After months of discussion, Blue Lake Township passed a resolution to pay a bill from Prein&Newhof from the Browns Pond Maintenance fund. According to multiple sources, the township never asked permission to use money from that fund, therefore, breaking t
After a close vote, the Blue Lake Township board, last Monday night, decided to pay the Prein&Newhof bill for their presentation on Brown’s Pond from the Brown’s special assessment fund.
Last summer, former Blue Lake Township Supervisor Don Studaven hired the engineering firm, Prein&Newhof, to present a plan on how to fix the various problems with the Brown’s Pond dam. The firm met with the board and gave them a presentation, and then sent them a bill for their services, originally totalling around $1,100. The township then received two more invoices bringing the total to $2,706.
Studaven gave the invoice to former Township Clerk Fred Arbogast to pay in the November 2012 bills. Arbogast said he thought the invoice was “odd”, as the board had not approved the spending or hiring of Prein&Newhof.
“Don took it upon himself to hire the engineering company,” Fred said. He didn’t pay the bill, but looked up the Uniform Budgeting and Accounting Act to see if Studaven had violated the law. Fred also contacted Norm Swier, president of the Brown’s Pond Association, to ask if he had heard about the bill, which he had not.
The township wanted to pay those bills from the Brown’s Pond Maintenance Fund. That fund had been set up by the board in 2004 as a special assessment.
Supervisor Melonie Arbogast told the board and audience that when that fund was set up, it was created to help keep up and repair the dam when needed, and that this is a charge that falls into that category.
Swier was not happy with the board. According to Swier, the board must ask the association for approval to use any money in the maintenance fund. Studaven did not consult the association before he hired Prein&Newhof for the presentation.
Swier contacted another engineer who stated that the presentation from Prein&Newhof should have been done for free or very little money.
Swier suggested to the board that they send Prein&Newhof a check for $100 and thank them for their services.
Melonie told Swier and the audience that the board had contacted the engineering firm and asked to have the bill reduced, but never got a response.
“Under-payment is not an option,” she said.
Deb Therrian, township treasurer, said she contacted the Michigan Municipal Treasurers Association, who told her that the price should have been approved by the board before the firm was hired, but since that wasn’t done they must deal with it now.
“I’m having a very difficult time with this,” Therrian said. “I think it was done in a bad way.”
Therrian explained that while she doesn’t think the Brown’s Pond Association should have to pay the bill, she also doesn’t want the money to come out of the general fund.
Studaven told the board that he did not contact the association because it was his responsibility to get the project underway. He stated he was not happy that he was being told he was wrong.
“I’m not going to sit here and have someone tell me I was wrong,” Studaven said.
A motion was made by Lisa Knop, township clerk, and supported by Studaven to pay the invoices from the Browns Pond Maintenance fund. It passed 3-2, with Therrian and Lyle Monette voting against the motion.
After it was passed, an audience member stated that what they did was wrong and illegal, which Monette agreed with.
“If we have a lawsuit, I don’t want to be part of it,” Monette said.
According to Fred, the township is due to be audited during the month of March. If the auditor finds that Studaven did not ask permission by the board and association to hire Prein&Newhof, it will be reported to the state treasurer who will then report it to the attorney general. If the auditor doesn’t find that information, it is the duty of the township to report it, which Fred said he is ready to do.
As stated in the Uniform Budgeting and Accounting Act, “The attorney general shall review the report and initiate appropriate action against the chief administrative officer, fiscal officer, administrative officer, employee, or member of the legislative body. For the use and benefit of the local unit, the attorney general or prosecuting attorney may institute a civil action in a court of competition jurisdiction for the recovery of funds of a local unit, disclosed by an examination to have been illegally expended or collected as a result of malfeasance and not accounted for as provided in sections 17 to 19, and for the recovery of public property disclosed to have been converted or misappropriated.”
“I don’t apologize for bringing it up,” Fred said. “It is my job to make sure to follow the rules and laws.”