Last week started the budget hearings for our annual budget. Last week, I provided the budget summary letter from the Controller. We have now had all of our budget committees meet and significant changes have been made to the controller-recommended budget.
The County Services committee had most of its departments indicate satisfaction with their budget recommendations. This includes our Advisory Boards, Board of Commissioners office, Controller, County Attorney, County Clerk, Drain Commissioner, Economic Development, Equalization, Facilities, Fair, Farmland and Open Space Preservation Millage, Financial Services, Hotel/Motel, Housing Commission, Human Resources, Information Services, Purchasing, Transportation and Roads, Treasurer, Tri-County Regional Planning, and the Zoo. Register of Deeds Curtis Hertel agreed with the budget request, but let us know that money was being moved from the Register's Automation Fund. This fund was created by the Legislature a few years ago to ensure that technology is updated in the Register of Deeds offices. It comes from the recording fees charged. Three years ago, Hertel indicated that there was a surplus in the Automation Fund and agreed to have some of the money go towards helping the county budget for two years. That agreement expired last year, but the Register of Deeds indicated he would agree to it for one more year. But there was a warning that the Attorney General is reviewing the legislation creating the Automation Fund and may rule that it cannot be used for staff and to help general funds. If that happens, the County will need to backfill that money. Additionally, the Automation Fund is running out of money and likely will not be able to be used next year to backfill the general fund. We appreciate his comments.
The only Department in the County Services budget to ask to discuss their budget recommendation was the Parks Department. The Controller recommended eliminating two unidentified positions for $115,000 in budget savings. One of the positions was placed on the so-called Z-list to be reinstated. The budget always includes $300,000 in strategic planning funds which we use to reinstate cuts that are particularly troublesome. We call this the Z-list (I don't know why...it is before my time!). So we agreed to place this position on the z-list.
In Human Services, all departments accepted the controller recommendations except the Health Department. As mentioned last week, there were over 40 positions targeted to be eliminated. Many of these were in the Health Department. Our Health Director, Renee Canady, made a good presentation about why many of these positions are needed. She said they are looking at current needs versus operating budget, and the need to maintain current needs. She said that can't be done with this budget. They made significant changes to their operations to meet the needs. Some changes are seen as budget enhancements, but they can’t maintain the current level of service without these requests. They were forced to consider personnel eliminations versus program eliminations. While they understand the desire to eliminate vacant positions, many of those are still vital. Ill-timed retirements in important positions have resulted in elimination of needed vacant positions. She requested reinstatement of the Health Communications Specialist, two food bank specialists, an Office of Young Children Training Coordinator, and two environmental health positions. She provided a series of ways to fund this, including the use of z-list dollars and the use of unrestricted reserves (which are the reserves that we use for bonding, cash payments before receiving taxes, etc.). Additionally, several members of the public and the Community Health Center Board and the Health Department staff asked for the reinstatement of the dental electronic health record position, the patient portal position, and the patient centered medical home funding. All told, these requests (with a few additional positions being deleted) came to $285,000. We had a long discussion of priorities and needs. Also, there was discussion about grants and other dollars that would come to Ingham as a result of these positions. We voted 4-1 (Vickers opposed) to include all positions on the z-list so we could send them to Finance and have them compared against all other needs of the county. The Health Department was also asked to rank these in terms of importance in the eventuality that we can't fund all of them.
I don't serve on the Law Enforcement and Judiciary Committees. Luckily, the chairs of each of those committees sent me updates from their budget action. Commissioner Penelope Tsernoglou, Chair of the Law Enforcement Committee, reported:
"The Animal Control, Community Corrections, 911 Dispatch Center, Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Prosecuting Attorney, and Tri-County Metro Squad Representatives indicated their satisfaction with their budgets early on so the committee promptly approved their budgets and sent them on their way. While there were noticeable cuts made to many of these departments, the directors were able to work with our controller to reach a budget we could all live with.
However, the Sheriff’s Office was unable to come to an agreement regarding their budget. The controller’s recommended budget included the closing of Post 7 (57 beds) and the elimination of six correctional officers, adding up to a savings of $583,424 in addition to eliminating a deputy and a detective position. The two positions, a deputy and a detective position, were placed on the z-list. Sheriff Wriggelsworth indicated that both positions were very much needed, but the deputy position would come first if he was forced to choose between them. An additional Pre-Trial Services Investigator position was included within the budget for Circuit Court to help manage the jail population in light of the reduced capacity. However, Sheriff Wriggelsworth and Undersheriff Alan Spyke presented a strong case for keeping the post open. Commissioner Celentino moved to take money out of the undesignated fund balance to pay for the jail post. The controller offered an alternate suggestion of placing part of the cost for the jail post on the z-list and allocating the remaining costs elsewhere. However, the motion passed 4-2 with Commissioners Schaefer, Celentino, Dragonetti, and Koenig supporting it and Commissioners DeLeon and Tsernoglou voting no. Commissioner Koenig unsuccessfully moved to reconsider. Commissioners felt strongly that we need to keep the jail post open. Unfortunately we may be setting a bad precedent by attempting to use undesignated fund balance to balance our budget. If we do end up using the full amount this will be the highest amount of undesignated fund balance the county has ever used. It is very likely that the Finance Committee will adjust our recommendations before sending the Sheriff’s budget on to the full board."
Commissioner Carol Koenig, Chair of the Judiciary Committee Committee reported:
"All divisions of the judiciary accepting the Controller's recommended budget. The one caveat given by the chair was that if the budget change proposed in Law Enforcement (namely leaving the jail post open) was adopted, the additional pre-trial investigator position for the courts would probably not be filled."
The Finance Committee's job is to put the budget back together. They had to look at all of the requests on the z-list to see what should receive the $300,000. They also had to review the $500,000 taken from the reserves. My understanding is that MOST OF the Health Department needs were taken care of by allowing grant dollars to be counted towards these positions in the budget. A Sheriff Deputy position was also restored thanks to an arrangement arrived at between the Sheriff and the collective bargaining units. The z-list money ($300,000) will all be used for the jail post. We will then look to rent out the 64 beds in the post of the jail that was closed a few years ago. If that is successful, that money ($150,000) will be used to make up the remainder of the cost of keeping the jail post open (with a little coming from the 2013 contingency fund). The other z-list requests, including a communications officer at the Health Department, a full time position in the parks, and a detective in the Sheriff's Department were not funded. It seems that the Health Department may be able to fund the communications position by moving other funding around, but that is still being worked out.
I am interested in hearing the final result presented to the entire Board of Commissioners. It seems that Finance and the Controller got creative, but I am glad that they were able to come up with plausible alternatives that did not take money from the county reserves.
Well, that's it. That's plenty. Sorry this is so long!