Osceola County officials look to slash projected budget deficit

Osceola County Commissioner Larry Emig (left) and Clerk Karen Bluhm listen as Treasurer Lori Leudeman (not pictured) discusses the high costs of health insurance during a special work session meeting of officials and county commissioners to work on the 2018 general fund budget. Initially tasked with nearly $2 million more in expenditures than revenue, revisions and utilizing nearly $900,000 in fund balance now leaves a shortfall of $420,000 in the 2018 general fund budget. (Pioneer photo/Brandon Fountain)

REED CITY — With a handful of revenue streams drying up and growing costs for continued operations, the 2018 general fund budget is a great concern for Osceola County officials.

With an initial projected deficit of nearly $2 million in the county’s 2018 general fund, officials have worked for nearly two months to reduce the difference between spending and revenue.

Nearly everything comprising the general fund was up for debate and discussion when county commissioners and officials met for a Committee of the Whole budget work session Wednesday morning as a revised 2018 budget indicated a $1.3 million deficit.

Commission Chair Larry Emig said officials had a huge task to get the budget balanced, especially as the county is losing some revenue from sources like the Michigan Department of Corrections and Wexford County for housing prisoners, along with other factors out of their control.

“We’re challenged to get more revenue to see if we can get it to the level of expenditures,” he said. “We understand where we are at right now and we understand the challenge to get there.”

County Coordinator Susan Vander Pol, Treasurer Lori Leudeman, Equalization Director Rosie McKinstry, Clerk Karen Bluhm and Undersheriff Justin Halladay also participated in the work session.

Vander Pol said they are allocating $900,000 from the general fund’s fund balance for the 2018 budget, but it still leaves about $420,000 for commissioners to balance.

“We’re looking for the board to give us some direction,” she said. “Where do you want to increase the revenue and look at what some of our options are with fees. We can also look at decreasing department expenditures to close that gap.”

Officials discussed several possible ways to decrease the projected deficit, from selling county-owned property to increasing some administrative fees for some departments which have their own funding sources, such as Emergency Medical Services or the Commission on Aging.

Officials also discussed the continued increase of costs for health insurance the county has assumed, while trying to keep premium costs for employees between 12 and 15 percent.

“Employees need to know the cost share the county has for the insurance,” Emig said.

Open enrollment took place in September, Bluhm said, suggesting officials look at other health insurance options and plans earlier in the year.

“It won’t do much for 2018,” she said. “Any change, though, would be seen the final three months of the year.”

Leudeman said it’s important for the county to look at all health insurance options as costs continue to rise.

“The way the health insurance increases have gone, we just can’t afford to keep it this way,” she said.

Officials also looked at a recent inclusion to the budget — six part-time employees to work as the security department. The department is part of the recently completed feasibility study of the Courthouse and Annex buildings by the Health, Safety and Grounds Committee. Officials looked to increase safety and security measures for employees, court officials and residents.

Metal detectors and the six employees were slated for 2018, with future renovations of both buildings ($1.05 million to $3.95 million) or construction of one building ($9 million) were included in the feasibility study.

However, Halladay suggested instead of six part-time employees, the county could hire two security employees who would join two others already employed by the sheriff’s office and are used on days when court is in session. The four employees would provide security for when court is in session, but also have presence at both the Annex and Courthouse buildings when it is not. Hiring two part-time security employees instead of six would save the county $100,000 for 2018, Vander Pol said, noting grants are available for metal detectors.

Discussion of security measures grew lengthy, as Commissioner Mark Gregory said officials needed to look beyond next year with the feasibility study.

“I know we’re looking at the 2018 budget, but looking ahead with the projects, everything we do we’d have to do twice for both buildings,” he said. “I’m not advocating for the $9 million plan for one building, but when you look at the cost savings over time, 10 or 20 years, you might save more than what what you think.”

Officials also discussed rescinding a recent decision to give non-union employees a 1 percent raise next year.

Commissioners made no decisions on the budget; however, Leudeman, Vander Pol and Bluhm agreed to provide cost-saving projections on the ideas presented at the next Committee of the Whole meeting, set for 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 17, at the Courthouse.

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Posted by Brandon Fountain

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