Finances, services top list of priorities for Gaines Township in 2021

GAINES TWP. — The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unique challenges to Gaines Township, and looking to 2021, officials there are hoping the virus will loosen its grip so they can get back to business as usual.

“I think we need to help the citizen of the township deal with the lockdown and societal issues related to the pandemic,” said Supervisor Paul Fortino.

In concert with the upheaval are concerns about finances.

“We need to deal with the financial fallout of the pandemic,” said Fortino. “We really haven’t had a chance to assess how difficult the financial situation is going to be. It will take a few months, I think, until we can get a handle on the financial damage that has been done and then try to figure out a way to make the best of a bad situation.

“We don’t exactly know (what the impact will be) with all of the businesses that are shut down, and how that will affect the state budget, which will then affect the township’s budget (through revenue sharing).”

Elected officials will begin budget hearings this month, despite the challenge that the in-person meeting prohibition creates.

“That is a whole other problem,” said Fortino. “How do we deal with not being able to have in-person meetings?”

With three of the five board members newly elected, the need for face-to-face meetings is paramount, he said.

“We have new people on the board and they’ve never been through (budget hearings) before,” Fortino explained. “It’s very difficult to do it virtually.”

Beyond the challenges of the virus, the township still has a “pretty aggressive” infrastructure/road improvement program in conjunction with the Genesee County Road Commission.

There again, state contributions to the township budget create concern.

“We need a substantial amount of money to match the Act 51 money we get from the state through the road commission,” Fortino said.

Act 51 created the Michigan Transportation Fund, which generates revenues through fuel taxes, registration fees and other transportation-related costs. Revenues from the MTF are funneled through county road commissions to local units of government to help offset the cost of road improvements. The thing is, cities and townships have to pony up their fair share.

“How we’re going to come up with that money is anybody’s guess at this point,” Fortino said.

Specific road projects are yet to be determined.

“We have until the spring thaw to make our final decision,” Fortino said.

Township officials also will look at how they will fund the services the township provides.

“We have to figure out a way to have a stable revenue source for the police department and for the equipment side of the fire department,” Fortino said. “Our fire trucks are aged out, our Class A pumpers are at the end of their lives. So, we have to figure out a way of financing at least one new Class A pumper for the fire department, and we have to figure out a way to have a stable revenue source for the police department.”