2017-02-09 / Life in Leelanau

Village budget adds to balance

In Northport, Kehl wants to lower millage rate
By Patti Brandt Burgess
Of The Enterprise staff

After a short public hearing at which no citizens commented, the Northport Village budget was adopted on a vote of 6-0 at last Thursday’s regular meeting.

A tax rate of 8.5 mills was also adopted on a unanimous vote, with Trustee Fred Budd absent.

The budget, which will go into effect on March 1, shows general fund revenues of $561,420 and expenditures of $519,548.

If the unbudgeted revenue is not used, some $41,872 will be added to the village’s fund balance at the end of the fiscal year.

That balance currently stands at $715,620, according to information provided by the village.

In all, the village has a total fund balance of about $6.1 million in its many funds that include major and local streets, capital improvements, sewer, water and marina. However, the figure can be misleading as it represents more than money in the bank. Also included are capital assets, such as buildings and equipment.

Trustee Tim Kehl said the 8.5-mill levy has not changed in more than 10 years and should be decreased.

“Why don’t we work on trying to get it down to 8 mills?” Kehl asked. “I think we could do it without a reduction in services.”

A half-mill brings in $23,000 per year in property taxes, according to Clerk Joni Scott.

Scott said the village is facing potential deficits with the sewer debt service, and is transferring $60,000 per year from the general fund to pay bonds. She suggested that decreasing the millage this year would not be a good idea.

“We’re doing everything we can with that right now,” Scott said.

The village raised monthly sewer fees by $6 a little over a year ago and plans to raise that amount by $1 per year until the sewer debt is paid off. Village sewer customers pay $61 per month, billed quarterly, for each residential equivalent unit (REU).

In addition, users paid a one-time hook-up fee when the sewer went online. That fee increases by 3 percent each July for new hook-ups; it is currently set at $17,598.

The sewer does not have as many customers as was expected when it was built. Scott in the past has reported that by the end of the debt service in 2027 there would be a deficit of $2.5 million.

This week Scott reported that measures taken by the village have likely decreased its share of the expected deficit to $300,000 by 2027.

The long-range outlook was also helped by two new customers that hooked up to the sewer in 2016, she said.

The debt service schedule is based on adding one new customer per year.

The township also got two new connections the previous year, she said.

The village is responsible for 80 percent of the debt and Leelanau Township for 20 percent.

The township also pays $60,000 per year from its general fund to pay down the debt.

The municipal sewer system was built at a cost of $13.3 million. Bonds were sold to finance the system in 2007.

In other business, the council:

 Heard from Bonnie Shiner that an anonymous donor has come forward who is willing to pay half the cost of a water filling station at the Northport Marina. Fountains range in price from $1,822 to $4,512.

 Adopted a fee schedule for the coming year, with the only change being an increase in the pavilion fee from $50 to $100 for non-residents.

 Adopted a meeting schedule for the coming year, with the council continuing to meet at 7 p.m. on the first Thursday of the month.

 Approved licenses for the expanded trail to go through two private properties — the M. Jean Putnam property and that of husband and wife Frederick R. Budd and Donna M. Wilds.

The agreements are licenses — not easements — Pres. Phil Mikesell said, with both revocable at will by either party with 30 days written notice.

Trustee Steve Wetherbee suggested the village might put up a courtesy sign letting hikers know that those sections of the trail are on private property and they shouldn’t wander off the trail.

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