By Sara Ventimiglia
Meridian Times staff writer
Some budget cuts are out of the public’s control, but for the township of Meridian, this was not the case. On Monday, April 4, the salaries of those working for Meridian Township were recommended for reduction at the Elected Officials Compensation Commission meeting.
With five board members voting on the final decisions and more than 15 people making public comments, the evening was controversial.
“Budget constraints have forced us to freeze our salaries the last few years and that should apply to the newly elected people too,” said Township Trustee John Veenstra.
Citizen Robert Andrews said that the salary of an elected official cannot change while they are in their term. These new salaries will go into effect when the new officials are elected in late 2012.
“The three people who are not paid for the meetings they attend are supervisor, clerk and treasurer,” said Andrews. “They don’t want their salary to decrease by the same percentage, which seems irrational.”
Okemos resident Julie Brixie, who is also the Treasurer of Meridian Township, was civil on the topic.
“I took a 20 percent pay cut in 2009,” said Brixie. “I did it because I was aware of the fiscal problems we were having.”
Brixie said that nobody is receiving salary cuts in writing anymore like she did back in 2009. She also made the public aware of the 7.5 percent decrease that the entire township budget has had since 2009.
Citizen Michael Leon said that he is perfectly happy with what the trustee currently make and did not want to see their salaries decrease.
“I want to know that if I call a trustee that they are being compensated for their time on the phone with me,” said Leon.
Leon also said he believes the chief elected officers should have higher pay than the positions that require no specific qualifications.
Frank Ochberg came to Michigan over 30 years ago to continue on with his business.
“I was the largest state employer and faced a terrible budget cut,” said Ochberg. “I laid off 5,000 people and $75 million were lost. I am here because I know how important fiscal planning is, especially for my township.”
Ochberg said his remarks have to do with the unfilled positions and the next set of officials who will be taking them. He is concerned with people being laid off.
“Why should we pay our supervisors less than their tenants?” questioned Ochberg.
Okemos resident Ganesh Reddy said he ran for supervisor in the past election against the current supervisor. He said people should use common sense when making decisions like these.
“I support the three main positions we are voting on remaining to be full time but we cannot have that and at the same time have a department manager and all the other positions like that,” said Reddy. “If the supervisor can do the job part time, then treasurer and clerk can, too.”
Reddy also said that there are a lot of volunteer commission members who participate in the township’s endeavors as community service and they do not complain.
Marilyn Brizzen of Okemos said not to take the clerk’s position lightly because they are the peoples’ right to vote.
“Other clerks within our counties and other counties have commented on how good our elections are run in Meridian,” said Brizzen. “Other counties haven’t counted votes honestly and I am sad to say I have witnessed it.”
Mary Helmbrecht, being the clerk, agreed with Brizzen.
“I have heard a lot of false rumors about what I do in my position,” said Helmbrecht. “I can assure you that I do know what I’m doing and Meridian Township has been very lucky. I took a three-year course at MSU to be a certified municipal clerk.”
Chairmen James Doyle also stated that the Meridian Township trustees are paid more than any trustee in the surrounding five townships.
“We’ve had a full-time treasurer since 1970,” said Doyle. “If we lower the salaries, it will portray that we want less qualified people to take the positions.”
Doyle said he felt that they should continue to have full-time clerks and treasurers.
Board Member Patrick J. Boog said he was troubled by the voting process this year.
“Personal attacks were made and people had agendas,” said Boog. “I didn’t appreciate that at all. I have a very big problem with the suggestion of changing fundamental aspects of our board and government.”
Boog said he would not vote to change any full time positions to part time positions.
Board Member Paula Johnson used the expression “it grinds my gears,” referring to who gets paid what.
“Why are we paying a manager over $100,000 when they are not even held responsible to anybody?” said Johnson. “We are picking on the elected people who had to work darn hard to be elected and are on the frontlines every day.”
Johnson stated that she knows who the elected people are and where they live, but has no idea who the manager is because he has too many assistants working for him.
After all comments were made and controversy was quieted, the numbers were voted on. If the township board does not overturn the commission’s recommendations, the clerk will take a $10,000 pay cut going from $75,000 to $65,000. The supervisor starting at $28,202 was brought to $20,000. The treasurer will make the same amount: $60,745. The trustees will take a $1,000 pay cut going from $10,615 to $9,615. The commissioners currently make $40 per meeting and that number will remain the same.