Financial fallout hits Montcalm County departments

By Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 10:28 pm on Friday, October 07, 2011

STANTON — Montcalm County departments are beginning to deal with the repercussions of $1.3 million in budget cuts.
Projected expenditures of more than $15 million and projected revenues of about $14 million left the county about $1.3 million short for 2011-2012 — more than half of which is a result of lower revenue.
The Board of Commissioners voted 8-1 to approve budget cuts Sept. 26.
Along with reductions in jobs and services, all county employees will be reduced to a 37.5-hour work week. Controller-Administrator Chris Hyzer is currently looking into how to implement the 2.5-hour reduction.

Jail and Sheriff
The Montcalm County Jail is down three officers due to budget cuts and medical issues. Cuts were also made to jail bedding, inmate meals and medical services and service contracts.
Recently hired Corrections Officer Tim Sharpe took an early layoff from the jail when he learned his job was set to be eliminated. Sharpe had the opportunity to return to a previous full-time job.
Two other corrections officers are currently on medical leave. One of those positions was eliminated due to budget cuts. If that officer is able to return to work, someone with less seniority will be laid off.
When road patrol Sgt. Robert Surdam retired this summer, Sheriff Bill Barnwell filled his position by promoting Andy Doezema, who will officially start his new sergeant duties Sunday. However, Doezema’s deputy position will not be filled.
Court security and court rover positions were slated to be eliminated as part of budget cuts, but the Board of Commissioners voted to extend those positions until the end of December while it looks for $85,000 to pay for the services all year.
Deputy Rich Waite, who works as a court rover, and part-time court security deputies Bruce Schnepp — a retired Greenville Department of Public Safety director — and Pete Russell would lose their jobs if court security is eliminated. No one would be stationed at the court complex entrance to check for weapons.
The sheriff’s office currently has 14 countywide road patrol positions — including sergeants — to handle three shifts 24/7.
Casey Huber, who was hired as a deputy last winter, went to work for the Greenville Department of Public Safety on Oct. 1. Huber was replaced by Nick McConnell from the sheriff’s Marine Division.
“Eliminating court security is not something I want to do, but when faced with the decision to maintain 24-hour patrols or cut security I opted for keeping the 24-hour patrols,” Barnwell said. “When you factor in pass days, vacations, court and more it would be impossible to safely staff three shifts if any further cuts were made. This was simply unacceptable.”

64B District Court
Montcalm County’s 64B District Court lost two employees as a result of budget cuts.
Civil Clerk Rebecca Akin and Probation Clerk Sarah Wetherington were both permanently laid off from their part-time positions. Wetherington’s position will be staffed by clerks from other departments on a rotating basis two half-days per week.
Judge Donald Hemingsen said probation will be reduced as a result of the cuts.
“The number of probationers will continue to fall as I continue to place fewer people on probation,” he said.
Probation is partly an opportunity for offenders to undertake steps to help reduce recidivism through education, counseling and supervision.
Typical requirements include abstention from and random testing for alcohol and drug use, a return to school or obtainment of a GED, verifiable steps to seek employment, regular meetings with a probation officer and counseling in an appropriate area, such as domestic violence or substance abuse.
The court’s Greenville facility — housed in the Greenville City Council chambers — will be eliminated Oct. 20. The Greenville court requires two staff members to be present in addition to a judge. The facility was used about six times per month for Greenville-related court hearings.
The court had had a Greenville presence since the 1960s.

The Equalization Department is now staffed with three people after former Director Richard Reeves stepped down in June and two more positions were eliminated.
Assessment Roll Specialist Yvonne Niswonger and Junior Appraiser Peter Saladin both lost their part-time jobs.
Senior Appraiser Kay Vestergaard, Address Administrator Deb Becker and Geographical Information Systems (GIS) Mapper Dennis Swain remain in the office.
Becker and Vestergaard asked commissioners to use $10,000 of the $40,000 salary from Reeves’ currently unfulfilled position, plus funds for dues, conference expenses and employee training to save Niswonger’s job. Commissioners did not respond to the requests.
“Services are going to be affected,” Becker said. “We’re going to be turning people more to the county website or to local units and assessors. We’re just not going to have the time to deal with the public like we have in the past. We have state deadlines that we have to meet and those are a priority to us.”
Montcalm County currently has a waiver from the state that allows Vestergaard — who is a Level 3 assessor — to sign necessary county documents. The state is requiring the county to have a Level 4 assessor on staff.
Vestergaard told commissioners she would continue to sign on behalf of the county when the waiver expires Dec. 31 as a courtesy — as she is doing now — so the county doesn’t have to hire anyone to replace Reeves. Commissioners did not respond to Vestergaard’s offer.
Hyzer has been interim director of the Equalization Department since Reeves stepped down.
“We are in the process of exploring all options for the department,” he said.

Emergency Management
Emergency Management Coordinator Jerry McCoy’s job was eliminated and his responsibilities were transferred to Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Director David Feldpausch as a result of budget cuts.
McCoy, who retired as EMS director in 2007, was responsible for emergency management planning activities, such as how to deal with large-scale disasters and terrorism.
Feldpausch was certified in 2006 by the Michigan State Police Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division as a professional emergency manager. He said he has watched and learned a great deal from McCoy over the years.
“The added responsibilities will take a significant portion of my time away from the EMS department,” Feldpausch said. “Maintaining a quality emergency management program like the one we currently have is no small task.”
Last year, the Board of Commissioners supported Feldpaush’s request to make Eric Smith deputy director of EMS. Smith will now take on the majority of operational and oversight duties for EMS.
“It will cause a domino effect within the department and redelegation of duties will flow throughout the department until we have all of our responsibilities covered,” Feldpausch said. “As with many areas of business today, we are simply going to do more with less. I do not foresee any impact on the quality or level of services that we provide to the community, simply a restructuring within the EMS department.”
Emergency Planner Pamela Boody will stay with Emergency Management as long as her salary continues to be funded through a Homeland Security grant.

Prosecutor’s Office
The Prosecutor’s Office lost Office Assistant Connie Turnbull due to budget cuts. Three office assistants previously were responsible for each of the three courts — 8th Judicial Circuit Court, 64B District Court and Probate/Juvenile Court.
Office assistants are also responsible for answering the phone and helping customers. The office is now operating with two assistants.
“Like every department that lost staff and had other line items cut or reduced, there will be a noticeable effect on how we handle the everyday matters,” said Prosecutor Andrea Krause. “There are three busy courts that we service, so we will have to make adjustments in order to provide that service at an acceptable level.”
The Prosecutor’s Office also lost its law school intern position. The intern handled district court matters, including pretrial conferences, probation violation hearings and jury trials, as well as researching and answering motions on an as-needed basis.
“They were a nice addition to the office because they could do actual trials during some of our busy months,” said Krause of interns. “They were also a cheaper alternative to hiring another assistant prosecutor.”

Register of Deeds
Administrative Aide Barb Udell lost her position in the Register of Deeds office Monday as a result of budget cuts.
Her duties included indexing, title searching legal descriptions and abstracting work. Register of Deeds Lori Wilson will now be entirely responsible for these duties.
Wilson was elected as register of deeds and also appointed by commissioners as county abstractor. The two offices were combined in 1987 and the records are comingled. Both officers are fee-based offices.
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,” Wilson said. “We all have to do more with less these days and we are hoping the public will not be affected.”

Treasurer’s Office
Office Assistant Nan Mohr lost her position in the Treasurer’s Office on Monday as a result of budget cuts. She was responsible for answering the phone and helping customers who were paying delinquent taxes, purchasing dog licenses and certifying deeds.
She also certified the majority of deeds that came from the Register of Deeds office on a daily basis, as well as assisted in preparing monthly dog application mailings, delinquent taxes certified mailings and conducting annual audit, forfeiture and foreclosure processes.
“It will be a challenge to get everything done in a timely manner now that we are short one staff person,” said Treasurer Marcia Sawdy. “Everything we do in my office is mandated by law and in order to get things done it will require all of us to pick up more of the workload.”
That includes the public accessing services in the Treasurer’s Office.
“I am asking that people be patient with us as they may have to wait in line more than ever before and we may not be able to answer phone calls as efficiently as in the past,” she said.

Health Department
The Mid-Michigan District Health Department (MMDHD) is losing two employees as a result of Montcalm County budget cuts.
Health Promotion Coordinator Kim Scott was laid off effective Oct. 1. She represented the MMDHD in Clinton, Gratiot and Montcalm counties.
A yet-to-be named environmental health specialist is also set to be laid off Nov. 1.
“It will decrease our capacity for restaurant inspections,” Health Officer Kim Singh said. “We still anticipate meeting minimum standards, but we will be targeting high-risk facilities.”
Also due to budget cuts, the MMDHD will no longer offer immunization or family planning clinics in Greenville effective Oct. 1. The MMDHD will continue Women, Infants & Children (WIC) clinics in Greenville and Howard City.
MMDHD employees will be working 2.5 hours less per week from Nov. 1 to April 30. Officials are still discussing whether to eliminate a half-hour per day during the week or eliminate 2.5 hours on Friday afternoons.
The Board of Health recently approved a $25 surcharge on all environmental health licenses for food and permits for wells and septic systems effective Oct. 1, which will generate some additional revenue for the MMDHD.

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