County budget process begins

MANISTEE — The process of laying out the county’s $10 million budget for fiscal year 2014-15 began Wednesday with debates on employee health insurance and funding for sheriff patrol cars.

No decisions were made at the study session, but the Manistee County Board of Commissioners gave Tom Kaminski, county controller and administrator, some direction. They will follow up with a second study session at 1 p.m. on July 8 at the courthouse, located at 415 Third St. in Manistee. After that, the board plans to adopt a tentative budget at its regular meeting at 9 a.m. on July 15 at the courthouse. A final budget would be adopted at the August meeting.

“We’re on track, Tom and Russ (Pomeroy, county treasurer,) have been doing this budget for years,” said commissioner Ken Hilliard, board chair. “They know exactly what we need to do, and we have two commissioners who have been doing this for six years, and one of us for four years. We’re right on track.”

After a tentative budget is adopted in July, Hilliard said the budget will go out to department heads and the public, and there will be a public hearing for comments. From there the board can alter the budget to address any issues that come up.

The draft budget Kaminski provided to the board has an expected deficit of about $25,000, which would be transferred from the county’s fund balance. The fund has more than $1 million in it, with about $101,000 scheduled to be used in the current fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30.

“(Kaminski) is always giving us the shortfalls, but for some reason, we’re always able to come up with this extra money down the road,” Hilliard said. “I’m really comfortable with where we’re at right now.”

The county had a surplus of about $100,000 at the end of fiscal year 2012-13, which ended on Sept. 30, 2013.

The total county budget is expected to increase by about $22,000 from the current fiscal year to the one the commissioners are budgeting for.

“My goal with this was to keep things the same — at least as good as last year,” Kaminski said.

Many revenue streams are down for the coming year, and the one item that kept the county around $10 million was that the state passed a budget that fully funds revenue sharing with counties, he said. That comes to about $540,000, which is an increase of about $108,000 from the current fiscal year. Many department- and court-related revenues are decreasing, along with payment in lieu of taxes from the Little River Casino Resort.

Health insurance was the most discussed expenditure at the meeting, commissioners seemed to agree on a plan option, but debated whether the employee contribution should be 9 percent or 11 percent. Employees pay 9 percent now, and Kaminski said the board had begun to increase the contribution by 2 percent a year a few years ago, which was supposed to help the county get up to the state-recommended 20 percent employee contribution. The county opts out of the 20-percent plan each year.

“Health insurance is always a big issue,” Hilliard said. “We’re always looking at ways to save the county money, plus not increase the employee’s obligation to their health insurance too much.”

Hilliard was in favor of keeping the contribution at 9 percent, while the other Republicans on the board — Jeff Dontz, Mark Bergstrom and Richard Schmidt — argued in favor of 11 percent. Democrats Brook Shafer and Alan Marshall were in favor of 9 percent. Jim Krolczyk was absent during that part of the meeting.

“If you’re a secretary making $30,000 a year, or you’re the department head making $60,000 a year, you’re both paying the same amount in health insurance,” Hilliard said. “So the person being paid $30,000 is having a bigger cut out of their paycheck, percentage-wise. That’s the debate right now with either the 9 or 11 percent.”

Since most employees have gone three or four years without a wage increase, he said the 9-percent option seemed to be a win-win for employees and taxpayers.

The 9 percent option would cost the county about $1.16 million, while the 11 percent option would cost about $1.13 million. The option in the draft budget, which is the same as the current year, would cost about $1.25 million.

Any savings could be put back in the budget to pay for things like patrol cars, county recycling, wage contingency, the public access channel, information and technology, Register of Deeds, and the health department, or other requests from department heads and agencies that were cut or reduced in the draft budget, Kaminski said.

“But there’s no way you can put back everything that I cut,” he said.

The Manistee County Sheriff’s Office requested about $136,000 to purchase four patrol vehicles, and that was cut completely. But Kaminski said the board will have to find a way to purchase at least two vehicles to avoid high maintenance costs.

Sheriff Dale Kowalkowski said the eight patrol vehicles are used until they reach about 90,000 to 100,000 miles, and that’s when they need to be replaced. But when there are crashes and cars are totaled, that messes up the vehicle rotation, and more are needed at one time.

Many of the commissioners were concerned that half the vehicles would be replaced in one year.

“Patrol cars is always a big issue because it’s a big amount at one time. We’re talking about $135,000 for four patrol cars. It doesn’t happen every year, and we don’t budget for it every year,” Hilliard said. “If you want police on the road, you have to pay for patrol cars. The number might be the issue, whether we get two, three or four — I’m sure they’ll get at least two or three.”

Commissioners also debated what to do with the county’s recycling program, which would need about $19,000 more during fiscal year 2014-15 than the current year to remain solvent.

Kaminski also said he hoped the commissioners would add a wage contingency that would allow them to give employees raises throughout the year as needed.

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Posted by Justine McGuire