Sunshine Week 2018: FOIA Updates Three

This is the last day of Sunshine Week 2018 where the legal right of citizens to ask questions of their local elected officials is celebrated by honoring the Open Meetings Act and the Freedom of Information Act.

Does a citizen have the expectation of being able to ask reasonable questions without having to submit a FOIA is a question to also ask elected officials?

The Village of Bear Lake has taken the position that all requests must be done via FOIA.

To reiterate the policy of Bear Lake News – we report, we do not comment.

February 6, 2018:

Under MI Freedom of Information Act (Public Act No. 442 of 1976 as amended): I hereby submit this request.  I am requesting the items in electronic PDF or Word format to be sent to me via email. I am also requesting this issue be discussed at the Budget review hearings.
I am requesting:
1. A copy of the full application for funding sent to USDA concerning the proposed DPW Building – from the documents I have seen, the construction site seems to be in conflict with the access road for the new Water Wells?
Has MDEQ agreed to the storage of salt and sand this close to the well sites?
  1. Communication from USDA confirming acceptance of an application, estimate of fundability, allocation of funds or indication of availability of funds, and in which FY
3. Amount and terms of repayment of the Loan.
4. Amortized final cost, including interest over 30 years.
As this pertains specifically to how the Village will set it’s FY2018-19 Operating Budget it is worth noting the mandate to designate repayment funds as listed in the June 2017 Minutes:
At the request of the USDA & Rural Development, repayment of loan for construction of new DPW building (approx.. $310k over 30 yrs.) must be amended into the 2017-2018 Village Budget. Loan repayment per month approx.. $1,225-$1500)
▪ Motion to amend the budget for repayment of DPW building in 2017-2018 Budget as follows: General $1,800, Water $7,200, Park $1,800, Major $3,600, Minor $3,600, by Bass, seconded by McPherson. Motion Carried

As we know the construction estimate has risen, what is the new line item allocation?

In light of the January Budget Amendments, moving these funds to cover other Budget shortfalls, I would like the Council to address if they either intend to raise taxes or cut expenditures to guarantee the ability to make those future loan repayments? As Streets Superintendent, I am sure you know that only a certain % of Act 51 Funds can be used.
Park
Increase Repairs & Maintenance $1,054.43
Increase Professional Service $433.50
$1,487.93 from DPW Build Repayment
Minor 
Increased Repairs (Outsourced) $1,000
Increase Repairs & Maint-Winter $600
Increase Repair & Maint – Summer $45.93
Increase Equipment Rental $2,100
$3,000 from DPW Building
$700 from Gas & Oil

Reply Received February 8, 2018:
“Answer to your questions:

I am requesting:
1. A copy of the full application for funding sent to USDA concerning the proposed DPW Building – attached
from the documents I have seen, the construction site seems to be in conflict with the access road for the new Water Wells? – No, it is designed around it.
 
Has MDEQ agreed to the storage of salt and sand this close to the well sites? – Well testing has been accepted by the DEQ.

2. Communication from USDA confirming acceptance of an application, estimate of fundability, – USDA has not awarded the village any funds.

allocation of funds or indication of availability of funds, – USDA has indicated funds are available

 and in which FY – unknown

3. Amount and terms of repayment of the Loan. – no award has been given
4. Amortized final cost, including interest over 30 years. – no award has been given
Repayment has been budgeted – no award has been given at this time.
Thank you for your concern.”
February 13, 2018:
having had a chance to consider, and ask for some expert assistance regarding your response, I don’t believe my questions have been answered?
1. The document you sent, SF-424, is just the cover sheet – dated 9/14/17
“This is a standard form used by applicants as a required face sheet for pre-applications and applicatons submitted for Federai assistance. It will be used by Federal agencies to obtain applicant certification that States which have established a review and comment procedure in response to Executive Order 12372 and have selected the program to be included In their process, have been given an opportunity to review the applicant’s submission.”
On November 15 the Village held a Public Hearing where it was stated that USDA had requested changes to the application (see attached documents you previously supplied as a partial response to a prior request for the Public Hearing documents)
My request was to see the full application not the cover sheet – the Summary, Narrative, Environmental Assessment, the Proposed Timeline and the Site Plan
2. In reviewing the initial draft designs, the Village is proposing a 60′ x 40′ structure with a 42′ trench drain to a sump pit? Does the new design include a revised VOC catch basin?
3. In reviewing the Bid package for the water project – where will the DPW building be located on this property? It’s original location was scheduled as adjacent to the Sand storage barn?
The reason for this query is that one of the reasons given for requiring the relocation of the existing wells was their proximity to potential sources of surface/ground water contamination.
Comparing the design of the DPW building to the attached schematic of the Water well access raises questions.
a) close proximity to the main 8″ tie in line as well as the natural gas service line
b) the potential for damage or destabilization of those lines during construction and operation of the proposed DPW building – unless, of course the Village intends to locate the structure elsewhere?
My question does not relate to MDEQ testing of the wells themselves – however, as a prior member of the Wellhead Protection Committee, and as the well drilling and water quality reports are available I would like to see those please?
4. At the November 2017 Public Hearing it was noted that USDA queried the defined costs. My request to see the communications from USDA was as follows with your response in bold:
2. Communication from USDA confirming acceptance of an application, estimate of fundability, – USDA has not awarded the village any funds.
allocation of funds or indication of availability of funds, – USDA has indicated funds are available
 and in which FY – unknown
3. Amount and terms of repayment of the Loan. – no award has been given
4. Amortized final cost, including interest over 30 years. – no award has been given

Again I requested the confirmation from USDA on the fundability and anticipated terms and timeline of an award?

5. There is a significant math discrepancy in the attached SF 424C Budget Information Sheet – can you supply the final version approved following the November 15 Public Hearing?

And again – the original proposed repayment was for $310,000 financed over 30 years. The attached SF 424C lists $328,134.32 – how does the Village plan to allocate this new amount to it’s FY2018-19 Budget?

As the Village is proposing a $2.25m debt for Village residents, although I appreciate these questions may be outside your realm of expertise, your assistance would be appreciated in supplying the requested documentation.
Response received February 15, 2018:

“I have sent you the information that I have regarding your questions.  If you would like me to continue research on additional items you have listed, I would be glad to do that.  However, there would be FOIA research costs that would need to be paid up front before any research would be done.  Please advise me if you will pay FOIA fees for researching your questions and I can send you an FOIA itemized cost sheet.

The Proposed Budget 2018-2019 was sent to you regarding repayment of the DPW building.
Confirmation from USDA on the fund ability, anticipated terms & time line of award, again, The village has not been awarded and funds at this time.
You are right, some of these questions are out of my expertise, maybe we should let the professionals working on this project do their job!
Thank you for your concerns.”
February 18, 2018: A request was sent to the Village President:
“I would like to know – is the Village Clerk unable to locate a filed PDF copy of the DPW USDA loan/project application revised following the November 2017 Public Hearing? Or the prior/subsequent USDA Letter of Commitment?
If so, please let me know so I can request one directly from USDA.”
A response was received February 21, 2018:
“Jennifer Wahr at the USDA may be able to help you if Cindi does not have the information you need.”
The approved FY2018-19 Budget can be viewed here. It was sent to Bear Lake News by a member of the public:
The Minutes seem to indicate an additional piece of property has been purchased but this can not be confirmed at this time.

Sunshine Week 2018: FOIA Update 2

Sunshine Week 2018 – March 11-17

This week Bear Lake News revisits some of the issues local residents and tax payers have sought information on via FOIA or simple requests.

All requests for information now are routinely sent instruction on how to submit a FOIA request.

A recent request sought to clarify the status of a USDA application/grant toward the purchase of a replacement blade/snow plow truck.

See this prior post from last year for some background on this issue.

https://bearlakemichigan49614.com/2017/06/18/special-meeting-village-of-bear-lake-held-may-26-2017-re-plow-truck/

A follow up was sent to USDA

https://bearlakemichigan49614.com/2017/08/11/status-of-a-new-snow-plow-truck/

Replacement of the existing plow truck began with weighing the cost of maintaining that versus buying a newer vehicle. The argument was made in three applications for funding assistance that the vehicle known as ‘Big Red’ was too old and too costly to maintain.

When the decision was made to purchase a newer version, while continuing to operate ‘Big Red’, residents wondered why? It was stated that the sand hopper did not fit the new vehicle and in the current 2018 application for Revenue Sharing support a replacement is requested.

https://bearlakemichigan49614.com/2018/03/08/village-of-bear-lake-february-21-2018-meeting-documents/

On February 6, 2018 the following request was sent:

Under MI Freedom of Information Act (Public Act No. 442 of 1976 as amended):
I hereby submit this request. I understand I am entitled to receive the requested items within 5 business days. I am requesting the items in electronic PDF or Word format to be sent to me via email.
I am requesting a copy of the USDA Award confirmation letter and terms of payment for the Blade Truck.
 
In the September 2017 Minutes:
Buildings, Grounds & Equipment:
PLOW TRUCK – A $14k grant was approved from the USDA. Grant maybe lower than $14k due to grant being 40% of cost. Jared & Jeff Bair have been to the dealership in Mesick to look at a completely over-hauled plow truck. Additional MDOT required lighting, hitch for one-way plow needs to be added to truck. The
old truck will be used for salt & hot patch work. A $5K deposit is required. The village will need to purchase truck & USDA will reimburse the village after
purchase.
Motion to move forward to purchase a newer plow truck, pending no problems with revenue sharing grant money by McPherson, seconded by Schroeder. Motion carried.
Motion to take $5K from minor savings for the down payment on the plow truck by Ronning, seconded by Johnson. Motion carried.

And in October, 2017:

Buildings, Grounds & Equipment:
The deposit ($5,000.00) for the new plow truck was made. Additional required items were needed for the truck, per MDOT. An engine block heater was also needed as the truck is parked outside during the winter and a wing blade was added. Total cost of plow truck is $37,690.00. The money will be taken from Major Savings; $5690.00, Minor Savings; $2,000 and Equipment Savings $25,000. As the truck is used Equipment Rental will be charged & money transferred to the Equipment Account.
Motion to write a check for the plow truck for $32,690.00 by Ronning, seconded by McPherson. Motion carried.
I would like to know:
a) how much was awarded
b) how much has been received
c) how much has been spent to operate and insure this vehicle
d) when will the sander be installed
d) how much has been spent to retain the prior blade and sander vehicle both in repairs and insurance costs.

And the response received on February 13, 2018:

“Answers to your FOIA questions:
 
I would like to know:
a) how much was awarded – $16,000.00 will be awarded
b) how much has been received – $0
c) how much has been spent to operate and insure this vehicle – Insurance is $665.00
d) when will the sander be installed – the sander is installed in the old plow truck
d) how much has been spent to retain the prior blade and sander vehicle both in repairs and insurance costs. – insurance is $665.00, 
 
We do not track separate operating/repairs for each of the trucks you are referencing.”
The resident wonders why not sell the old vehicle and put the proceeds toward the cost of purchase and upgrades to the replacement vehicle?

Sunshine Week 2018: FOIA Updates

It’s Your Right to Know

March 11-17, 2018

Sunshine Week lasts seven days, but it’s up to all of us to keep the sun shining on government all year. Share your local FOIA stories and other efforts on behalf of open government on Twitter using #SunshineWeek.”

During this week Bear Lake News will report on recent FOIA submissions and the response they received.

A local tax payer submitted a FOIA requesting the 2016 and 2017 W3, W2s and 1099 Misc documents as a record of the % spent on salaries and wages following the State of MI reporting online for 2016

 

  • Village of Bear Lake 2016
  • Census

    Name Value
    Population 282.0
    Square Mileage 0.31
  • Budget

    And in 2018 see Year End figures here.

    The request was submitted February 7, 2018. The response was received on February 13 as follows:

    I am asking for a 10 day extension for your FOIA request on;  any and all of the 2016 and 2017 Federal and State W3, W2 and 1099 Misc forms completed and/or submitted for or on behalf of the Village to be sent to me via email in electronic PDF or Word format.
    There will be a charge of $50, [NB: = 2 hours of labor charged] paid in advance for this request.  FOIA Cost document attached.
    A check can be sent to:
    Bear Lake Village
    Attention: Clerk
    PO Box 175
    Bear Lake, MI  49614

    A subsequent follow up by a different resident asked for only 2017 documents – a total of 21 (with SS# redacted) for which Baird, Cotter and Bishop PC were paid $400 to prepare in January, 2018.

    On Tue, Mar 13, 2018 at 10:47 PM:

    Under MI Freedom of Information Act (Public Act No. 442 of 1976 as amended) I hereby submit the following request:
    In looking at the attached, I see that Baird, Cotter, & Bishop PC were paid $400 in February to prepare 2017 W3, W2s and I assume the 1099 Misc?
    Past Minutes state that Baird, Cotter, & Bishop PC were hired to train the Clerk and Treasurer to properly use the Village accounting software, not perform accounting duties?
    As $400 was paid to them to send in both federal and state 2017 documents, and knowing that both agencies require filing online, Baird, Cotter & Bishop PC would have submitted and supplied a PDF electronic copy to the Village to distribute to employees and contractors.
    By my count this should translate to 9 Council, 3 Employees, 4 Planning Commission, The Blight Enforcement Officer W2s. And 3 1099s: Mead Hunt, Fleis VandenBrink and Baird Cotter themselves. A total of 20 documents requiring the redaction of social security numbers. At 5 seconds per redaction that does not meet the 15 minute threshold for requiring payment.
    As the W3, W2s and 1099 Misc had to be prepared before January 31, 2018 – I am requesting, within 5 days, an electronic copy please.

Response received March 14, 2018:

“Thank you for your FOIA request for the forms, I will need to ask for a 10 day extension on this request as I need to request the electronic forms from the CPA office.

If they have to do the redacting of information there, there could be some cost and we would need to pass along it on to you, paid in advance.
If I use my paper copies and black out all personal information, scan and email them, there would be a be a $50.00 cost paid in advance.
Please advise if you would like me to continue with this request.”
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Changes to FOIA policy

The reasonable rights of residents to ask and receive information about how their local government expends their taxes would seem to be a given.

In the majority of local governments, open and transparent 2 way communication between the elected and those who elected them is seen as both a public responsibility of service.

At the July meeting the following was enacted:

  • FOIA Detailed Cost Itemization/FOIA Policy & Summary
  •  A motion was made to change the wording from 15 minutes to one (1) minute increments (where it applies) when charging for a FOIA request for Labor Cost, by Bass, seconded by Johnson. Motion carried.

Aye: Bass, Evans, Johnson, McPherson Ronning, Bair

Nay: none

Absent: Schroeder

  • Second motion to FOIA Detailed Cost Itemization/FOIA Policy & Summary o A motion was made to start new price change immediately on FOIA Detailed Cost Itemization by Bass, seconded by Johnson. Motion Carried.

Aye: Bass, Evans, Johnson, McPherson, Ronning, Bair

Nay: none

Absent: Schroeder

Although the audio recording is poor, a proviso was made to have a legal opinion on this matter before instituting.

This cost itemization is now published to the Village web site. http://www.bearlakemichigan.org/foia.html