Benton Township board approves 2 percent pay hike for municpal employees

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON TOWNSHIP — Benton Township will add two full-time police officers in 2016 while replacing a retired firefighter with two part-timers, according to the proposed budget.

“(Full-time officers) cost more than staffing the part-timers because we are going to pay benefits, pensions and health insurance,” said Kelli Nelson, the township’s contracted accountant. “It will cost a little bit more, but we think it is a better fit for the department to have those full-time employees there.”

Nelson told trustees Tuesday the budget was based on no increases in the tax rate millages.

“The tax revenue is budgeted to remain relatively consistent over the actual income received in 2015,” Nelson said.

The three operating funds – general, fire and police funds – are within 1 percent of being break even when combined.

The township’s general fund is budgeted for a surplus of $35,000. In 2015, Nelson said the township saw an increase in development, which will lead to more revenue in the following year. The township got an additional 2.7 percent increase in funding from state shared revenue.

Nelson said the general fund will cover a few budgeted items highlighted by the three expected elections in 2016, updating the township’s 10-year master plan, repairing and sealing municipal parking lots and making minor park improvements.

“These are some of the more noteworthy expenditures,” Nelson said. “Those parking lots are ones that are municipally owned, like the fire station and water plant.”

Budget figures show the general fund will transfer $125,000 to the police fund. In part, this will help pay for the filling of two positions – two full-time police officers, which were previously filled with part-time employees. The police fund also calls for buying two police cars to help maintain the township’s fleet.

Budgeted expenditures for the police fund are about $240,000 – or 6.9 percent – more than what was projected for 2015.

Nelson said another factor in the budgeted increase is the annual required pension contribution to the police and fire pension plans. The police fund is budgeted to use $50,000 of its fund balance for these added expenses.

The fire fund budget calls for a $40,000 use of its fund balance.

The two-year FEMA grant the township has been using will end in April, which leaves the fire budget with $50,000 less revenue. After one of the township’s full-time firefighters retired this year, the position will be replaced by part-timers.

A large line item in the fire budget includes the second annual debt payment of $150,525 on the three-year fire truck loan. The loan, which was used to buy a new fire truck in 2015, charges 1.15 percent interest.

Other agenda items

The board approved a 2 percent increase for all municipal employees in 2016.

Supervisor Kevin White will get $27,540, Clerk Carolyn Phillips will get $53,060, Treasurer Debbie Boothby will get $49,939, and trustees will receive $94 per diem. Nelson said White chose to once again reduce his compensation as supervisor, saving the township about $30,000.

“The Township Board has had to make some tough decisions in the past few years,” White said, “and the 2016 budget is a testament to the fact that they were good decisions that have allowed our township to have continued financial stability.”

Three annual resolutions that require board approval were adopted Tuesday.

They were a resolution to authorize the board to receive and dispose of property; a resolution to designate Chase Bank, Fifth Third Bank, Chemical Bank, Horizon Bank and United Federal Credit Union as depositories for township funds; and a resolution to establish an authorization procedure for expenses.

The authorization procedure allows for the township’s supervisor, clerk, treasurer and comptroller to approve expenses of up to $4,000 without prior written approval from the board.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Dec. 16, 2015)

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