By James Hanlon
Leader Staff Writer
Last week, Oxford Village Council voted 4-1 to approve the 2020-21 annual budget, which begins July 1. The budget’s general fund balances revenue and expenditures at $1,956,926.43.
The budget was prepared by Village Manager Joe Madore. It was then reviewed, discussed and revised by council at the last three council meetings.
Expected property tax revenue is $1,172,433.41 from 10.62 mills. There is no increase from the current millage rate. One mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of a property’s value.
The general fund’s expected revenues are $1,942,464.36, while expenditures are $1,956,926.43. In order to balance the difference, the village will borrow $14,462.07 from its fund balance.
As of May 21, the current fund balance is $658,655.17. The fund balance contains cash reserves that can be spent or saved at the municipality’s discretion. The Government Finance Officers Association recommends maintaining a minimum fund balance of two months of normal operation.
Village President Joe Frost, who voted against the budget, would “prefer not to dip into the fund balance, especially since we know state revenue share is down.”
State revenue sharing from constitutional sales tax is expected to be significantly down. The estimate in the budget was reduced from $309,000 to $249,000. It is uncertain what the exact change in revenue will be until the village receives the funding from the State of Michigan.
Frost is concerned about uncertainty in this coming fiscal year. “We need to be conservative on this budget. I don’t think this is as conservative as could be.”
Frost later told this reporter there is nothing in particular he would have cut from the budget, he just would have preferred to work it out more with council. Madore did a great job on the budget, he added.
Other councilmembers are inclined to revisit the budget in a few months to see where things stand and make adjustments.
“I think we need to come back to this in a couple of months and . . . adopt this according to what revenue sharing is. See how everything plays out.” Councilwoman Allison Kemp said.
Councilwoman Maureen Helmuth agreed “100 percent.” At the May 12 meeting, she suggested council adopt the budget now, then when the stay at home orders are all over, “we come back and amend the whole budget.”
Helmuth complained of not being able to work out the budget in person. “To do it over the phone does not work for me,” she said.
Frost agrees an amendment may be necessary later on, but he would prefer to be “proactive on the front end.”
The largest portion of the general fund budget is $779,413.86 to operate the police department.
Oxford Police Chief Mike Solwold requested council budget for the department to hire an additional full-time officer.
“This Department has been utilizing a part-time position in a 40 hour capacity to save on paying benefits for many years,” Solwold wrote in an April 28 email to the Village Manager, included in the May 12 council meeting packet.
According to Solwold, the purpose of a part-time officer position is to fill in when officers call in sick, go on vacation, or to help staff during a special event.
“During the Covid-19 pandemic I had a part-time officer approach me stating that his wife told him he should call in because why risk getting a diseases for a part-time position. This was an eye opener and a reminder as to how important it is to have officers to rely on.”
The Police Department currently has four full-time officers (besides Solwold) and five part-time officers. Since Solwold became the chief in 2017, he has lost six part-time officers to other jobs.
It is expensive to have a turnover like that, because it takes time and money to train new officers. It can take longer to train part-time officers because of their part-time availability.
“Officers can’t survive on part-time wages a few days a week,” Solwold wrote, “so they must seek other employment or they find a full-time job at another Department and leave after we have trained them in radar, taser, and breathalyzer which takes time and costs this Department money.”
Training new officers is a burden on the other officers because it holds them back from other duties. New uniforms also cost the department thousands of dollars.
Adding another full-time officer would entail borrowing another $5,700 from the General Fund as of current revenue sharing figures, according to Madore.
Solwold said adding that extra officer would still save the department money in the long run.
Council opted not to include the officer in the budget.
“I hate to say it,” Frost said “but I don’t think we should go with another officer, full-time or part-time, for now. If we get halfway through this budget cycle and realize, okay, revenue share has changed, it’s been more positive than anticipated, we could do a budget amendment and revisit it.”
Last year, Solwold requested and was granted a fourth full-time officer. According to Solwold, there had been four full-time officers prior to 2008. As a result of the Great Recession the department had to cut one full-time cop from its payroll.
The 2020-21 budget includes a one-time transfer of $200,000 from the general fund to the Village Capital Project Fund for the M-24 streetscape project.
By James Hanlon