Salted with Sharks

Council Meeting Report for August 16, 2012

In E Beach, Law & Order, On and off the Apron, Open Season, Politics, Uncategorized on October 1, 2012 at 9:15 am

Waiting for Somebody to Do Something

By Emily Votruba                       

BILL SOPER asked that “Parks and Rec credit card” and “village taxes” be added to the agenda. The meeting lasted two hours. Absent was Ken Holmes, who was recovering from hip-replacement surgery.

INITIAL PUBLIC COMMENT Cheryl Gross spoke about illegal vehicular use of the beach. “Our neighborhood has put up signs. Sometimes they get run over. Sometimes they don’t. Just recently somebody was stuck [in the sand] and gunning it and ripping [the beach] up like crazy. I urge you to please take action to put up barriers to keep the cars off the beach.

CORRESPONDENCE The Village heard from the state that transfer of M-168 ownership is complete. “Anybody have anything to say about that?” asked Reg Manville. “Means we have to take care of it now,” said Ken Bonney.

APPROVAL OF BILLS The July bills were approved. Receipts were $117,344.32. Expenses were: accounts payable $96,314.98; payroll  $9,466.58, for a total of $105,781.56. The Farmers’ Market brought in $420 and the Historical Preservation Committtee had $75.73 in donations; $450 in sponsor revenue had come in for Solstice. These figures are included in the $117,344.32. No expenses were reported for the month of July. Treasurer Laura Manville said that was because there weren’t any. Confusion still reigns in P&R over the financial report they receive from Laura; Linda Manville said because there was no bottom line figure each month it’s hard for P&R and council to determine what money is available for P&R projects. Laura will meet with members of P&R on October 2 to explain how to read the monthly financial report she compiles.

KEN BONNEY/DPW Ken replaced some sprinkler heads at the Waterfront Park, and areas that were brown are now green. He removed the old playground equipment from Anderson Park to make way for the new exercise equipment. At press time a community member had raised concern about the new equipment’s screws coming loose, and Jennifer Wilkins had gone out at 11 pm one night to put caution tape up around the equipment. The state-mandated water reliability study and general plan had begun,  with consulting engineers Gourdie-Fraser. “That’s why we had colored water that one day in town,” because of a pressure check on the fire hydrants, Ken said.

WATER AND SEWER Diane Jenks said the auditor would meet with the BLUA board in September to answer any questions.

PARKS AND REC Because he resigned as P&R liaison at last council meeting, Reg did not attend the P&R meeting. P&R VP and secretary Jen Wilkins said she and Michele Cannaert had gone over the financial report and bank statements for Solstice Fest 2011 and wanted clarification on two charges from Odette electric for about $1,500 each. She also said Solstice was double billed for a food expense, which made it seem the Festival had “lost” more money than it had. She asked for that correction, and that the record show that the beer cups used this year were actually purchased last year. Jen asked for discussion of P&R’s responsibilities vis-à-vis the Waterfront Park and Lifesaving Station. Is there a percentage of the Waterfront Park budget and LSS budget (which come out of the Village general fund) that P&R should contribute for maintenance? Should the two electrical expenses actually come out of the LSS maintenance fund, since they resulted in a permanent improvement to the building’s electrical capacity, rather than charged to Solstice? Jen also presented the budget for the movie marathon and said it had been publicized. She asked if P&R had permission to fund-raise for the beach road, the boardwalk planks, and other beach improvements. Council did not remark on this.

Reg asked Ken to expound on the electrical bills. Ken said the first bill was for an emergency temporary line to run outside the LSS to create enough power for the musical acts during Solstice. The second bill was for the permanent fix, with conduit and a separate fuse box.

Bill said since 22% of Village revenue goes to the maintenance of the Waterfront Park, he thought the electrical improvements should not come out of P&R or Solstice funds. Laura said this year we spent  three quarters of our income from the LSS rentals on repair and maintenance of the LSS, putting the LSS fund in deficit. Laura said she could assign the expense any way council wanted it done.

Reg said he thinks there’s still a misconception about P&R money, Village money, Solstice money: “It’s all one.”

Bill said “Park and Rec raises their own money.”

Reg: “No they don’t.”

Bill: “Yes they do. That $10,000 in our account [at the beginning of the year] was all raised through fund-raisers. It had nothing to do with the Village.”

Reg: “This is one of the things that we have wrong with Park and Rec. There is no Park and Rec money. It’s all Village money. There are two people in the Village that are bonded to keep money, the clerk and the treasurer. I’m just going by what has been told to me by our state auditor. You can go to him and ask him about it. There is no Park and Rec money separate from Village money.” Linda said she felt the P&R vs. Village money issue had created some very difficult times at the last meeting, that she had thought we were done with it, and that she would rather not discuss it. P&R president Connie Manke said:  “I think we need to write in stone what the rights and responsibilities of Park and Rec are. If we can’t have the support of our Village president, it’s pretty sad. I think the Village voted on a limit of $1,000 a few months ago. If we want to spend more than $1,000 that’s when we need to get permission. I hope whoever gets to be our liaison will support us because we do want to do things for this Village. We’re sincere.” At press time the Alert had not been able to confirm if or when the $1,000  limit had been approved. Bill Soper was approved as the new P&R liaison.

BEACH Ross Thorsen said the Tuesday Truckers women’s group had cleaned the beach. The last official cleanup for the year was  to be September 5. Ken said he had emailed a representative from Sand Products. The rep said he would send the paperwork with the GPS locations for all the [property demarcation] stakes.

FIRE & SAFETY Still no meeting. Quarterly meetings had been discussed but none were scheduled.

MUNICIPAL BUILDINGS Ross said there was enough prepainted siding to finish the west wall of the LSS, in the oldest part. Reg said because of unexpected legal fees [likely referring to the Putney lawsuit] the LSS project would need ot be put on hold.Diane Jenks said she had talked to Gilmore Twp supervisor Carl Noffsinger about the library roof and he didn’t want to get another quote (besides the one from Ross), and that he was waiting for the Village to decide how much they would contribute to the project. Laura (who is also Gilmore Twp treasurer) said it sounded like everybody was waiting for somebody else to do something. Ross said he would try to get in touch with Carl.

BETSIE VALLEY TRAIL Scott Gest said the Village has an opportunity to take a leading role in the trail authority. Council approved Reg Manville as the Village’s representative on the trail management board.

EMPLOYEE HEALTH INSURANCE Village clerk Sharyn Bower proposed that she come off the Village’s regular health care package because she’s on Medicare. She was willing to go to a supplemental program with her husband and she would want to pick up an AARP dental program under Delta dental. The Village’s cost for that would be $151 per month for a total of $1,812/year, a savings of $6,197.28 on Sharyn’s benefits. Without Sharyn on the plan, the premium for two people, Ken Bonney and Laura Manville, would be approximately $14K. Linda raised the issue of whether the dental plan would allow Sharyn to count as a third person insured by the Village. Linda confirmed with Sharyn that she would be content with receiving approximately $4,700 less in compensation than Ken and Laura. Sharyn said yes, she wanted to help the Village save this money and help Ken and Laura keep their benefits.

Laura explained that the Village participates in an HRA (health reimbursement arrangement). The HRA plan reimburses employees up to $500 for a single and $1,000 for a family for out-of-pocket health expenses. If the reimbursement isn’t used, it amounts to a savings in premiums. The most an employee can be reimbursed is the difference between the premium and the deductible. Laura said she had researched the program three years ago and signed up and the program had saved the Village $27K in premiums in that time. The City of Frankfort and the County also participate in HRA. Claims for 2009 were $1,221; 2010, $114; and 2011, $3,030.

Diane asked Laura if she would consider going on Reg’s insurance. Laura said she did not have the right of benefit and there would be a six month gap in her coverage during which she would be uninsured if they tried to switch her to his plan.

Reg said that if Laura went on his plan Ken Bonney would be by himself and the Village wouldn’t be eligible for the HRA program.

Linda said the state requires us to recognize three people for health care. The cap for that is $16,500—$5,500 each. If the state says we don’t have to count Sharyn for health care, we can just pay her, and then we have two people. Under that scenario the cap is $11,000, but we’d be paying $14K and would therefore be over the cap. Laura and Sharyn said they would investigate whether Sharyn would still qualify as a third employee under her proposal to receive dental reimbursement only.

Sharyn said they needed to contact Cadillac insurance about the council’s decision the next day.

Linda said when she first brought up the matter of employee benefits last year there were some potential penalties and restrictions involved in terms of grant money if municipalities failed to comply with the new law. She said she’d learned the state has since then removed those. “Even though we may not be in jeopardy of being looked at harshly in terms of grant applications if we fail to comply, I feel that since we are in a deficit situation it’s good on our part to present ourselves in compliance with something the state has asked for—whether it’s a hard cap in a dollar amount or employee contributions of 20%. I would not vote to opt out [of providing health coverage, which muncipalities may do under the law], but I do think we should come in under the hard cap. Laura said opting out would require a two-thirds vote by the council.

Council unanimously approved the health care package as presented, with three people coming in under the hard cap per Senate Bill 7 and reimbursement to Sharyn toward her premium.

VILLAGE TAXES/EMPLOYEE SALARIES Bill said he wanted to make the public aware that 50% of their Village taxes go to two people in the Village [the Alert was not able to confirm this at press time]. He said he looked into employee hours and wages in Benzonia, Beulah, Thompsonville, and Honor. “Benzonia’s clerk and treasurer work 4 hours a week. In Beulah the clerk works 4 hours a week and the treasurer 4 hours a week. It seems to me that we don’t have 8 times the work that other villages do. This is not personal, unlike last month [referring to the attempted ouster of Connie from P&R]…. There’s been a lot of talk in the last hour about saving the Village.… If other villages can make it work with 4 hours a week, how can we justify 32 hours a week? Benzonia has 125 people more than us.”

Reg said, “In the past four years, we’ve cut one full-time person, from the DPW, and that saved a lot of money. We also have had zero pay raises the last three or four years. We also have increased our workload to our single DPW employee for the same amount of pay. Laura has taken over the Park and Rec books. Laura herself has brought in $127K in grant money. [Laura had left the meeting so could not confirm that figure.] That’s five years of her salary that she brought in.”

Bill said the Village had paid for Laura to take grant-writing classes.

Reg said, “You have your views. I know that’s how you ran [for office]. There are people on the council who ran on the platform that our Village employees are making too much. I think the employees are doing a heck of a job. I’d suggest that you sit down with the employees and see what they actually do.

“I have said before that if you have any problems with the Village employees let’s sit down and talk about it. And no one ever says anything. You want to bring it out in a public meeting, but you don’t want to sit down and try to get some answers.”

Bill: “I’m bringing it out in a meeting so the public knows. Transparency—that was your [campaign] goal. Well, here it is. I don’t have time to sit down there.”

PAYPAL Bill said he’d like to see PayPal set up on the Village website so people could easily make donations to various projects, including signage for the beach. “We’ve already got the $100 VanDussen said he would donate [toward beach signage against off-roading].”

Emily: “Laura will have to set up a fund for [each cause being donated to] and link it to the bank account. People might have to write memos [PayPal has a field for that during checkout] when they make their donation, to clarify where the money should go.”

Linda said some municipalities do an automatic deductions from their checking accounts to pay their bills. “It would be nice if someone could go on there and contribute $50.”

Emily said, “I know personally I’m much more likely to make a donation if I can do it online. It’s easier than putting a check in an envelope and mailing it.” She said it would be important to set it up so people could feel confident when they make a donation that it’s going to the right project, but otherwise it’s easy to set up a PayPal donation button, she’d done it herself without being a computer genius, and that Laura could work with Village web designer Jon Maue. He would just need the bank account number and routing number.

Reg said: “I think that before we start this PayPal thing we should contact Laura and see if she can do it. I don’t know how it works. I don’t see any reason not to. But we should run it by her.”

Matt Stapleton asked if Parks and Rec could present a written proposal on how the PayPal should be set up before the next meeting. Emily volunteered to do that.

Ken reminded that the beach road falls under our road fund, not our beach fund and that donations for signage and road improvements should be directed to that fund

Sharyn returned to the subject of employee compensation. “When we [she and Laura] started here 16 years ago, we didn’t make up these hours. They were set before we came here. We got raises for many years not because we asked for raises but because the council voted for them. You’re making out that we’re the bad guys because we make a decent wage.”

Bill: “Not at all. This is a business decision.”

Sharyn: “I think this is personal. We work every bit as hard as anybody else. The other villages don’t have the same stuff going on that we have. We have grants we write, the Lifesaving Station, the [Waterfront] park. We have a lot of things they don’t have.”

PARKS AND REC CREDIT CARD A long and contentious discussion raised several of the themes of the previous meeting regarding the Village’s credit card policy. Reg said the card had been canceled at the auditor’s suggestion. In the meantime, the Parks and Rec Commission has not been able to make purchases except by the old means, a check signed by Laura and by the P&R president. The card was adopted because the two-signature check-writing policy was a major hassle especially in emergencies, Laura was understandably uncomfortable signing blank checks in advance, and many establishments no longer even accept checks. The Village adopted its credit card policy June 21, 2001. There was some discussion of revising the policy, as much has changed in the world of electronic money transactions in the intervening years.

Matt suggested reissuing two cards to P&R and that the cards be kept at the office and checked out. He suggested a balance limit. “It’s time to move forward. They still need to get supplies. I’m sure the lesson has been learned.”

Reg suggested that when someone checks out the card they fill out a form describing exactly what they’re about to purchase.

Matt said it seemed like transparency would be accomplished simply through the credit card receipts and statements. Matt made a motion to reissue two credit cards to P&R, under the names of whoever they decide, and that they be kept in the office.

Jen said according to the P&R bylaws, the president and the secretary have check-signing privileges and therefore should be the ones issued the cards.

Council voted unanimously to issue two credit cards, one to the secretary and one to the president of P&R and that the cards be kept in the Village office. At press time (October 1), P&R were still without cards.

FINAL PUBLIC COMMENT Emily asked if the $3,500 cap on no-bid projects applied to the library reroofing and whether or not more bids should be sought. Sharyn said the library roof is a township project and they don’t have to go out for bids. “Carl just approached the [Village] council to ask if they would pony up any money [toward the project].”

Bill asked if the library is Village property or not.

Sharyn said, “It’s a fine line. It’s nothing to do with me. This goes way back, you get Jim Gilbert, you get some of these old guys who were involved in that and they’ll go to town. You can ask Carl and he’ll tell you that part of it’s township. I don’t know. I stay out of that completely.”

Ross said he’d be happy to have other roofers take a look at the project.

The council did not decide what, if anything, they would be contributing.

Reg: “In a village of four hundred people we now have four municipal buildings. I’d like to see someone in the building committee look into selling one of these buildings. That would cut a big part of our expenditures.”

Linda said she might consider leasing. “I don’t know how residents would feel about selling buildings that have been part of the village for a long time.”

Art Melendez discussed the incidents of vandalism on the beach and in the Waterfront Park. He said it seemed to have been done entirely by young adults in large trucks. “I’m not happy about it either. We’ve talked about barriers, about putting security cameras up. Do we wait till someone gets hurt, some major property destroyed, for the village to get sued again, or is the council going to do something about it?”

Reg: “I brought up security cameras before. It’s a preventive measure that’s well spent.”

Elberta Land Holding Company rep Scott Gest said he had talked with the Corps of Engineers about the Car Ferry Apron demolition and that the Council for Historic Preservation had declined to comment. “So now we’re going forward with negotiating a memorandum of agreement so that once that gets agreed to the permit will be issued. Unfortunately last week we had to let go derrick boat 16, which could have lifted the entire slip up intact. It was in town and we were kind of hoping to be able to use that to do the removal but that’s gone to Chicago and it won’t be back. That was our best chance to do the least amount of damage to the structure. So the delays [in receiving a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers] have unfortunately kind of reduced our possibilities. But we should be working with Luedtke’s to come up with a new schedule and see what equipment there is available.

“Just a brief comment on Village resources: in my position working as a consultant for the Council of Governments as well as now in a staff position, I go and contact a lot of local units of government. I understand the motivation to save money, but a lot of times when we try to contact these units of government they only have office hours once a week. It can take a week to get a call back. So there’s something to be said for access to government. I know it’s expensive but … it’s nice to be able to get your questions answered quickly. Elberta Land Holding Company is the largest taxpayer in the Village. I appreciate that access.”

Jen Wilkins said her daughter and roommate were nearly hit by speeders while riding their bikes on 168. “The speeding is out of control.” She was planning to paint the amphitheater [on a volunteer basis]. She encouraged everyone to come to the Movie Marathon.

Jon Drury reiterated at length his proposal from the July meeting that a toll booth be set up at the beach and charge $2–$5 per car. Art Melendez suggested he put the proposal in writing. Reg directed the Beach Committee to consider Jon’s idea.

Ken Bonney said to remember who you vote for in November. “Our main problem is that the sheriff and the prosecutor do not do their job in Elberta. That was proven in the gate incident. It was torn down and someone admitted to it and they did nothing. And it’s the same way with your speeding, the vandalism, and the beach. The people who are going to run for prosecutor and sheriff are who you need to talk to to find out what they’re going to do.”

Diane: “Now that we own 168 would it be possible to put in speedbumps?” Ken said he would look into it.

Diane: “We couldn’t before but now we can.” Ψ

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