Montcalm County heads ‘agonized’ over ‘painful’ budget cuts


By Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 4:12 pm on Friday, September 23, 2011

STANTON — Register of Deeds Lori Wilson tried to lighten the mood when she presented her proposed budget cuts to the Montcalm County Board of Commissioners Finance & Personnel Committee earlier this month.
“I bought a Lotto ticket today,” she joked. “Maybe that’ll help.”
But Montcalm County’s projected budget deficit is no laughing matter.
Projected expenditures of more than $15 million and projected revenues of about $14 million leave the county about $1.3 million short for 2011-2012.
Revenue reductions include $350,000 for jail inmate lodging, nearly $282,000 in state revenue sharing and $150,000 in property tax revenue, for a total of about $782,00.
On Sept. 12, Controller-Administrator Chris Hyzer presented commissioners with an updated list of more than $1 million in proposed cuts.
Commissioners will officially vote on the budget Monday after a 1:45 p.m. public hearing. Anyone may attend.

Sheriff’s Office
Sheriff Bill Barnwell has been asked to cut $400,000, or about 7 percent of his budget. He presented his proposed cuts Sept. 12, which include:
• Not replacing a corrections officer who is currently on medical leave, which would save $58,206;
• Not replacing recently retired Sgt. Robert Surdam’s position, which would save $58,715;
• Laying off a recently hired corrections and court security officer, which would save $52,676;
• Eliminating court security positions, which would save $85,568;
• Making Montcalm County Jail cuts to inmate bedding, clothing, meals, overtime, health services and service contracts, which would save $130,500.
Barnwell said he is anticipating receiving $12,000 in surplus revenue from the Central Michigan Enforcement Team (CMET), which would bring sheriff’s savings to a total of $405,665.
“My staff and I agonized on what cuts to make and we tried to reduce both the jail and patrol divisions to what we feel are minimum staffing,” Barnwell told The Daily News. “We simply did not feel we could make any further cuts, which would jeopardize officer safety or public safety.”
The cuts would leave Barnwell with only 14 deputies to provide 24-hour countywide patrols every day. Other deputies’ positions are funded by local governments — including Crystal Township, Eureka Township, Montcalm Township and Sidney Township — with their work time committed to patrolling only in those jurisdictions.
Barnwell said any further cuts from the patrol division would bring the end of 24-hour patrols.
“This was simply unacceptable, especially since the sheriff’s office is the only 24/7 law enforcement agency in the county outside of the city of Greenville,” Barnwell said.
District 2 Commissioner Tom Lindeman proposed Barnwell and commissioners meet with local township officials to ask for their help in a shared expense program so sheriff’s officers can continue to provide needed coverage throughout Montcalm County.
“We need to be approaching some of our townships, which are less financially strapped than the county is,” Lindeman said.
Barnwell said the idea is worth trying.
“Having a good conversation, if nothing else than a healthy discussion, would give everybody a better idea of what we do and what our costs are,” he said.
Barnwell understands the plight commissioners are facing with the budget.
“The $1.3 million in cuts is painful, but yet the county must balance its budget,” he told The Daily News. “Barring a millage increase or collaboration with other agencies in the county, there may be future reductions in staff and service in the future.”

4-H program
Michigan State University (MSU) Montcalm Extension is being asked to cut $54,802, or 41 percent of its budget. District 8 Coordinator Don Lehman said the cuts would force him to reduce full-time 4-H coordinator Pat Dignum to part-time.
District 2 Commissioner Tim Lindeman and District 3 Commissioner Ron Retzloff have questioned why the county should continue to financially support 4-H in these tough economic times when the county doesn’t financially support other youth programs and all county departments are being hit with reductions.
District 4 Commissioner John Johansen and District 5 Commissioner Carl Paepke have argued 4-H is a vital part of Montcalm County’s agriculture lifestyle.
“If you look at stats, we are an ag county,” Johansen told his fellow commissioners. “Many of our farmers, their sons and daughters who end up in the business, they had a 4-H relationship that kept them interested in farming and kept them coming back to that. It’s economic development for this county.”
He pointed out the new 4-H fairgrounds under construction in Montcalm Township will draw people from outside the area into the county and are responsible for a $4 million investment.
At the annual Montcalm County Farm Bureau meeting Aug. 29 in Stanton, members resolved “Montcalm County needs to retain a full-time person to coordinate 4-H programs in Montcalm County” and “in addition to this coordinator, a support staff position also needs to be maintained in the office.”
Farm Bureau President Trent Hilding sent the resolution information to the Board of Commissioners in an Aug. 30 letter.
“With the new fairgrounds, the growth in the 4-H youth programs in Montcalm County is on the upswing,” Hilding wrote. “Reducing the staffing would stop the growth in its tracks. In addition, many people and organizations in the county have shown how much they support 4-H and the youth programs through their donations and work on the new fairgrounds.”
The letter says agriculture is the county’s “most important business” and 4-H provides a chance for youngsters to get involved in the industry at an early age.
“Not only is 4-H a critical youth program, it is an important part of the economic engine driving this county,” the letter concluded.

8th Judicial Circuit Court
No significant cuts have been proposed for 8th Judicial Circuit Court this year.
However, Judge Suzanne Hoseth Kreeger is concerned about the possible elimination of court security.
Last year, 328 arrests were made in the court complex. This month alone, six knives were taken from individuals entering the court complex.
“Court security is not a luxury but rather a necessity,” Kreeger said. “Any reduction in court security would be a huge step backwards from what we now have in Montcalm County with the single, secured entrance where individuals entering the courthouse are screened for weapons and an armed deputy is available for arrests at the courthouse.”
Kreeger cited a recent incident at the Crawford County Courthouse in Van Buren, Ark., as an example of the importance of court security.
On Sept. 13, a man walked into the courthouse  and opened fire, shooting at least 70 times and hitting one person. When the man left the courtroom, he was fatally shot by area authorities. The courthouse had several entrances and exits and did not have specific court security officers.

Register of Deeds
Wilson was asked to cut $82,638, or about 28 percent of her budget, as well as $17,000 from the automation fund to help the general fund.
Wilson presented her proposed cuts Sept. 12, which include eliminating an administrative aide in the abstract office for a savings of $43,602, as well as transferring $39,000 from the automation fund to the general fund.
As a result of the cuts, Wilson will be the only county employee in the Abstract Office, which has been losing money since 2004 as more people go online to take care of deeds.
Wilson was elected as register of deeds and appointed by commissioners as county abstractor. The abstractor is responsible for posting all documents recorded by legal description, as well as preparing, examining and certifying the abstracts of title.
“We are going to work really hard so the public will be the least affected,” Wilson told The Daily News.

Controller-Administrator
Hyzer has proposed a $16,294 cut to his office, or about 5 percent of the budget.
He currently earns an annual salary of $93,116 and works an average of 45 to 50 hours per week. He has proposed a 3 percent reduction in his salary for the upcoming fiscal year.
Hyzer is paid 55.5 cents per mile for county business. The department’s total milage budget is $1,150.
Hyzer took an insurance buyout for $2,400. His Social Security and Medicare costs are $6,990, his retirement plan costs are $4,568, his unemployment plan costs are $451, his workers compensation plan costs are $415 and his life insurance costs are $24.
Hours also may be cut for Hyzer’s Administrative Assistant Jeni Williams, meaning she would lose her current benefits and insurance eligibility, as well.

Board of Commissioners
The Board of Commissioners have not made any proposed cuts to their own budget.
Chairman Patrick Q. Carr earns an annual salary of $9,581 for his duties. Finance & Personnel Committee Chairman Roger Caris earns the same amount.
The remaining commissioners earn $8,331 and are paid for meetings on a per diem basis — $30 for a half day and $50 for a full day. The county budgets about $9,000 for per diems. The hours commissioners work vary.
Commissioners are paid 55.5 cents per mile for county business. Their total milage budget is $9,500.
Seven of the commissioners took a health insurance buy-out at a cost of $16,800. Two commissioners have health insurance at a cost of $34,538. All nine commissioners have life insurance at a total cost of $221.
All nine commissioners have retirement plans at total cost of $8,020, Social Security and Medicare at a total cost of $7,935 and workers compensation at a total cost of $472.

Breakdown of proposed $1 million-plus in Montcalm County budget cuts

• The Sheriff’s Office was asked to cut $400,000.
Possible result: Several deputies would be eliminated, courthouse security would be discontinued and jail cuts would be made.

• The Register of Deeds (ROD) Office was asked to cut $82,638. Also, $17,000 was budgeted from the ROD automation fund to help offset the general fund.
Possible result: Reduced staffing/hours.

• The Equalization Office was asked to cut $90,715.
Possible result: Not replacing former Director Richard Reeves, who resigned in June.

• Michigan State University Montcalm Extension was asked to cut $54,802.
Possible result: Reduced staffing/hours for the 4-H program.

• Probate-Juvenile Court was asked to cut $54,547.
Possible result: Unknown

• 64B District Court was asked to cut $50,000.
Possible result: Reduced staffing/hours, the Greenville court facility would be discontinued and probation would be reduced.

• The Mid-Michigan District Health Department was asked to cut $42,078.
Possible result: Health clinics in Greenville and Howard City would be closed.

• The Maintenance Department was asked to cut $40,000.
Possible result: No maintenance of county parks.

• Animal Control was asked to cut $40,122.
Possible result: Eliminating Director Patricia Lentz, reducing shelter hours.

• The Prosecutor’s Office was asked to cut $29,000.
Possible result: Reduced staffing/hours.

• Emergency Management was asked to cut 27,279.
Possible result: Eliminating Coordinator Jerry McCoy, switching services back to Emergency Medical Services.

• The Treasurer’s Office was asked to cut $22,688.
Possible result: Reduced staffing, delays.

• The Controller-Administrator’s Office was asked to cut $16,294.
Possible result: Reduced staffing.

• The Clerk’s Office was asked to cut $15,000.
Possible result: Reduced staffing/hours.

• All county employees are being asked to cut their hours down to a 37.5-hour work week — a cut of $122,000. Possible wage concessions would save another $46,288.

• Appropriations was asked to cut $20,000 in the office equipment fund, $20,000 in the retiree health fund and $12,000 in the parks fund.

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