the HRC, the requested amount seemed excessive in the light of the need for fiscal responsibility, according to Van der Heiden, who also raised concerns that Council should establish a clear process for funding Village commissions.

However, Council funds commissions based on their requests and their projects, according to Hempfling, who said she supports the HRC request since that group has been charged with encouraging diversity in the village, which is a Village Council goal.

However, at Booth’s initiative, Council agreed to table the HRC request at this time.

Healthy reserve fund

The general fund budget also included an across-the-board 3 per cent pay raise for non-salaried Village employees, and $50,000 for the visioning/planning effort, which had been carried over from the 2008 budget.

The $1.7 million general fund reserve balance is a 10 percent increase over last year’s general fund reserve balance.

At the workshop, Peggy Erskine and former Council President Jocelyn Hardman expressed their concerns that the Village’s reserve fund was not unemcumbered money, but rather money that includes “set-asides” for future capital projects, and therefore should not be counted as the reserve fund. In recent years, previous Councils had identified “millions-plus” in capital needs that have not been addressed, Erskine said.

However, the reserve fund does not include “set-asides,” according to Cundiff, who said he is still in the process of determining the Village’s current longterm capital needs, and will include a plan for 5-year needs in next year’s budget. Many of the recent capital needs have been addressed due to revenues from the property tax levy, according to Cundiff. While upgrades may be needed in upcoming years at the Village’s water plant, that expense would be paid by the Village’s enterprise funds rather than the general fund, he said.

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