Budget approved in Fraser following disagreement on millage rate

By: Nick Powers | Fraser-Clinton Chronicle | Published June 4, 2024

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FRASER — After several meetings, the Fraser City Council passed its 2024-25 budget at a May 14 special meeting.

The holdup was disagreement over the Special Assessment District millage. The millage, allowed by Michigan Public Act 33, provides funding for public safety services in the city. Last year, the millage was set at 2 mills. Council Member Amy Baranski was absent from the May 14 meeting.

At the May 14 meeting, City Manager Elaine Leven said that due to changes in the Municipal Employees Retirement System, the city had to pay out an additional $433,428. This money would come out of the general fund.

“This is a mandatory required payment,” Lesich said.

Councilman Patrick O’Dell, acknowledging the increasing retirement costs, made a motion to make the SAD millage 2 mills with Lesich seconding.

“I just don’t want to cut it when we have a lot of changes happening this year,” O’Dell said.

“I just don’t think now is the time to reduce,” Mayor Pro Tem Dana Sutherland said.

Councilwoman Patrice Schornak said she was willing to compromise at 1 mill, explaining that the fund balance is still healthy. Councilwoman Sherry Stein sided with Schornak but was willing to go to 1.5 mills. Stein asked if the expense at the 11th hour was typical.

Leven said it wasn’t, but that it came from a difference in estimates and actual figures for the year. Leisch clarified to say these numbers can shift annually depending on who’s retiring and who’s getting hired.

Councilman Kenny Perry stood firm at setting the rate at zero mills for the SAD.

“We have too much money,” Perry said. “I can’t ask people to pay PA 33 taxes when, a.) We have too much money to begin with, and b.) This isn’t going towards the police department.”

Funds from the millage can be used on expenses ranging from the Public Safety Department’s employment costs to maintenance on its vehicles, according to a public notice about this year’s budget.

“If we’re reducing it, not knowing what’s out there, we’re flying blind,” Sutherland said.

The motion for 2 mills failed, but a motion for 1.5 mills passed. This was a compromise with all members voting in favor of it except for Perry. The millage will be split evenly for summer and winter taxes at 0.75 mills. One mill costs taxpayers $1 for $1,000 of taxable value on their home annually.

The budget for 2024-25 was unanimously passed later in the meeting.

At the meeting, the leaf collection service at a cost of approximately $300,000 was withdrawn from the budget. This doesn’t mean it’s ending, however. Fraser Department of Public Works Supervisor Rob Barrett said the service needed further study. Barrett said he’ll put a detailed presentation together for the City Council. The department did get the council’s unanimous approval for a woodchipper and a stump grinder, totaling approximately $100,000.

After the meeting, Leven said that sorting out leaf collection is “potentially something that could be done within this budget year.”

Steffens Park will get a series of improvements to its tennis courts, fencing, gazebo roof, concessions and baseball diamond. Pompo Park will get updates to its tennis courts and fencing. These amounts contribute to an increase in park spending from $463,646 in last year’s amended budget to $734,092.

Roads are getting some added attention as well. The largest project is Garfield Road, from 14 Mile to 15 Mile roads, at a projected cost of $1,500,253. Klein Road, between Utica and Garfield, is getting a $100,000 fix.

Water mains are a priority this year as well with $2,796,800 going into replacements on Kingston Drive, Northwood/Snow roads, Crestwood Lane, Hueber Lane, Elodie Drive, Schoolcraft Avenue/Vernetta Street and Summer Lane.

The ending balance for all funds is expected to be $39,000,474, a decline of about $1.6 million from last year. Estimated total revenues are $33,904,521. Appropriations in the budget exceed revenues, decreasing the total for all funds by $6,392,195.

For the general fund, appropriations ($19,884,754) are expected to exceed revenues ($17,873,419) by $2,011,335. That would decrease the city’s general fund balance from $13,738,228 to $11,726,893.