Thomson Township residents set budgetTwo different youth sporting associations made a run at more money at the Thomson Township annual meeting March 12, but both requests were voted down in the end.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
Two different youth sporting associations made a run at more money at the Thomson Township annual meeting March 12, but both requests were voted down in the end.
All township residents are invited to the annual meeting. Each year, township officials review the previous year’s expenses and present a suggested levy and budget for the following year. Each person in attendance has the opportunity to vote on the new tax levy and budget.
“It’s not a board decision,” said Thomson Township Board Chairperson Terry Hill, noting that the board presents a proposed budget but the final decision belongs to the community. “Everyone in attendance has the same vote and can make motions. It really is government in its truest grassroots form.”
Between 30 and 40 people attended the meeting, Township Clerk/Treasurer Rhonda Peleski said, noting that not everyone signed in. The entire population of Thomson Township is estimated at 5,003.
According to Peleski, representatives from the Esko Hockey Association and the Esko Soccer Association made additional budget requests at the March 12 meeting. The soccer association asked for $17,000 to help pay for hydro-seeding on most of the fields in 2014. The hockey association asked for an additional $30,000 for each of the next five years for all youth sports, said Bob Thornton, Esko Hockey and Skating Association board member and treasurer.
Peleski said 21 people voted for the levy as presented by township officials — without the extra funds requested by the two sports associations — while 12 people voted against the original levy.
Hill said the township has increased what it gives to recreation in the past few years; the township gave $10,000 in 2012 to the recreation fund, $12,000 in 2013 and $14,000 in 2014. As well, in November — on a vote of 1,793 to 1,266 — Esko voters authorized the district to issue general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed $2.7 million in order to rebuild the school’s outdated and flood-damaged athletic facilities. A separate group in town, the Esko Turf Club, is also fundraising to pay for artificial turf for the high school’s multipurpose field (used for football and soccer, among other things).
Thornton argued that although the dollar amount for recreation in the township budget has increased, the items that are funded have also increased and now include trails, among other things. He said that the hockey association got $5,500 from the township in 2007 and only $3,100 in 2012.
Expenses for the hockey association — which serves kids ages 4-9 years old — add up to approximately $11,000 a year. At approximately $7,500 per year, heating and maintaining the shelter makes up more than half of the expenses. Thornton said the township covers about a third of those, hockey fees cover another third and the group ends up fundraising to cover the other third.
“Which leaves us with nothing for the infrastructure. That’s why things are deteriorating,” Thornton said.
The $30,000 figure came out of a meeting and informal needs assessment of the various Esko youth sports associations, he said. The flood damaged or destroyed storage facilities for several groups, plus the hockey rinks and boards are in rough shape. The list goes on.
“We added up everything we need and came up with that as a starting point for a discussion,” he said, expressing disappointment that the proposals were “flatly rejected.”
Peleski said it’s not unusual to get such requests at the annual meeting.
“Every year, you never know who will be in the audience, asking for what,” she said. “It’s a group decision in the end though.”
Hill, whose children have participated in Esko athletics, said he is sympathetic but has to consider everyone’s needs as a township board member.
“We have to be fiscally responsible,” Hill said, pointing out all the expenses — from fire and police to roads and bridges — the township has to budget for. “And we’re also accountable to people who didn’t support the school improvements.”
As presented by township officials, the 2014 budget was proposed at $1,389,481, or 3 percent ($40,470) higher than the 2013 levy.
Funds are allotted as follows:
General fund - $305,231
Town Hall fund - $26,100
Road and Bridge fund - $527,600
Road Improvement fund - $78,000
Police fund - $89,850
Fire fund - $55,200
Fire Relief fund - $10,000
Capital Improvement fund - $150,000
Recreation fund - $14,000
Park/Tree fund - $3,900
Animal Control - $4,500
2007 Business Park Debt Service including bond, interest and fees - $125,100 plus $20,815 (for the sewer debt service)
Thornton said he blames the business park, noting that funding for hockey has dropped 46 percent since 2007, when the business park was built.
He’s hoping township residents will change their minds when the annual meeting reconvenes in August to add final touches to the budget/levy.
In the meantime, the hockey association is looking north for grant money.
“We’re pursuing as many grants as we can,” Thornton said. “We’ve already applied for just about everything out there in U.S. hockey, now we’re applying for grants from Canadian hockey.”