2013-06-06 / Front Page

City Finances Improving, Auditors Say

By Martha Stuit

Budget cuts made last year, and a goal to spend less than the city earns, has led to a larger general fund balance this year, City Manager Les Therrian reported to the St. Ignace City Council Monday, June 3.

“It shows that some of the stuff we are doing is making a difference,” he said, announcing preliminary audit results that the city council will review at its June 17 meeting, before the audit is sent to the state.

Council also heard that fuel sales are up and electricity costs are down at the St. Ignace Marina, that the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians has contributed $20,000 toward a new police car, that a new city building inspector is expected to get control of construction projects, and that 1,400 Mini Cooper cars will be crossing the Mackinac Bridge in August.

Building up the general fund balance shows the city is making improvements to its finances, Mr. Therrian noted. The final figures won’t be available for several weeks, he said, but the city’s auditor, Rhemann, noted in a preliminary meeting with the Audit Committee May 21 that the audit for 2012 will show progress toward financial stability.

Some important financial issues remain, Mr. Therrian cautioned. The bond covenants for the water and sewer departments require reserves to back up the debt, but the city does not have enough set aside in those accounts to fulfill the obligations. The city is slowly building up the reserves, and Mr. Therrian said he plans to talk to both the city’s accountant, Ken Talsma of Anderson, Tackman & Company, and the federal

Rural Development office to agree on a plan to meet the requirement.

Another issue that the audit highlighted is unreconciled cash. The city has more money in the bank than on its books. The auditors call this an “unadjusted issue,” and the most likely cause is outstanding checks. Reconciling the city’s books with the bank account is complicated, noted Mr. Therrian, because cash and checks flow in and out of the city’s pooled general fund daily, making it time consuming to pinpoint the unreconciled money.

Councilman Tom Della-Moretta asked if the accounts are reconciled at least monthly, and Councilman Jim Clapperton said it is nearly impossible to do that owing to the pooled cash for its general fund accounts.

At the time of the Audit Committee meeting May 21, the bank showed $21,000 more than the city’s books, but the amount has gone down since then because Renee Vonderwerth, the city clerk and treasurer, is searching for and accounting for some of the money, Mr. Therrian said.

Overall, the audit committee meeting was positive because the auditors said the city’s cuts to expenses are improving the finances, Mr. Clapperton noted.

“The whole climate of the meeting was completely different than a year ago,” he said, but added that the city needs to continue its efforts.

“You can’t take your foot off the gas,” said Councilman Steve Paquin about keeping revenues greater than expenses.

A report of Rehmann’s meeting with the Audit Committee is also published on this page.

Marina

Marina fuel sales have already exceeded those of last year, reported marina director Tim Matelski. From opening day May 25 to May 31, fuel revenue is $3,663.11. In contrast, from opening day May 20 to May 31, 2012, fuel sales were $1,706.68. Mr. Matelski said he hopes this fuel sale trend continues throughout this season, but has heard that larger vessels, particularly 60-foot boats, might not be able to travel out of marinas downstate owing to low water in the channels.

Dredging, funded by a state emergency allocation to remedy low water levels, will likely not happen until fall, Mr. Matelski told the city couincil. The city is preparing to send the engineering plans to the state, said Mr. Therrian, and once the state approves them, the city can seek bids for the project. The earliest the dredging will occur is August, he said.

While the water depth has increased to around the same level as last spring, Mr. Matelski said, the area between the shore and Dock A still needs dredging.

Cost savings have come from reducing the use of the bubbler system, which protects the docks from ice damage. The average bubbler operation cost, from December to March, has been $15,000, but it was only $5,048 this year. Mr. Matelski monitored the machines and turned them off when they were not necessary.

Seven full-time staff, the same number as last year, will work at the marina, and one part-time employee will fill in when needed. The staff has performed yard work, replaced stanchion lights, and is replacing toilet light timers that are no longer working, Mr. Matelski said.

The farmers’ market will be at the St. Ignace Marina parking lot on Saturdays this summer, starting July 6.

Patrol Car Funding

The Police Department received a $20,000 grant from the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians for a new patrol car, reported Police Chief Mark Wilk. Paired with $10,000 from a Rural Development grant, the city has $30,000 to purchase a new vehicle. The money can be used either toward the vehicle or for gear, such as decals and partitions, to outfit the car. The cost for graphics, weapons, security screens, and any other equipment could range from $4,500 to $7,500.

Mr. Wilk said a public hearing about using federal funds for a police car will be the next step, and then the city will seek bids.

Building Inspector Duties

Mr. Therrian said he has applied to the state to have the building inspector duties returned to the city. He is worried that building is occurring without supervision, and the permit process will be faster if the city has its own inspector.

The former state inspector from Baraga retired, Mr. Therrian noted, and to obtain an inspection now, someone must come from downstate, most likely Lansing. Reacquiring the responsibilities will make permitting more efficient and easier to monitor, he said.

Other Business

St. Ignace Planning Commission will mull potential changes to the sign ordinance in the coming months, reported Mr. Paquin. The ordinance allows 16 square feet per side for a tent sign, but the goal is to make the limit 16 square feet total. The planning commission will forward its recommendation to the city council.

Minis On The Mack, a new event this year Saturday, August 3, will seek to organize 1,450 Mini Cooper cars in a parade across the Mackinac Bridge. St. Ignace Visitors Bureau director Mindy Rutgers said the participants will travel here from throughout the country to congregate at a staging area south of the bridge and parade across it to St. Ignace. The group will have lunch at Little Bear East Arena, and the event could take place every other year, Ms. Rutgers said.

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