STANTON — The Montcalm County Board of Commissioners unanimously voted Monday to approve the proposed 2012-2013 budget, without much discussion or public input.
Commissioners voted 8-0 to approve the budget, which included cuts to balance a $733,000 deficit. Commissioner Ron Retzloff of Crystal was the lone commissioner absent from Monday’s meeting.
Gisela Peek of Greenville offered the only public comment about the budget, requesting that commissioners continue to place a priority on help at the Animal Shelter.
Commissioner John Johansen of Montcalm Township reminded everyone present that while the new budget doesn’t include cuts to the commissioners’ budget, commissioners voted earlier this year to make cuts to their own compensation starting in January.
“From January to December 2012 compared to next year, the commissioners’ compensation deduction is almost 29 percent,” Johansen said. “I think it’s important that the public understand that commissioners had no opportunity last year to take this action. We have to take it in the time frame where it affects new people who are elected.”
In comparison to this year’s Montcalm County budget cuts, $1.3 million in cuts were made for 2011-2012, $800,000 in cuts were made for 2010-2011 and $350,000 in cuts were made for 2009-2010.
Montcalm County officials are planning to continue implementing furlough days for the second year in a row this upcoming fiscal year, which will save $75,000. This equates to a 1.9 percent salary reduction for appointed and elected officials (not including commissioners). County offices were closed for five furlough days this year to help with the 2011-2012 budget.
Montcalm County will also benefit from dipping into the delinquent tax fund this year, which has increased by $200,000 over the years, due in part to interest and penalties.
Montcalm County officials may be able to save up to $100,000 when they go through open enrollment of health insurance in October and November, based on the possibility of changing health care packages, deductibles, etc.
The Montcalm County Sheriff’s Office sustained the most damage in Monday’s approved budget cuts.
Last year, Sheriff Bill Barnwell had to cut more than $300,000. This year, he has to cut $345,000, taking into account contractual financial obligations for items such as wage increases and health insurance.
In addition, the Montcalm County Jail is facing a revenue loss of $350,000 next year when the new Kalamazoo County Jail opens. The Stanton jail currently has an arrangement to house Kalamazoo County inmates, which generates extra revenue for Montcalm County.
According to Barnwell, the $345,000 in cuts for the upcoming fiscal year comprises almost 16 percent of the sheriff’s office budget and court security budget. Barnwell said the cuts mean eliminating five positions, effectively ending 24/7 road patrol coverage in Montcalm County. The Greenville Department of Public Safety is the only other 24/7 road patrol agency in Montcalm County.
The cuts will not affect four deputies currently assigned to local townships and the Central Michigan Drug Enforcement Team (CMET), all of whom are funded by something other than the county’s general fund. The township deputy contracts are up for township renewal by the end of December.
The five eliminated positions include three current deputies (one of them a court deputy) and the positions of two recently retired officials — Deputy Randy Hansen and Corrections Officer Paul McKinnon. The positions of Hansen and McKinnon have not been filled since they retired in July. Neither has the position of Sgt. Robert Surdam, who retired last summer.
Barnwell is hopeful voters will approve a law enforcement millage proposal in the Nov. 6 general election. The 0.6 mill proposal would generate about $950,000 over two years to help restore and maintain sheriff’s department coverage.
If approved, the millage would allow Barnwell to keep the three current deputies and replace the positions of Hansen and Surdam. McKinnon’s position in the jail would not be replaced.
Not including the sheriff’s department, reductions made to the majority of county department budgets are mostly minor compared to last year and are mostly due to insurance changes or wage decreases.
Roger Caris of Vestaburg presided over his last budget vote Monday. The longtime chairman of the Finance & Personnel Committee will not be returning to office next year, as he was beaten in the primary election by Ron Braman, a fellow Republican.
“My recollection is that we haven’t had very many unanimous votes on the budget in years past,” said Caris to laughter from his fellow commissioners on Monday. “It’s a nice way to end my tenure.”
Board of Commissioners Chairman Patrick Q. Carr of Lakeview thanked Caris for his years of service on the finance committee.
“You did a nice job,” Carr said. “Tough budget year again, wasn’t it? As tough as it’s been.”
A complete copy of the 2012-2013 Montcalm County budget can be found online at montcalm.org, along with previous county budgets and financial information dating back to 2005.