2016-12-22 / Front Page

City Council Sets Wages and Budget

By Erich T. Doerr

The St. Ignace City Council held firm against escalating city expenses by awarding only a 50¢ hourly wage increase to city hall administrators Monday, December 19, instead of the 3% raise they had asked for. Council also adopted its 2017 appropriations bill, setting its general fund budget at $1,833,590 and total city expenditures of $7,418,094.

The vote on raises at the city council meeting followed two Negotiations Committee meetings, one just prior to the council meeting and one held last Friday, December 16, at which City Manager Les Therrian and City Clerk and Treasurer Reneé Vonderwerth had asked for 3% raises for all non-union city employees. Mrs. Vonderwerth compared the request to the 2.8% raises the administration gave to the city’s union employees. The council committee rejected the 3% figure and had discussed a 1.5% raise, instead, but Mayor Connie Litzner said a 50¢ per hour raise would have much less impact on city finances.

Councilman Jim Clapperton also rejected the 3% proposal, arguing that the cost of living increase going to Social Security recipients this year is just 0.3%, and he questioned why the city needs to give everyone 10 times that amount. He said his objection has nothing to do with the quality of work performed by city employees, but he noted it is hard to reconcile such a raise with citizens when the assessed value of the city has decreased.

Councilman Luke Paquin saw the 50¢ raise as a good compromise, since it is applied equally to all administrators, and observed that this, and the police union’s 3% raise, both approved by the council at its December 5 meeting, average out to about the same amount of money.

Mr. Therrian and Mrs. Vonderwerth both lobbied for the higher raises Monday evening, but council favored the more conservative raises it proposed. Both administrators are retiring later this year.

The taxable value of St. Ignace property dropped from $82 million in 2015 to $80 million in 2016. The city levies 19.6082 mills and receives $19.6082 per every $1,000 of taxable value, and lost about $40,000 for city operations because of the drop in property value.

Mayor Litzner said if the city continued to approve all raise requests, it could quickly find itself back in the financial trouble it has worked so hard to get out of.

“It’s nothing personal, it’s a financial decision,” Mrs. Litzner told the administrators. She noted that the police department’s 3% raise this year can’t be sustained year after year.

“We don’t want to go back” to rougher financial times, she said.

A separate vote was held to approve a 1.5% raise for Fire Chief Gary Sorenson and Assistant Fire Chief Steven Paquin. Steven Paquin is a member of the council and abstained from voting on his raise. Firefighters receive both a salary and payment for the number of runs they make. Monday’s committee discussions did not include Downtown Development Authority Director Deb Evashevski or St. Ignace Public Library Director Skip Schmidt, who will both receive 3% raises, the DDA board having already approved Mrs. Evashevski’s raise in its own budget. The library board also already approved raises for its employees this year to bring them up to the level of the city’s other employees.

In addition to Mr. Therrian and Mrs. Vonderwerth, non-union employees receiving the 50¢ raise are Recreation Director Scott Marshall, Police Chief Mark Wilk, and executive secretary Helen Thibault.

The city’s 2017 appropriations bill includes $554,500 for general government operations, $540,070 for public safety, $207,540 for public works, and $60,150 for park maintenance from $1,833,590 in general fund appropriations. In total, all of the city’s appropriations for next year will total $7,418,094, compared with last year’s total of $6,867,511.The only change in the budget from when it was first proposed December 5 was the addition of $3,500 to the marina fund to cover WiFi improvements and other work coming up there.

The council approved a final set of amendments to its 2016 budget before closing out the year, including a $19,000 payment from the city’s fund balance to pay back part of its loan regarding a recent ambulance purchase and paying off $6,915 in planning, election, accounting, and safety and health costs using money from the city hall and grounds funds. The biggest change made to the budget set up a new fund to be used for the costs related to the city’s new building inspector position.

The amendments did not include funds for a roof and drywall repair at the St. Ignace Golf and Country Club. Mr. Therrian and Mrs. Vonderwerth noted the 2017 budget could be amended to include funding for it once the city has exact figures on how much it will cost. Luke Paquin suggested the city seek firm bids for the project.

In other business at Monday’s city council meeting, Chief Wilk announced his department will receive $1,500 from Enbridge Energy and another $1,500 from the Michigan Municipal Risk Management Authority toward purchase of three electroshock weapons. The weapons, made by the TASER company, will cost $3,247, and the council approved up to $250 to complete the sale. Enbridge previously contributed $1,000 to upgrade the lights on police vehicles.

St. Ignace will buy model X26Ps, an upgrade over the current X26s. The department has two X26Ps in use and the new stun guns will phase out the last of the old ones. The retired X26s will be maintained for backup and training.

Two dealers are bidding to sell the city a new police vehicle, Mackinac Sales of St. Ignace and Signature Auto Group of Okemos. Both sell Fords. Bids were solicited for a police sedan and a sport utility vehicle. Mackinac Sales offered a sedan for $25,190 and an SUV for $28,114. Signature Auto Group offered an SUV for $26,795. Mr. Wilk and Mr. Therrian will review the bids.

Mr. Wilk prefers another SUV as the ground clearance is higher, giving it an advantage in bad weather. Councilman Robert St. Louis noted the police department on Mackinac Island uses SUVs for patrol vehicles, and Councilman Paul Fullerton noted the Island leaves notably more snow on its roads to aid snowmobile travel.

Mr. Clapperton asked the council to schedule some work sessions with the city’s Department of Public Works where they can go over what the DPW’s current projects are. The sessions will be the second Monday of every month at 6 p.m. for as long as needed.

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