Houghton passes audit

HOUGHTON – Despite drops in the general fund and equity, Houghton is continuing to do well, according to its most recent audit, City Manager Scott MacInnes said at Wednesday’s Houghton City Council meeting.

“Overall, I think our financial picture is still in excellent shape,” he said.

The city had a $145,000 loss in its general fund this year. Part of that was budgeted for, MacInnes said. Two more transfers were made shortly before the audit to shore up two other funds – $20,000 to the transit fund and $50,000 to public improvement.

Houghton’s fund equity stands at $900,000. It was around $750,000 in 2009, rising to over $1 million for the past couple of years.

“I think $700-800,000 is a comfortable level for us to be at,” he said.

Part of the reduction comes from atypically large contributions to other funds, such as $80,000 to parking improvement and $255,000 to parking.

MacInnes said the Finance Committee should meet before the next city council meeting to review other issues.

Major street went up about $80,000, while local street was up about $134,000. The council passed deficit reduction plans later in the meeting for its water and Downtown Development Activity funds.

MacInnes said he didn’t anticipate much activity in the water-sewer fund for this year.

“Cash is down, and we need to recover from last year,” he said.

MacInnes compared the city’s current situation favorably to that shown in his first cash report as city manager in 1997. In that, the general fund had $11,000 available, with $165,000 in bills.

In other action, the council:

approved a five-year contract for incoming City Manager Eric Waara. In his first year, Waara will receive a base pay of $85,000 and get four weeks of vacation. Waara will receive a $400-per-month vehicle allowance until City Manager Scott MacInnes steps down.

heard a report from Department of Public Works Supervisor Mark Zenner. There were only minor equipment breakdowns as a result of the “polar vortex” that created unusually low temperatures this week. With higher temperatures coming, crews will work to widen streets this weekend. Christmas tree pickup, which the cold and snow have pushed to the backburner, will also be coming.

heard a report from Police Chief John Donnelly. Since the previous meeting there have been 174 complaints, 13 misdemeanors and six civil infractions. The city has picked up its new patrol car, which should be on the road in a week or two. The department added Phil Helminen full-time to replace Zach Wheeler, who took a job with a department in Arizona.

heard a report on downtown from Susie Landers, the city’s business consultant for downtown business retention and development. Landers spoke about several new businesses coming to the downtown, including a “vapor bar” for flavored electronic cigarettes. The Jibba Jabba Rail Jam is tentatively scheduled to return on March 1. The Jibba Jabba would take place on Huron Street between Montezuma and Shelden avenues.

approved a five-year Downtown Development Authority fund deficit reduction plan. The $370,253 debt was due to the DDA financing and parking deck; the parking fund received the asset. The DDA is responsible for payments on the bonds. The debt, which stood at $764,226 in 2007, is scheduled to be paid off by October 2018.

approved a one-year water fund deficit reduction plan. The city has a deficit of $4,270, brought on by decreased residential use and increased maintenance activity from water main reconstruction as part of the city’s water-sewer project.

approved a city ordinance amending the city code regarding zoning. The ordinance includes a list of 17 administrative standards to be considered in zoning requests. Conditional rezoning was moved to the code from another section.

approved new Houghton Fire Department member Ben Christensen. A recent Michigan Technological University graduate, Christensen will be opening his own computer company in the area. Christensen is also a licensed emergency medical technician. The department now has a full roster of 22 members.

approved a hearing of the Rental Housing Board for a request at 908 Sharon Ave. on Jan. 22.

approved the use of Isle Royale Street for the annual Yooper Luge, and Huron Street for the Jibba Jabba Rail Jam.