County budget approved with $180,000 less in revenue, expenses

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STANDISH — The Arenac County Board of Commissioners approved the county’s 2018 general fund budget Dec. 29, projecting $5,410,356 in revenues and expenses, about $180,000 less than what the board approved for the 2017 budget.

During the budget hearing Friday, county Clerk Rick Rockwell said the county used a hefty amount of tax administration funds for 2017, and that might not be an option going forward.

“Really I’m worried about the general fund budget proposal as to whether it’ll be able to keep within the parameters that are projected, and the other concern I have is this current year cost you substantially more from your tax admin funds than you had budgeted, and that’s a level that’s not a sustainable level,” he said.

Rockwell said the number of delinquent taxpayers is down from last year, and fees on late taxes replenish the tax admin fund. Commissioner Adam Kroczaleski said the county used $275,000 in tax admin funds for 2017.

County Treasurer Dennis Stawowy said the county spent tax admin funds to upgrade the county jail’s heating and air conditioning units, which was not an annual expenditure. He said the county would have to start looking at ways to scale back services in order to save money.

“This last year should’ve been, and this year needs to be a year where you don’t start any new programs,” he said. “Programs from this point on need to condense. We can’t provide the same service levels that we have in the past. The people out there need to understand when they come to the window, there might not be anyone there at lunch time.”

Stawowy said with window and heating replacements in the county building, as well as water-saving toilets in the courthouse bathrooms, the building is more energy-efficient, which saves money, but those opportunities won’t persist.

“You’ve eked out all the easy stuff,” he said. “Now you’re down to the tough stuff.”

With Headlee rollbacks cutting into the county’s revenue from its fixed millage and old technology still being used in many departments, it is time for the county to get a Headlee override on the ballot, Stawowy said.

“In this budget you probably needed to have $50,000 or $60,000 worth of equipment purchases to replace computers and I think it’s at $10,000,” he said. “So when you go to the people and you talk to them about your millage, the way Headlee’s rolled it back — the Headlee rollback needs to get on the ballot. You need to ask the people to replace that $150,000 a year that you’ve been losing for the last 10 years. That would go a long way toward taking care of your budget woes.”

While the county is looking for ways to reduce expenses, some county employees are feeling like they are being treated unfairly, according to Bryan Fisher, the United Steelworkers staff representative. Fisher said four 81st District Court employees in Arenac County, who are currently negotiating a contract with the county, are looking at a pay cut for 2018.

“The problem in the 81st District negotiations that I want to bring to the board’s attention is that your four employees down in 81st District Court are currently being asked to take a 3 percent pay cut from their pay last year,” he said.

The Steelworkers agreed to pay freezes in 2016 and 2017 during negotiations in 2014 with two off-schedule payments during the wage-frozen years, Fisher said. He said others were offered pay freezes for 2018 while every other employee would get the same take-home pay from 2017.

“We’re being asked to go back to 2015 wages, and it’s unfair,” he said. “It’s unequal and it’s inconsistent.”

The budget issues relating to salaries and services alike are not isolated to Arenac County, Kroczaleski said.

“We’re not alone,” he said. “We’ve kept this budget, the revenues are fairly flat. The expenses are fairly flat.”

“If you’re a county north of 46 and east of 127, you’re in the same boat as we are,” Kroczaleski said.

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