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Uncertainty abounds as Alpena Township crafts 2021 budget

ALPENA TOWNSHIP — Last year, the Alpena Township Board of Trustees began its fiscal year with a balanced budget, and it hopes to repeat that accomplishment this budget cycle.

Matching revenues to expenses may prove more difficult this year, however, as uncertainty on state revenue sharing could impact the township’s general fund.

Another financial hurdle may be the unknown cost of rebuilding the township’s fire department, which makes the public safety fund budget murky now. The department is woefully understaffed and the township has contracted the Alpena Fire Department to help fill in the gaps.

The township began this fiscal year with estimated general fund revenue of $1.7 million and expenses of $1.7 million. It started the fiscal year with $913,638 in its general fund savings account.

Township Supervisor Nathan Skibbe said he is scheduling a series of budget meetings at which the township board will comb over revenues and expenses for each department and every fund.

He said moves made this year, such as hiring a contractor to manage the township’s water operations, should help lower costs, or at least make spending more predictable.

Skibbe said the contract with F&V Operations and Resource Management means the township should get a better idea of what true operational costs are, which should make budgeting more accurate.

“The bottom line is, it is a known cost,” Skibbe said. “We are going to sit down with F&V and go through capital improvement projects and forecast other potential expenses.”

F&V has what Skibbe describes as an allowance of $250,000 that the company utilizes for operational needs, materials, supplies, and other basic costs. He said the cost of any capital improvement projects or emergency repairs would be above and beyond that amount.

Skibbe said projects and unexpected costs are always anticipated, no matter who is managing the department.

Skibbe said the general fund budget should be consistent with the current fiscal year, which ends on March 31. He said the same cannot be said for the Public Safety Fund, which pays for the Fire Department.

Township trustees recently authorized the hire of qualified firefighter/emergency medical technician candidates, but none of the positions have been filled, yet.

Currently there are only two full-time employees on staff, including Fire Chief Dave Robbins.

Skibbe said the uncertainty makes budgeting for public safety more challenging than in years past.

“Budgeting depends on what the future is, and what the structure of the department looks like,” he said. “Those are discussions we will have during the budget process, but, right now, there are a lot of unknowns.”

Skibbe said he expects as many as six budget meetings, and hopes most of the financial planning can be hammered out by the middle of February.

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