Residents offer to help save Portage $
Written by By DEBBIE ROGERS Sentinel Staff Writer
Saturday, 25 July 2009 06:14
PORTAGE - The village continues to struggle financially, but glimmers of cash and community showed up at Monday's council meeting.
Clerk-Treasurer Bruce Shepherd said the village coffers are growing a little bit every month. And some residents in the audience offered to help clean the bathrooms, write a village newsletter and fix the police chief's computer.
There were glimpses, though, of the trouble the village has been immersed in; the state auditor in April put the village in fiscal emergency.
Councilmembers Tamara Sharp, who had served a council term a few years ago, and Doug Maas were both appointed to seats last year.
Maas said the finances were an "absolute horror ... malfeasance bordering on criminal."
He urged residents to trust council's actions. "We're here to serve your interests. We're doing the very best we know how."
Sharp said she was "shocked" at what she saw when she first started attending finance committee meetings in October.
She also said she resented comments made at past meetings that council had voted recklessly to cut the police chief's hours from 40 a week to 20 in June.
"We had gone over this literally for months. Nobody wanted to do this ... we did not make an off-the-cuff decision," Sharp said.
On Monday, Councilmembers Marcia Wolford, John Jividen and Floyd Wilson, with a tie-breaking vote by the mayor, voted to restore the chief's hours to 40. Sharp, Maas and Jay Sockman voted against the motion.
Also Monday, Sharp addressed a resident's concern about voting on anyone's salary or hours when her own husband, Ron, was the village administrator.
Sharp said Solicitor Paul Skaff was consulted about a possible conflict of interest before she joined council. She was advised not to vote on her husband's salary and she has abstained, she said.
Ron Sharp earns $4,800 annually as village administrator and an additional $500 a year as zoning inspector, she said.
In his report, Shepherd said his job continues to be complicated. For example, there can be up to 15 steps to pay a bill, such as the electric, which has to be divided among different departments.
He said there was a $36,800 balance in the checking account and a $40,000 deposit had recently been made.
"But we still are looking better than we have in several months, which is good," Shepherd said.
Council and the mayor will meet with state auditors Aug. 31 at 6:30 p.m. for a work session.
Several residents offered to help out the village to save money.
Lisa King said she would clean the town hall for two hours a week, eliminating that cost. "I'll try to help cut the budget ... I'll be happy to do it," she said.
Michelle Harris said she wants to start a group that would assist residents who have lost their jobs, or can't mow or tend to their yards.
Jennifer Noland volunteered to write and distribute a village newsletter.
Sgt. Scott Herrick said he would voluntarily cut back on his hours to help fund Police Chief Bob Bartz's return to 40 hours a week.
Michael Brinkman raised his hand when Bartz said his laptop's hard drive was not working.
After the meeting, Mayor Mark Wolford said the possible elimination of the village's traffic light has - in a way - been a good thing for Portage. It's generated more interest among residents than the finances or the 1-percent income tax that was implemented in January.
"This traffic light problem has been probably the best thing to happen to this town in a long time. It's pulled this town together," he said. "It almost gives me that sense of the days when I was a kid here ... everybody here knew everybody."
Wolford said the village is moving ahead with a five-year plan and council is on the same page. Sharp, he said, submitted a "wish list" for the village that is similar to his.
The mayor envisions residents turning out to sweep sidewalks downtown and paint boarded-up windows in a rainbow of colors.
"I've got a lot of ideas. Now I've got volunteers."