At last night’s New Buffalo City Council meeting, the council members voted to pursue using The Pokagon Funds and some small grants to complete a new dune walk at the beach. Street Supervisor Tony Ashbaugh ignored the invitation of the DNR to apply for a large match grant in 2017 but council members did not seem concerned about the employee’s neglect because it is easier to access funds from The Pokagon Fund instead. DNR Communications
Not one member of the council questioned why the voter restricted park improvement funds were not being used for the dune walk since that is the intended usage of those funds. Had they asked, city employees would have to tell them that the restricted funds were being misused for general park operations and dredging the harbor to ease the strain on the city’s general fund. By using The Pokagon Fund’s money for major park improvements instead of the restricted park funds, then using the restricted park improvement funds for general operations, The Pokagon Fund is helping to supplement the city’s general fund.
In August 2016, Street Supervisor Tony Ashbaugh asked contractual Treasurer Debra Lambrix if he could use the voter approved park improvement millage to purchase a John Deere tractor that he could use for the streets as well as the Parks. Her answer was for him to be careful because the park millage was for park improvements only.
In January 2017, the city’s auditor told the council that the drain from the city’s General Fund was getting pretty scary noting specifically funds being transferred for general park operations.
Recently, the council members congratulated the city staff for maintaining a strong general fund. But instead of living within the city’s budget, the city employees are using the park improvement millage for purchasing and leasing equipment plus $35,688 was transferred to the Harbor Dredging Fund. It is illegal to use special assessments for purposes other than the reason they were established. The park improvement fund should only be used for improvement projects not to help balance the city’s budget.
Park Fund 2017 Audit 20162017 expenses Restricted Park Fund
Through three voter approved park improvement millages, the city has collected over 1 million dollars yet we see continued deterioration of the shoreline, dune walk, concession stand, boardwalk, and playground equipment. Every five years, approximately $500,000 is collected through the park assessment. The first assessment went to improvements at Oselka Park then from 2010 – 2012, $280,000 of the special assessment was used for debt reduction. (The Pokagon Fund withdrew approximately $350,000 from the project due to mismanagement of the project).
The Pokagon Fund Letter Park Improvement Millage Ballot Questions
letter about park millage to city council
Since the third voter approved park assessment, during fiscal year 2016/2017, much of the expended $133,000 was used inappropriately that included harbor dredging, equipment leasing, and even $4,950 was paid to Bill McCollum for a drawing of a concession stand. None of these expenditures can be traced back to capital improvements that enhance the parks.
The City Council must stop robbing Peter to pay Paul, using park improvement money to supplement general funds. Equipment used for general operations should be purchased or leased through the general fund. Debt reduction due to poor management should also come out of the general budget not restricted park improvement funds. And finally, dredging the harbor is not a park improvement and our elected council members should be providing better oversight. It isn’t acceptable to misuse the Restricted Park Millages and then use The Pokagon Funds to cover for the misuse of the restricted funds.