Vernon strives to keep lid on costs

| 22 Feb 2012 | 08:09

    Budget dominates all areas of discussion at council meeting, By Jennifer Knocha Vernon — The budget was on the minds of all at last Thursday’s Vernon Township Council meeting. First, with a proposed grant writing contract; then with the topic of health benefits for retired township employees and lastly with a revised fee schedule for the building department. A proposal to enter a $50,000 contract with Bruno Associates for grant writing drew out township resident Vic Marotta. He stood up to ask the council to vote against it. “Being an old-time conservative, I would like to pay our bills before we make any expenditures,” he said. He also found it ironic that the township would spend tax money to make money. Mayor Austin Carew defended the move, saying that the grant writer would likely pull in enough money to cover his contract. Carew also explained that with the recent layoffs, the township staff is stretched too tight to look for, apply for and maintain grants. Despite his defense, the resolution was put off at the request of council member Valerie Seufert, so that Bruno Associates could come to a council meeting and explain their services in more detail. Health benefits Also getting into details, Township Manager Melinda Carlton and Pennie Roland, who is director of personnel, brought some eye-popping numbers to the council’s attention about health benefits. Currently, the township has 32 retired employees receiving health benefits, which will cost $809,000 in 2009. But by 2014, those benefits are anticipated to cost $1.5 million — and that’s only if the number of retirees stays the same. According to Roland’s research, health insurance costs will increase by 12 percent per year between 2010 and 2014. And prescription insurance costs will go up 19 percent. The employee contracts dictate that retirees have to get the same benefits as active employees. To save in future budgets, according to Carlton, it may be wise to make changes to the healthcare benefits for all employees. She presented the board with a long list of options. Hot topic The most highly debated change of the evening was a list of revised fees for the building department. Much to the dismay of Mayor Austin Carew, the department, which posted a loss last year, had to raise its fees to keep up with rising costs. “Some of these fees have gone up 50 percent,” Carew said. “With the economy the way it is, how can we do that?” Fees have been increased in six years, Carlton said. By law, the building department must make enough money to support itself. But Carew would not be swayed. The proposed fee schedule was sent back to the building department for re-evaluation.