RochesterSeptember 5, 2012
City Council passes 2013 OPC budget
By Mary Beth Almond
C & G Staff Writer
ROCHESTER — What a difference a year makes.
Nearly 12 months after the Rochester City Council rejected the proposed Older Persons’ Commission 2012 budget due to concerns over salary increases, a new pension plan and a payment in lieu of an increase in health care benefits, the council unanimously voted to approve the 2013 OPC budget — putting a year of squabbles behind them. Council member Kim Russell, whose mother, Marye Miller, serves as the executive director of the OPC, abstained from the vote.
Of the $4 million 2013 OPC budget, Miller said around $1 million comes from tax dollars from the three municipalities involved in the interlocal agreement — Rochester, Rochester Hills and Oakland Township. The rest comes from grants, fundraising, donations, and fees and charges, according to Miller.
The budget is around $300,000 more than last year, which Miller attributed to the fact that the OPC will be open a full day, rather than a half day, every Saturday starting next year, along with some new hires — some lifeguards and a supervisor to make sure everything runs smoothly during the extra open hours. She said the OPC also plans to hire some new people to help coordinate the volunteer department, which is also growing.
Unexpected private donations, along with funding secured by the OPC’s insurance company, will help offset the rising costs, Miller added.
“We’re in good shape in 2012, that’s for sure,” she said. “There was a bonus of $500,000 that we had not expected, plus our insurance company came through with another $100,000 that was a bonus too, so we were very fortunate.”
OPC Governing Board Chairman Jack Dalton noted that the OPC will not have to use any of its fund balance.
Dalton said the OPC is working on a three-year budget, which has been suggested by the Rochester City Council and various others.
“It’s new to us, so we’re working at it, and it’s coming along,” he said.
In passing the budget, Rochester Mayor Stuart Bikson said he’s grateful that everyone was able to work together in the best interest of the taxpayers and the seniors to support the OPC.
“A lot of people weren’t perfectly happy with everything, but it was time to move on, and I think the council realized that. It showed our complete support for the OPC and really showed that any of (the rumors) that we wanted to shut the place down just weren’t true,” he said.
Bikson admitted that change is hard and said it’s difficult when an organization that isn’t used to scrutiny is scrutinized.
“That was a difficult process, and the OPC and the OPC Board clearly did not like the fact that we looked at the budget. We had legitimate concerns about pay increases. That was really the only issue, and we had 12 months of bad temper and divisiveness, and that’s very unfortunate and that’s very, very frustrating,” he said.
This time around, many on the council continued to cite their displeasure in seeing many of the major items they had concerns with last year included in the budget yet again.
“I’m somewhat disappointed that I’m presented with, in essence, the same decision as last year,” Mayor Pro Tem Jeffrey Cuthbertson said. “Here it is again, another pay increase across the board, another step increase, another payment in lieu and another deferred compensation contribution. Apparently, the governing board has not cared to listen to the fairly clear, fairly unambiguous positions of one of its member communities. That’s a real disappointment for me. I think that demonstrates a board-level leadership deficit that there wasn’t some way in the last year, actually a little more than year, to bridge some of these gaps.”
But that didn’t stop him, or others on the council who cited similar concerns, from approving the 2013 budget — due, in part, to the fact that two new representatives from Oakland Township will likely be appointed to the OPC Governing Board in November. During the Aug. 7 election, Terry Gonser defeated incumbent Oakland Township Supervisor Joan Fogler — who currently sits on the OPC Governing Board. Gonser will take Fogler’s place on the board, along with a resident of his choice — a change about which many Rochester City Council members are optimistic.
“It’s clear that perhaps some new board members are coming. I hope that with that comes a spirit of reconciliation, a spirit of saying, ‘OK, how do we continue to move this organization forward and make sure it’s governed by the voices of all three communities in a fair and equitable way?’ … I’m inclined to support the budget on that hope, but I’m very disappointed that we’re presented with the same question, expecting a different answer,” Cuthbertson said.
Councilmember Dave Zemens voiced similar hopes.
“Although the budget looks fairly similar to the one we saw last year … I think sometimes, until you get into the late rounds in the fight, you don’t realize that something that maybe happened in round three had some impact. I know I’ve learned some things from this process,” Zemens said.
Bikson acknowledged that the 2013 OPC budget wasn’t everybody’s idea of perfect, but he said the council members felt like they had done as much as they could and were ultimately ready to move forward.
“There were some things that some of us didn’t like, but we felt that they had modified (the budget) somewhat, and we felt like we needed to pass this budget and move on,” he said. “We’ve gotten the OPC Board to at least listen to some of our issues. We gave some, and they gave some, so it was positive, and we’re going to continue to work, going forward, to keep the budget and the place going efficiently. It’s extremely positive that it passed, and we want everybody to know that the Rochester City Council is committed to the OPC and all the great services it has.”
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