TEMPERANCE - The fiscal forecast for Bedford Township appears to be cloudy for the next few years, causing township board members to do something they don't like to do: dip into its rainy day fund to help balance the budget.
The township board last week approved a $3.34 million budget for its 2003-04 general fund expenses but expects revenues in the coming year of only $3.15 million. The rest will be taken from Bedford Township's $1.7 million fund balance, or rainy day fund.
“We've tried to be conservative, so we have the fund balance to use when we need it,” township treasurer Sherri Meyer said.
Like all other local governments in Michigan, Bedford Township has felt the pinch of the nation's struggling economy. State revenue sharing payments to local governments have been cut, and more cuts may be on the way unless revenues improve, state lawmakers have warned.
While some area governments consider layoffs, Bedford Township officials say their past fiscal discipline should allow the township to ride out any economic storm.
Andy Gurecky, Bedford Township's budget director, said that Monroe County's largest municipality was in relatively good financial shape, even with the prolonged economic downturn, and predicted rosier fiscal fortunes ahead.
“In three fiscal years, we should be out of the woods,” Mr. Gurecky told the board. “Unlike a lot of our fellow townships around the state, we are in excellent financial shape.”
This year's general fund budget is actually about $120,000 less than the general fund budget passed by the township board a year ago. And while both are just spending plans and subject to revision over the course of the year, township officials say they have tried to hold the line on spending overall without affecting services.
“The reason we're able to do this is that in past years we have watched what we spent. It wouldn't make sense to cut services to the taxpayers and not let them use their own money. We all know we're in good shape,” trustee Arnold Jennings said.
“Collectively, we've done a good job,” township supervisor LaMar Frederick said. “This budget will continue the types of services to which our residents have become accustomed.”
One area that is of concern to township officials was a proposal put forth by county administrator Charles Londo that would make local townships like Bedford pick up a larger portion of the costs of some of the deputies assigned to those areas.
Mr. Londo had hoped to use the savings to help balance the county's tight budget situation, but Bedford Township officials vowed to fight any such move by the county.
“I talked to both commissioners who represent our township and indicated to them that that would not be in best interest of the county or township,” Mr. Frederick said. “We're watching that very carefully to the extent of protecting [those funds] as best we can.”
But township trustee Dennis Steinman said he hoped Mr. Londo's proposal wasn't the start of something bigger.
“I hope this is not a beginning of trying to get the funds from the county back down to the townships and trying to balance the county's budget on the backs of the municipalities,” Mr. Steinman said.