|Teresa Fortino has been the owner and operator of Fortino’s Flowers and Gifts for over 20 years. A graduate of Central Michigan University and Waterford Mott High School, she is the daughter of the late Waterford Township clerk Betty Fortino. She and her husband have three grown children.|
Teresa Fortino and Rita Holloway-Irwin will compete in the Tuesday, Aug. 7 primary election for the Democratic nomination for Waterford Township clerk. Township clerks serve four-year terms and is compensated between $72,696 and $94,507 annually, depending on experience.
The following are questions our staff recently posed to Fortino and her response to those questions.
CLERK’S ROLE: Clerks have a role in the township’s financial affairs that is often overlooked. Is there a need for changes or improvements in the way the Clerk’s Office handles these financial responsibilities?
FORTINO: As far as I know, the office runs efficiently. They do have a full-time person because the clerk handles the accounts payable and receivables and keeps record of all those transactions. They do have a full-time position for that and also someone who assists her. So as far as keeping track of all the financial aspects of it, I think they are doing a great job and would continue that process. I do know they are combining the purchasing agent with that part-time position, as well. They have a good handle on it.
RECORDS: The township clerk is also responsible for record-keeping and storage of the township’s records and documents. What changes or upgrades, if any, do you anticipate having to make in the way records are kept or stored in the township?
FORTINO: I know there’s a problem with the storage issues in the sense that they are running out of space. There has been some discussion on digitizing and scanning of all the records. However, there is a cost associated with doing that by an outside source. I think the Planning Department at one time, or the Building Department, had done that and had to have it repeated at an additional cost. As time permits, (Clerk’s Office) staff is scanning and digitizing at no additional cost to the taxpayer. I know it takes a little longer, but especially right now, there are no extra revenues and I think it’s an an effective way to solve this problem. There is a schedule that is already for how long the records need to be retained and disposed. That’s already in place.
BUDGET: Years of revenue decline prompting by falling home values and other reasons have forced a variety of budget cuts. What changes in township budgeting priorities or processes do you advocate to deal with these hurdles? Where could the township’s budget be trimmed back? What, if anything, in the budget should be held harmless from the budget ax?
FORTINO: I think that the problems we’re facing in Waterford are not unique if you look at other municipalities. Waterford is faring better than most. Some of the things they’ve done to deal with these issues, like collaborating with outside sources. I know there was a presentation by (the) Oakland County (Sheriff’s Department) to outsource (police and fire) dispatching. I’m not privy to inside information, but the claim is it could save $500,000. I don’t know if that’s accurate. Of course, if the savings to the taxpayers is there without compromising services, that’s something we realistically have to look at.
The number of township employees have gone down significantly. Even with the police force, it’s almost been cut in half. There have been concessions. Legacy costs, everyone knows, are eating up the budget and there have been a lot of concessions in that area. There are things we have to continue to look at. Realistically, the biggest challenge is to maintain the services we enjoy at this point.
I think the budget is pretty bare bones. Community Planning and Planning is being combined. (Community Planning and Development Director) Bob Vallina is leaving and they won’t be replacing him. I think it’s coordinating efforts and looking to outside sources. Police are looking at a couple grants — I know of two with collaborative efforts with other municipalities for state money.
I feel the same way as my opponent: The police (should be held harmless). Safety is the cornerstone to a good community and feeling safe, and education. These are the most important areas we have to maintain.
POLICE/FIRE DISPATCH: Some on the township board have come forward with a proposal to contract with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department for police and fire dispatch services as a way to save money. Explain why you do or don’t support the proposal.
FORTINO: I think it was more of a presentation rather than proposal, per se. A lot of people were upset about it and I can’t blame them. I spoke with a couple emergency firefighters and they feel strongly that it’s important to have the dispatchers in the community, who know the community, and (are) better for communication between them. Sometimes in a situation, they can handle something that comes up without the officers in the field. They know what’s happening and can address it.
I spoke with a couple other people about dispatch services. There was some concern about response time. There is some truth to the fact that as a smaller dispatch unit, when a call comes in — they see an accident on the side of the road and 25 to 50 people are calling in and tying up the lines. That could be the case where, with a larger system, that may not happen. So we have to be fully informed and (I) can’t say definitively, but if there’s any compromise to the services that citizens would have, I wouldn’t support it.
WASTE COLLECTION: Waterford currently has a waste collection system under which each individual resident and business is left to secure their own trash collection service, but some have proposed changing that by carving up the township into waste collection districts and soliciting bids from haulers to serve those districts. How, if at all, should the township’s current waste collection system be changed, and why?
FORTINO: This all started out with an environmental concern with the recycling and they wanted to coordinate all these efforts. It resulted in the citizens being alarmed there would be intervention — (having) a government entity decide who would haul their trash and who they would have to work with. It was voted on, voted down and the motion (was) denied mainly because of those citizens who came to the meetings didn’t want that decision made for them. They want to work with who they want and I have to support that decision unless it came it up again and they want something other than what’s been decided.
SUMMIT PLACE: Essentially vacant and an eyesore, the Summit Place Mall has been the subject of a number of proposals for redevelopment. However, there has yet to be a large-scale redevelopment proposal to come to fruition. What is your vision for the future of the Summit Place Mall site? What would you do, if anything, as a township board member to ensure that vision becomes reality?
FORTINO: I would love to see something done with that piece of property, (but) unfortunately, it is privately owned, which makes it difficult. I know that there was a group of investors who were going to go forward for a sports venue — minor league baseball — which would be fantastic. This is a very sports-minded community, but every one has a wish list (to) have come to fruition and if anyway I could assist… Even a multi-use (development) would be good for the community. I know the investors pulled out and everything was kind of left hanging. The owners of the property were dragging their feet — that was part of the issue, as well — and the deal fell through. It would be great to see something established there.
I don’t know how much control I would have over privately owned property, but if (there is) any movement toward one, I would jump in and get involved to move that forward.
TOP ISSUES: What are the three most important issues for the township, and how do you propose to address them?
FORTINO: The most important issue the township faces right now is to maintain services we have. That’s going to be a huge challenge. Revenues continue to fall and there is going to be a shortage, and how that’s met, I don’t know. I think the township is trying to collaborate and downsize. I think that’s the biggest issue we face.
The Summit Place Mall is a big concern and must be addressed somehow to even show there is some effort being made to develop the area.
Police and fire — of course those are a priority, along with education, and the (Waterford School District) Board of Education is doing a bang-up job.
That’s a really important issue, the schools. It brings young people in who are trying to establish (themselves) within a community and this is a great community with a lot to offer. I don’t know how much influence we have over that, but it’s something that needs to paid attention to and monitored.
WHY YOU? Why specifically should voters choose you over your opponent?
FORTINO: I think I bring a unique set of life skills to the table. I’ve been involved in some kind of public service all my life, whether that’s serving the public in my business or working in one of my parent’s businesses or one of my uncle’s stores. It’s in my blood. I’ve done it for years. I’ve owned and maintained that business for 20 years. It’s a very successful business. Even in these difficult times, I met budget and made payroll.
Everything I’ve earned I’ve earned on my own. I’ve never had the pleasure of being appointed to a position where I could rely on that. I’ve have had to stand on my own two feet. I know honesty and integrity is very important to people, especially now, I can’t tell you how many people have said, “I don’t trust any of you.” I am a person of honesty and integrity. I was lucky to be raised by first-generation Italian-American parents with an amazing work ethic and a set of values (that) thank God they passed on to me. So I bring that to the community and if elected I can promise you no one will work harder to serve the public.