Doing More With Less: Meridian Township's Budget Strategy

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Forming a budget during a recession is difficult. Families know this, as do government leaders.  Meridian Township leaders are fully aware, as well. Cuts to various positions and certain services were the main focus to balance the budget in 2010, 2011 and will likely be the case for the 2012 fiscal year.

The elimination of school resource officials and the central fire stations are likely on the horizon for the township; in next year’s budget. Outsourcing of payroll functions and the elimination of Senior Celebration Week were some ways the budget was balanced for this fiscal year. Reducing the number of vehicles based on age is another way the budget was balanced for 2011.

Director of Finance, Diana Hasse lead the efforts this past August to formulate the 2011 fiscal year budget with a thirty member budget work group. Township Manager, Gerald L. Richards was on the road, as well; holding coffee shop discussions with area business leaders to seek input.

It is of little secret that rising property values is a problem throughout the country. It is certainly the case in Meridian Township, “2011 was the beginning of a downward cycle,” explained Hasse.

The effects of this housing crisis may be felt for a couple years or so following the initial recovery. “Even when the market picks up we will still feel the lag,” Hasse warns.

The township attempted to garner revenue lost as a result of the housing crisis. They did so through a ballot proposal last November; The Headlee Override Millage Proposal. The proposal was for 0.8 mills. With 0.3 of those mills levied to offset the lost property tax revenue of $550,000. Additional revenue of $220,000 would be gained for both the fire and police departments with its passing.

However, the proposal was defeated by 395 votes (7,727-7,333 votes). Hasse “was not surprised” by the result on Election Day. “People are wary of tax increases,” continued Hasse.

Ironically, had the mileage passed, most would not have felt the negative impact in their wallets. “Taxes wouldn’t go up because home values have decreased,” Hasse explained.

With the rise in property values, the passage of this mileage would have helped bring revenue to the township, to the original amount prior to the housing dip. A large fear in the days and weeks leading to Election Day was the likelihood of key public safety positions being eliminated in the fire and police departments. Fortunately, that was not the case.

“There were no layoffs, some retired and left by choice, we didn’t rehire those positions, so we did not have to lay anybody off,” Hasse said.

Working with less staff is not exactly ideal. But the township is making it work in Hasse’s view. “We would obviously prefer more staff… but we still provide excellent service…were doing more with less” Hasse said.

The 2011 budget was complicated. 2012 will be no different according to Township Manager, Gerald L. Richards.

“I thought it was going to be easier with having open positions now, but the question now becomes how to fill them or to not fill them,” explained Richards.

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