Farmington officials want clarification about spending millage funds

A request to replace a phone system, made during Monday’s Farmington city council meeting, led to a discussion about how to spend new tax dollars.

Voters in November approved a 3-mill levy, with at least 1.5 mills paying for larger capital expenditures. Replacing the outdated phone system is in the city’s capital budget, but without a price tag.

City Manager David Murphy asked for permission to re-join a partnership with the City of Farmington Hills that would result in a unified communications system. Along with new VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) phones, the project could have included security enhancements, closed circuit cameras in city facilities and parks, infrastructure and storage improvements, improved wi-fi, and more.

Farmington dropped out of the joint project due to lack of funds. Murphy said the new millage would allow the city to join in Farmington Hills’ approved contract. Consultant Plante Moran would do an inventory of the multiple phone systems, talk with department heads about their needs, then recommend technology and oversee the project.

While officials agreed the city’s phone system should be replaced, they questioned the fixed $12,500 consulting fee for inventory and planning. Council member Joe LaRussa noted officials haven’t had much discussion about “execution of the millage.”

“I’m concerned about this being the first of many small requests that will obligate us to a split in the millage,” he said. “I think we have to have a larger dialogue about what we want to do with the decision made by the people.”

Cost of the phone system alone could range from $50,000 to $70,000. Mayor Steven Schneemann said the additional items could run into hundreds of thousands. Council member Sara Bowman called spending $12,500 to start an open-ended process “a little unnerving.”

“The worst thing that could happen in my mind with the millage is that we spend it on a bunch of little projects, and not have enough for the big ones,” council member Maria Taylor said.

Weber said while he and Murphy could create a Request for Proposals, that would require a lot of time spent in research, talking with vendors, and trying to determine which offered the best solution.

Bowman suggested finding out what system Farmington Public Schools uses; Schneemann mentioned contacting WOW and other local phone service providers to see what they offer.

“Let’s take advantage of what’s free,” Schneemann said.