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2017-12-06 / Letters to the Editor

Letter TO THE EDITOR

1. All Letters to the Editor must be no longer than 350 WORDS.

2. They must be signed by the author, with an address and telephone number included to be considered for publication.

3. Personal attacks, thank you notes, form letters and letters promoting political candidates/issues above a statewide level will not be accepted.

All letters reflect the opinion of the letter writer and not necessarily the opinion of the Newberry News.

To the Editor:

Tragedy struck Monday, November 20 when a passerby noticed the house at 9842 M-28 was on fire. The owner, Mark Boulton, was not home at the time. The Newberry Fire Department responded, as well as the Red Cross. The home was a total loss.

Mark’s dog and best friend, Bentley, perished in the fire.

Quality Inn and Zellar’s Village Inn were able to help Mark with temporary housing. The Senior Center and Goodwill in Sault Ste. Marie assisted with clothing. Friends and neighbors also have assisted.

A special account has been set up at First National Bank in Mark’s name for those wishing to help him rebuild his life. All donations are certainly appreciated!

Rev. Melinda Shriner
Newberry Area
Ministerial Association

To the Editor:

The public should be made aware of some facts regarding the recent water rate. The assistant Village Manager was quoted by the Newberry News (September 20, 2017) stating that despite “studies done in 2005 and 2012” “the Village did not raise rates.” This is false. A comprehensive rate study was made by the engineering firm AECOM and fully reviewed and approved by the Rural Development Administration (RDA, the bonding authority) in relation to the recent phase (phase 5) of water project. Rates were increased prior to 2015 for the upcoming Phase 5 bonding.

The current Village Manager states that errors were made in that rate study while there is no documentation of these “errors,” The Village Manager has also suggested that personnel from RDA should be fired over the matter. A senior engineer with AECOM involved has stated that no contact was made by the Village pertaining to the rate study. It would seem professional to document such a significant finding, if it exists.

The Village finances for 2016 were so poorly maintained that those budgets were sent to the State for correction. Financial statements are required to be presented to the W&L Board and the Village Council for review and approval monthly. Yet the council members that sit on both Board and Council (Brown and Medelis) have little to say on this matter.

The assistant Village Manager further stated in September 2017 that “We NEED to come up with a guarantee of $990,000 per year.” But almost no specifics are given justifying much of this amount. This $990,000 budget included $182,617 (18% of budget) for labor and benefits. This is an 83% increase from 2014. The Village currently uses arbitrary percentages to determine how much each department pays for wages and benefits. Prior practice was the use of actual hours work to determine labor and benefit costs. The arbitrary percentages exceed historic values for the Water department.

The $990,000 budget also includes $182,243 (18%) for capital improvement projects. In addition other reserve allocations of expensing depreciation and an RDA equipment reserve exist totaling $168,300 (17% of budget). Upon request the Village Manager produced only a single page detailing the capital improvements. This document does not meet State and professional guidelines.

A capital improvement plan requires detailed information to complete. The majority of this information is available from AECOM’s prior work in the format anticipating this need. However the Village ignores this now using another firm with experience more weighted to zoning through the Rising Tide program. The Rising Tide program is coordinated by the Village Planning Commission. So how does the W&L Board (whom the Village Manager regards as “only advisory”) factor in?

Funding capital improvements can occur different ways. No information was provided by the Village to justify their approach (except that single page). An alternative approach could have been $2.50 increase in base charge, a $1.25 increase per 1,000 gallons, and an incremental $1 per 1,000 gallons every 5 years. The result would be nearly a $2.5 million raised in 20 years.

The truth is that of the current $990,000 budget, a significant portion of this budget is speculative and discretionary. The recent flat rate increases costs for users of 1,000 – 2,000 gallons per month $49 to $58 respectively. These users are more likely to be low or fixed income.

Past management of the Water Department was hardly perfect. It was a significant struggle to maintain service within budget while replacing of the majority of water infrastructure. Phase 5 of the water projects was just completed. Its completion reflects a replacement of over 70% of the water system. The result should be lower operational costs including labor and benefits. The budgeting examples I give are to illustrate the potential for other solutions.

I would strongly suggest the public become involved to demand full disclosure and public participation for re-evaluated rates through the W&L Board. These endeavors should be based on facts and analysis by established methods. At best the Village Management has demonstrated disregard for the public’s concern and their actions and statements are unfortunate.

Sincerely,
Eric N. Buckler, Professional Engineer
Superintendent, Newberry Water & Light 2012 through 2014

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