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BOC determined to avoid layoffs for now

By Mary Kindig

Review Correspondent

With yet another budget crisis looming for 2012, the Clare County Board of Commissioners spent much of Wednesday, October 19th’s meeting trying to find more ways to tighten the County’s belt.

“I kind of feel like I’m officiating over the demise of Clare County, because it’s really unbelievable what we’re up against,” Chairperson Don David commented.

To look more closely into ways the County might pull out of its anticipated fiscal tailspin, Commissioners recently formed an ad hoc budget committee, consisting of Chairperson David, Commissioners Karen Lipovsky and Jim Gelios, Treasurer Jenny Beemer-Fritzinger, Clerk/Register of Deeds Pam Mayfield, and Administrator/Controller Tracy Byard.

Beemer-Fritzinger said that many County employees, especially Department Heads, are apprehensive about the committee.  “I don’t know if we should change the name or not, because when we have ‘budget’ in there, there’s a lot of departments on the defense thinking that’s what we’re doing is trying to axe their department.  We have a lot of people that are really worried and defensive that we’re trying to chop their budget, when we’re trying to solve the big problem,” Beemer-Fritzinger told the Board.  “I think there’s just miscommunication or something, and they’re not seeing we have a bigger problem than just individual budgets.”

While layoffs might become necessary in the future, the Board seems determined to try to keep the employees that are currently on the payroll.  To that end, they are considering furlough days (where employees are required to take days off without pay, like the State of Michigan has done), closing the County Building one day a week (like Gladwin County has voted to do starting January 1st), reducing fulltime employees’ hours by two and a half hours a week, and/or not filling any vacancies that might arise when employees quit or retire.  The ad hoc committee will be exploring these and other options – including ballot initiatives – to try to keep the County’s financial head above water.

Part of the problem, as explained by Equalization Department Director Kim Halis, is a combination of lower taxable values and the rollbacks that lessen the amount of millage money the County, townships and other entities receive.

In her Apportionment Report, Halis explained, “Frost has lost the most on their originally allocated one mil.  They’re down to .7112…The ISD was at a .5 and they have been rolled back to a .4075 since 1974.  That was the last time we allocated any millage.”  Halis continued, “Headlee came in in 1978, and has been rolling back since then.”

At the end of Halis’s report, the Board voted unanimously to approve the report and allow the chairperson to sign it, and to authorize Halis to spread the roll.

Another part of the problem is the persistent rumor that Governor Snyder intends to repeal personal property taxes, without guaranteeing any revenue to replace the loss of funds.  Chairperson David said he has discussed the topic with Representative Joel Johnson and Senator Darwin Booher, and that the matter is being closely watched by the Michigan Association of Counties.

“MAC says in their interview with the governor, he sees no sense in passing any kind of replacement revenue for it because he says it’s just replacing one tax with another one.  So he’s looking at going ahead with it without any replacement revenue, so hold on to your seats, because if he does that and it passes, well, we all know…” David didn’t finish the comment.

He continued, “It looks like he’s going to exempt the utilities, so if that’s the case, we’ll be…what, Jenny?”  “About $150,000 we’ll have to replace,” Beemer-Fritzinger answered.

After further discussion, the Board unanimously passed a resolution in support of guaranteed revenue replacement should the State repeal personal property taxes, with copies sent to township and city/village clerks (so that the boards may vote to concur) and to both legislators and the Michigan Association of Counties.

Other matters also came before the Board during their October 19th meeting.

Renee Haley, Director of Veterans Services, reported to the Board that there will be a ceremony on October 29th at 1:00 p.m. at the city park in Clare, dedicating a soldier’s cross to those service members from Clare County who have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The names on the cross will be Todd Motley, Casey Mason and Robert Friese.  Haley encouraged the Commissioners and the public to attend.

The Board also discussed the motion to evaluate Administrator/Controller Tracy Byard.  Chairperson David compiled the evaluation form and presented it to Byard, who voiced no objection to the questions.  David had previously handed out a sample evaluation, which some of the Board members had completed.

“What you saw is what the evaluation is going to be, but this is the official one right here.  I’ll hand it all out. You’ll have two weeks to complete it,” David said, adding, “It’ll go to Lori Ware.  Lori will score them, and on November 2nd, it’ll come back and Tracy is entitled to a Closed Session to discuss her evaluation.”

Commissioner Lynn Grim held up the sample evaluation she had already completed, “I don’t think this really mirrors what the job of the County Administrator does, to me…  There’s a lot of things that were in that that I thought were very vague.”  “There’s not any place for ‘not applicable’.  If you don’t know, wouldn’t it be a detriment?” Grim continued, “I felt uncomfortable in certain places.  I didn’t want to mark it at all…It just didn’t work for me, so I’m uncomfortable with the form, even though I did it.”

“There should be a line in there so it doesn’t take away or add to the total,” Commissioner Jim Gelios noted, “It shouldn’t carry any weight if you don’t know.”  David replied that Commissioners could avoid marking a score on items that they were unsure of, and use the comment section to explain.

“Tracy’s evaluation presented quite a problem because, if you look at her contract and her job description, her job description doesn’t say anything about Controller.  Absolutely nothing about Controller.  And there was only two questions in there that even talked about budget,” David said.  Explaining the resources and methods he used to come up with the evaluation form, David commented, “It’s absolutely as fair as I know how to make it.”

Since a yearly evaluation is in Byard’s contract, the Board voted unanimously to proceed with the evaluation, even though it had been noted that the previous Administrator/Controller, Bill Newkirk, had the same language in his contract and was never evaluated during his three-year tenure.

In other business at their Wednesday, October 19th’s meeting, the Clare County Board of Commissioners:

*approved Lori Ware’s request to apply for a Region VII grant for Senior Services, and allow the chair to sign.

*reappointed James Allen and Don Haskin to the Building Authority Board for a five-year term to expire on November 1, 2016.

*reappointed David Prawdzik and Ralph Allbee for a four-year term to the Board of Canvassers, with term to expire on November 1, 2015.

*voted to support the Hazard Mitigation Update Project.

During the Committee of the Whole meeting that followed, the Board voted to pass these items to the full Board for a vote at their next meeting:

*the Clare County Transit resolution authorizing additional amendments.

*to reduce their meeting schedule to one meeting per month, on the first Wednesday of each month.

*to reduce their per diem to $20, effective January 1, 2012.

*to have the County no longer pay for expenses for Board members’ training, conferences and seminars that are non-mandatory, by a vote of 4-2, with Commissioners Jerry Burger and Karen Lipovsky casting the dissenting votes and Commissioner Jack Kleinhardt absent.

*to renegotiate Administrator/Controller Tracy Byard’s contract, by a vote of 4-2, with Commissioners Karen Lipovsky and Lynn Grim casting the dissenting votes and Commissioner Kleinhardt absent.