Schuette asked to settle OPC budget dispute

The dispute over the Rochester Older Persons Commission budget is now in the hands of Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette.

The city of Rochester has asked Schuette for an opinion on whether the OPC is violating state law that governs entities created by an interlocal agreement, specifically by spending money without a budget approved by the member communities. Rochester Hills City Council and the Oakland Township Board have approved the OPC’s 2012 budget; Rochester City Council has not.

There’s been very little movement toward settlement since the dispute began last year, when the budget was submitted to the three municipalities. In past years, the budget submitted by the OPC governing board was routinely approved by the three municipalities. That ended when, in 2011, the OPC board voted to boost compensation to its full-time employees through the creation of a pension plan and a large increase in the payment in lieu of health insurance. That was followed by the 2012 budget, which included a 1-percent raise and step raises.

Rochester City Council said all the increases, taken together, were too generous during recessionary times. Both the OPC board and Rochester City Council have offered compromises, but no deal has been reached. Meanwhile, the OPC continues to operate, and Rochester’s two representatives on the board are refusing to vote to pay the bills.

In April, Rochester City Council voted to have the city’s auditor conduct an independent audit of the OPC travel program. The program has come under fire by some councilmembers because OPC Executive Director Mary Miller and governing board member Joan Fogler sometimes serve as travel guides on trips.

The OPC board at first refused the request, but later relented and the audit has since been conducted. Rochester Mayor Stuart Bikson said he hopes the report will be ready for council’s July 9 meeting. As for the attorney general’s opinion, there’s been no word yet on the request.

“The reason I voted for it is I think we need some direction,” Bikson said. “Not much has changed since this started.”

The interlocal that established the OPC is at the heart of the conflict. In the wake of the stalemate, a committee of OPC board members has drafted changes. Rochester City Council has so far declined to take up the matter.

“I think we’re kind of now waiting to see what’s going on with the attorney general opinion,” Bikson said. He said he is prepared to accept Schuette’s opinion, whichever way it comes down.

The proposed changes would, among other things, remove the requirement that the three municipalities approve each year’s OPC budget and allow a majority of votes cast on the OPC board to carry a motion, not a majority of the 8-member board.

At Monday’s Rochester Hills City Council meeting, Councilman Ravi Yalamanchi, who also serves on the OPC board, said the OPC has significantly grown as an organization since it was established in 1983 and the changes are needed.

“We want effective, efficient operations,” he said. “I think we felt there were unintended consequences.”

Hills Councilman Jim Rosen said he doesn’t want to tinker much with the agreement. He suggested that the OPC implement a budget-planning strategy similar to what the cities use, setting goals and objectives each year before plugging in budget numbers.

“I’ve come to the conclusion the more I look at the interlocal agreement … that it was very carefully thought through to balance the interests of three different communities,” Rosen said. “No community can dominate the OPC board without at least one of the other two communities going along with it.”

Bikson said those amendments will never be approved by Rochester City Council. “The city councils are the taxing authority,” he said.

As the months have passed, the OPC received high marks in its 2011 audit, which reported a surplus in each of the last five years, even as revenues have been declining due to the recession. The board has also unanimously approved a code of conduct and ethics policy and a vote of confidence in Miller.

“This has nothing to do with how wonderful the OPC is,” said Rochester Councilwoman Cathy Daldin.

Speak Your Mind