November 20, 2014

Board asking county departments to share, cut back

Commissioner says work on 2010 budget to begin early

By Tim Barnum|Staff writer
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ARENAC COUNTY — Sharing. How old were you when you learned to do it? After a budgeting seminar that the Arenac County Board of Commissioners, county department heads and special guest speakers attended at the county courthouse on Feb. 20, commissioners are asking department heads to consider sharing as a way to be proactive in budgeting for next year.

“It may be nothing more than sharing a fax machine or a copy machine,” said board chairman Raymond Daniels, adding a guest speaker introduced by Michigan State University Extension Director John Cummings raised awareness of sharing as a simple cost-cutting technique.

Commissioner Ronald Branda, who along with Commissioner Mike Snyder was assigned by the board to research county departments and meet with department heads to discover ways to trim costs, added that the concept of sharing, if necessary, may stretch beyond the walls of the county courthouse, though. He says if it comes down to it, Arenac County may even have to consider sharing services with other nearby counties.

Branda also says the meetings with department heads will start soon and continue all the way to May.

“Before we (Branda and Snyder) sit down with them, we’re going to send them a list of thinking points,” Branda said. “We want them to show us where they can start cutting.

“They know their departments best. … If they can cut something out of their department that they can live without, that may help prevent (larger) cuts.”

According to Branda, he and Snyder will give a report to the board on what they discover in June.

“Then we’re going to dive right into the budget for 2010,” Branda said. “That’s why we’re trying to get the department heads on board now.”

Daniels says this two-man team representing the board won’t only be communicating with select departments or struggling departments.

“It’s the whole building that needs to work on this, it’s not one or two departments,” he said. “Things aren’t looking a whole lot brighter real quick. We want to have some ideas before October (when budgeting for the next year usually begins).”

Daniels added the board has thrown around some ideas to at least increase revenues.

“There has been a conversation about user fees. As an example, we collect the taxes for the senior millage. We in turn, turn all that money over to Sunrise Side Senior Services of Arenac County. We don’t charge them anything to do that,” Daniels said, adding the county could also charge user fees for collecting millages for road patrol, the county’s libraries, and Arenac County Mobile Medical Response (MMR). “I think down the road here, somebody’s going to have to talk to Ogemaw County (which he says recently implemented user fees) to see how that’s working out for them.”

Branda says if things don’t change in next year’s budget, whether it’s cuts or increased revenue, the consequences could turn quite ugly. He says the rolled up property tax collection in 2003, authorized by the state to temporarily substitute for revenue sharing and provide a reserve fund, or rainy day fund, for counties, will run probably run out before the revenue sharing is scheduled to restart in Arenac County 2011. Branda says out of the extra collection, only about $120,000 will be available in 2011. He added the county has been using roughly $300,000 per year from the reserve fund, and even more than that a time or two.

“We may be looking at a shortfall of roughly $200,000 in our budget in 2011 and that’s a lot of cuts,” Branda said. “So many of our offices are one and two people offices that we can’t cut a lot of people.”

According to Branda, if the cuts were absolutely necessary, the county would start with programs that aren’t mandated by the state – pretty much all services and departments besides the jail and courts (and departments associated with them including the sheriff’s department), register of deeds and treasurer’s office.

However, Branda says he is cautious about depending on the return of state revenue sharing, since Tuscola County was scheduled to be the fist county to receive payments from the state this year, but Mike Hoagland, controller/administrator of Tuscola County, says Tuscola has only received $18,000, to date, approximately $66,000 short of a partial payment the state owed Tuscola County earlier this year due to its reserve funds from the additional tax collection running out early.

He also says Tuscola was scheduled in February to get its first of six check as part of its $1.2 million regular annual allocation from the state, but that check hasn’t been received either.

Hoagland did have some good news for counties, though. When Tuscola County received $18,000, the state was originally saying that was its full partial payment, because an error at the state showed the county collecting a downtown development authority tax increment finance authority payment – funding the county doesn’t collect.

He says with help from the state legislature, though, the mistake was amended.

“We won with that partial payment except the caveat is we haven’t got a check yet,” Hoagland said, adding, though a law was signed in case counties run into a similar situation.

That wasn’t the only good news for Tuscola County.

“We’re told, and it has been confirmed by MAC (Michigan Association of Counties) that we have been put into the state’s budget,” Hoagland said.

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