Thursday, May 21, 2020

Court budget costs prompt council questions

Members of the Romulus City Council approved the 2020-2021 budget as presented by Mayor Leroy Burcroff by a 5-2 vote.
The dissenting votes were cast by councilwomen Virginia Williams and Kathy Abdo who both expressed their dissatisfaction with the portion of the budget presented by the 34th District Court.
During discussion of the motion to approve the $19,744,870 general fund budget at the May 11 electronic meeting,, Williams said that the court budget showed a deficit of more than $70,000 and that she did not agree with approval of that portion of the budget motion.
Williams said that the lack of a fund balance at the court along with the deficit of $71,000 prompted her concerns.

“Where would the money be coming from?” she asked. She said the court was asking for an additional $500,000 in the budget and that she had concerns about the ability of the city to assume the debt the court was unable to pay.
“This budget just doesn't add up. How can we project $500,000? Does this $77,673 cover the deficit spending?” she demanded. “Will the city have to make cuts to pay what the court can't pay?”
Councilwoman Kathy Abdo agreed with Williams that the court portion of the budget was questionable.
“I taught math for 40 years, and this budget does not add up,” she said. She added that she had asked for more documentation from Chief Judge Brian Oakley and was told “you're not getting it.”
“That was his answer. We have a responsibility to the citizens. This is not a sound budget. What happens if the court can't make the payments?” she asked, in reference to bond payments on the new court building under construction.
Romulus acts as the host city for the court which serves the cities of Belleville and Romulus along with the townships of Van Buren, Huron and Sumpter.
Burcroff responded that the court budget as presented is a process Romulus, as the host city for the court, undertakes each year. This year, he noted, budget projections were difficult if not impossible for nearly every entity due to the pandemic.
“There is uncertainty in everything. All the budgets, for everything, will have to be looked at,” he said. “There is always risk and always benefit to being the host city. I feel the court is being as honest and straightforward as they can be.”
Burcroff cited the number of meetings with court officials regarding the budget and costs associated with the current construction and expansion of the court.
“I would remind the council that we had a financial company appear at a study session. There will be a cost for additional people at the new court and the state court administrator has given direction as to how to proceed with managing the court,” he said.
“We started this budget process a half a year ago. The court has made the best projections they can with the unknowns. I don't feel it is appropriate to not approve the court budget with my interpretation of what I saw and heard at the budget sessions,,” Burcroff said.
Councilwoman Eva Webb suggested that the council move forward and said she recognized the uncertainty of costs associated with a new construction and expansion.
“The court will be 60 percent larger,: she said.” There will be new hires, purchases of furniture. I would rather have a budget in place for the bond payments. Next year we can critique this,” she said.
Abdo responded to Burcroff's comment regarding the difficulty of revenue projections by the court and said that she was concerned with the two years of deficit spending at the court. She added that she had no problem with the city portion of the budget and praised the work of the city staff who worked on the budget preparation. 
Williams said that her position had noting to do with “liking” anyone but that “the figures just don't add up.
“I totally agree with the city budget but I do not agree with the court budget,” Williams said just prior to the roll call vote.