No easy fix for County financial crisis

October 14, 2011

As we reported last, the County is struggling mightily to make sure revenues meet expenses. Board of Commissioners, so it seems, at every meeting, discuss ways in which to save money so that the County won’t go broke.

What happened to get us in such dire straits? County Treasurer Jennifer Beemer-Fritzinger said it best, “We were on such a good plan and then this year came. We had those two things happen-the reduced revenue sharing (money from the State) and then the Sheriff lost their $900,000 contract for housing prisoners (a federal contract that was awarded to the low bidder- Midland County).”

At fiscal year end the County projects to have a paltry $20,000 left in their general fund. “That $20,000 we have left in our fund balance is certainly going to pique somebody’s interest at the State level,” noted Chairman Don David.

That might mean, that the State would send a financial manager to take over the County. I don’t think anyone wants that. I can attest through experience ( I was owner and publisher of the Hamtramck Citizen for many years, and that City was run by a state-appointed financial manager) that a state-appointed manager will change how business is done in this County, and take no prisoners.

By that I mean, he or she will not care much about history, or traditions. They will demand total accountability for every penny spent. All contracts will be set aside, employees will be laid off, and some department heads will be fired. I’ve seen it first hand, and it isn’t pretty.

Now Clare County is no Hamtramck, that’s for sure. That city was burdened with ominous union contracts and lawsuits from 20 years ago that they were still paying on. Clare, for the most part, from top to bottom, has been responsible and frugal when it comes to spending money.

But the responsibility is going to get tougher. County employees are going to have to realize that pay cuts or furlough days probably will be a reality. Benefits, such as health and retirement, will have to be looked at, and guess what, the employee contribution portion might grow.

I applaud the County in setting up an adhoc Budget Reduction Committee to address the problem. Members are Commissioners David, Lipovsky, and Gelios; County Clerk Pam Mayfield; Treasurer Beemer-Fritzinger and Administrator Tracy Byard. Notice, however, there are no private citizens on the committee. I think it would have been a nice gesture to include a couple of business people who know how to wrangle with budget concerns.

I think the State has far too many financially destitute cities and counties, to worry about placing a financial manager in Clare. That’s my gut feeling. I really don’t think we need to worry about that. But just to be sure, we need to make sure our financial house is in order. Good luck County leaders- you have a tall order ahead of you.

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