2011-03-13 / Front Page

St. Charles Village: “Financially, maybe it’s time”

Council votes to close pool, makes cuts for balanced budget
BY HILLARY GRIGONIS STAFF REPORTER


POOL CLOSING – The St. Charles Village Council voted Wednesday to close the pool at the St. Charles Area Park because of the costs of maintenance, about $35,000 a year, and declining attendance. Pictured above, a group of boys enjoy the pool on a warm summer day in June, 2009. The savings from the decision are reflected in the 2011-12 budget, including staff costs, utilities, and maintenance. (TCC File Photo) POOL CLOSING – The St. Charles Village Council voted Wednesday to close the pool at the St. Charles Area Park because of the costs of maintenance, about $35,000 a year, and declining attendance. Pictured above, a group of boys enjoy the pool on a warm summer day in June, 2009. The savings from the decision are reflected in the 2011-12 budget, including staff costs, utilities, and maintenance. (TCC File Photo) ST. CHARLES – The Village of St. Charles approved a balanced 2011-12 budget on Wednesday—but not without a few sacrifices.

During their preliminary budget hearing in February, the council was faced with a shortfall of over $163,000 in the general fund, which would have been covered with cash balances remaining from previous years. The approved budget reduced the shortage to about $40,000 in the general fund, but also made significant cuts, including closing the village pool, changing employee insurance, and reducing the number of full time police officers.

Trustee Lewis Gould presented the findings from the finance committee, saying that the general consensus was to close the pool. “Money is tight—but even if it wasn’t tight, we are spending $33,000 on a pool that not many people are using.”

Trustee Maureen Roe added that it wasn’t a simple decision, but that the group spent most of their hour and a half meeting discussing the pool and other alternatives.

“It was talked about and talked about,” she said. “It’s a hard decision to close that pool.”

The council discussed the steps needed to close the pool, including the work needed to secure the area and the potential cost to fill it in of about $5,000 to $8,000.

The park committee also discussed the issue, considering reducing the number of sessions that the pool is open to cut down on staffing expenses, but eventually deciding that the maintenance costs were still too much. “The park committee really doesn’t want to close it, but financially, maybe its time,” said Village Manager Hal Mead.

“That pool was built by local workers and didn’t cost any taxpayer money, but now it is costing taxpayer money,” Gould said.

The estimated savings from closing the pool is about $35,000 a year.

Gould moved to close the pool, supported by Kristine Neumann, and the council approved the measure 6-1, with Roe opposed.

“A sad day, but probably necessary,” Village President Doug Holem said.

After discussing the finance and park committee recommendations, the council moved into a public hearing to discuss the 2011- 12 budget, which begins April 1.

The revenues in the general fund anticipate $439,040 in property taxes and $167,655 in state revenue sharing for sales tax, along with other revenue sources including fees, building rental, and grants for specific projects. The village estimates needing over $40,000 from savings to cover the anticipated expenditures, which are estimated at $900,441.

Along with closing the pool, the 2011-12 budget also significantly cuts back on expenditures by switching the employee health care plan from a PPO to a HMO. The coverages in the two plans are similar except that HMO requires employees to use specific doctors. The switch reduces health insurance premiums in several departments.

The approved budget also reduces the number of fulltime police officers from three to two, a reduction due to the retirement of Chief Kevin McInerney. Instead of hiring a third full-time officer, the budget allows for an increase in the part-time wages so that police coverage will not be reduced with the change. Mead said that the village plans to randomly schedule extra shifts for 24/7 coverage, where coverage is generally provided by the county for four hours out of the day.

The budget also includes several projects for the village, including adding a path along Walnut Street leading up to the school grounds. The budget also allots funds for planning a walking path on the east side of North Saginaw street, from the South Branch bridge to the crosswalk by the area park; the path would be implemented in the 2012-13 fiscal year. The village also plans to pave two blocks of Charles Street.

The village parks committee plans to implement a boat launch and new signs for Lumberjack Park, as well as finishing the waterfall and fountain projects with additional lighting.

The Downtown Development Authority plans to install decorative lighting on the North Branch bridge, as well as resealing sidewalks and updating the Goodrich Building.

The council unanimously approved both the 2011-12 budget and the amended 2010-11 budget.

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