County BOC talks cut but takes no action

By Mary Kindig

Review Correspondent

Budget discussions continued at the Clare County’s Board of Commissioners meeting on Wednesday.  Since the Ad Hoc committee — formed to provide financial information to the Board — was unable to meet following the Special Board Meeting last Wednesday, updated figures were not available to the Board to help target a revised budget plan.

Chairperson Don David began the conversation by saying, “It was my understanding at the [Special Board meeting] that we were of the opinion that if we were to set our goals somewhere between $300,000 and $500,000 — reduce this year’s budget by — we would have money left in our fund balance beginning of next year…If we additionally reduce it by $300,000, by using the revenue averaging budget, we will have eliminated  $600,000…We will have eliminated $600,000 of the $811,000 deficit we’re looking at right now.  If we reduce it by $500,000, we will have eliminated all of the $800,000 deficit.  By trying to eliminate all of the deficit at one time – in other words, asking the departments to cut their budgets by $500,000 – I think we’re creating an impossible situation and I think it’s going to be pretty much unworkable in a lot of ways for a lot of different departments.  It has always been my contention that we needed to do this in baby steps.  I think we’ve finally gotten to that point where everybody’s in agreement.”

“I think the Board should decide where they want to go with the three, four and five [hundred thousand].  We’re the number people; we’re not the decision makers.  We give you facts, we give you figures,” Treasurer Jenny Beemer-Fritzinger remarked.  The Board discussed the options briefly, but did not formally decide on the amount they would wish to cut from this year’s budget.

“I know this is a crystal ball question, but do we feel that revenue has stabilized?” Commissioner Jack Kleinhardt asked.  “No,” Equalization Director Kim Halis replied. “With the elimination of the personal property tax, you already know you’re going to have to cut the budget by another $150,000 for next year,” Beemer-Fritzinger added.

“As I see this, the revenue is the key factor,” Kleinhardt said, “It’s hard because of this.  We don’t have a steady paycheck type thing coming in.”

Clerk/Register of Deeds Pam Mayfield spoke to the Board about her concerns regarding the proposed percentage of revenue budget plan.  “In my particular case, I really feel that their plan targets my office in particular – and others – not just mine — I’m not saying it’s just mine.  It targets the little guys because the little guys don’t have anything to cut,” Mayfield said, adding, “What I’m saying is I don’t have anything else to cut but people.”

Mayfield estimated that the proposed cuts would reduce her budget by $17,000 to $20,000.  Mayfield claimed that her department has consistently made cuts that have saved the County money. “Probably $175,000 in savings [by not replacing personnel], while other people hired additional people, and you’re going to ask me to cut more by this plan.  It’s not fair,” Mayfield protested.

Chairperson David responded, “I don’t have an answer for Pam.  I don’t have an answer for any of you.”  “It’s unfortunate; everywhere, everybody has to do more with less,” Senior Services/Community Development Director Lori Ware commented.

Commissioner Kleinhardt requested that the Board have a “fair discussion” on the need for non-mandated departments and services.  “I’m not advocating that we cut anything,” Kleinhardt said, “I’m just saying that it’s time we had a discussion – are we funding some things that maybe, just maybe, temporarily, we could do without?”

Leonard Strouse agreed, “Going along with what Jack says, I was in the Clerk’s Office, I was in the Treasurer’s office.  They’re not overloaded with employees there, and there’s things that the County, we are providing now that maybe the citizens of Clare County will have to get used to not having so that we can still fund the things that we have to have.”

Chairperson David pointed out that the list of non-mandated services and departments was handed out at the last meeting and that no one had suggested cuts to those services at that time.  Most of the services – such as MSU Extension, the Bayonet program and fees paid to Middle Michigan Development Corporation – are already paid for or under contract for the current year.  Many of those kinds of cuts cannot be made until 2013, which is also when union contracts expire.

“The ad hoc committee agreed to make that recommendation to the Board that we have a five-year budget plan,” David said, despite the fact that the members of the Ad Hoc committee have repeatedly said that they do not make recommendations but, rather, just supply information.

“We need to do something for this year before we worry about the five-year budget plan.  Because we’re not getting through this year the way we are,” Halis interjected.  “You’ll get through this year, you just won’t get through 2013,” Beemer-Fritzinger corrected.  “Not well,” Halis replied.

At the end of the discussion – which occurred during the Committee of the Whole meeting – no budget cuts or plans were referred to the full Board for a vote at their next regular meeting.

The Ad Hoc committee is scheduled to meet on Friday, January 27th at 10:00 a.m.  The meeting is open to the public.

As for the current state of the 2012 budget, Administrator Tracy Byard reported, “ I looked up the revenues for last year at the same time, [and there’s] a difference of $12,000.  We’re down $12,000 from last year.  The expenditures for this year so far – we are down $81,877 from last year, which is good.”

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

*authorized Sheriff Wilson to develop a plan and apply for a RAP Grant to upgrade and enhance the security system in the Jail and County Building, with matching funds to come from the Commissary Fund.

*supported the Free Health Clinic initiative for the citizens of Clare County.

*voted to contact the County attorney to schedule an informational meeting with all union representatives, leaders, and interested parties, including Board of Commissioners, with the agenda being concessions, and meeting to be chaired by attorney Dave Stoker.

*voted to proceed with the Wi-Fi project.

*approved expenditures for the month of December 2-11 in the amount of $1,518,060.61 with the General Fund expenditures totaling $808,072.75.

*voted 4-2 to write a letter acknowledging their participation in a class action lawsuit regarding Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac not paying counties any Michigan Transfer Tax, with Commissioners Gelios and David casting the dissenting votes.

*passed resolutions regarding the updated deposit, investment and eft policies presented by the Treasurer.

*authorized the Sheriff’s Department to apply for five RAP Grants for tasers, in-car cameras, mobile range training, patrol car bumper guards and stop sticks.

*gave permission for Sheriff Department officers to attend a training session January 30 – February 2 on frost law enforcement, even though the agreement between the Road Commission and the Sheriff’s Department regarding enforcement duties and compensation will come before the Board for approval at their next meeting.