Montcalm County commissioners considering budget requests

By Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 11:15 am on Tuesday, July 23, 2013

STANTON — Commissioners on the Montcalm County Finance & Personnel Committee are working to distinguish “wants” from “needs” as they plan the 2013-2014 fiscal year budget.

Committee members met on July 15 and again on Monday to review numerous requests from county department heads. The requests are first being sorted into what is truly needed. The needed requests will then be prioritized at a future meeting.

Budget decisions will not be final until the full board votes.

Controller-Administrator Chris Hyzer declined to provide an estimated fund balance for the coming year at this time, but noted the county’s general fund is proposed to be about $40,000 “in the good.”

 Union request

Members of Montcalm County Local 3067.03 are set to get a 1 percent wage increase next year, which is the final year of their current three-year contract.

The union, which is affiliated with Michigan Council No. 25 American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME), has about 30 members who work for Animal Control, the Commission on Aging, the Clerk’s Office, the Equalization Office, the Maintenance Office, the Prosecutor’s Office, the Register of Deeds and the Treasurer’s Office.

Hyzer said he asked a union representative about possibly forgoing the 1 percent wage hike and the representation suggested the county consider eliminating the union’s five unpaid furlough days.

“I think we ought to try to work toward trying to restore the (furlough) days,” said Board of Commissioners Chairman Patrick Q. Carr of Lakeview. “It was never supposed to be a permanent thing, just to get us over the hump. I don’t think we intended it to be permanent going forward.”

Clerk’s salary

Montcalm County Clerk Kristen Millard is requesting her salary for election duties be increased from $7,000 to $12,000. This salary is in addition to her regular clerk’s duties. Millard noted she saves the county money by doing the elections work so the county does not have to hire an outside vendor for election-related duties.

Commissioner Tom Lindeman of Greenville suggested a raise to $9,500 instead of Millard’s proposed $12,000.

“I think it’s a large increase and I think we should be looking at something less than what she is requesting,” Lindeman said. “Split the difference.”

However, other commissioners tended to side with Millard’s request.

“I personally would go with the $12,000,” said Commissioner Ronald Baker of Howard City. (Election duties) came upon her after she was elected. We could end up paying a lot more if we forced the issue.”

“I think it’s probably warranted,” Carr agreed. “I like to deal with as few people on a project as I can, so I think it would be worth it to us. This way she’s involved in the whole process, there’s nobody else to blame. She’s pretty conscientious about her job. We haven’t had to reprint anything (such as election ballots).”

 Sheriff’s Office requests

Sheriff Bill Barnwell proposed increasing the hourly wage of court security officers from $12.50 to $14.

The hourly salary has been set at about $12 since the court complex opened in 2002. Court security officials in Ionia County earn $18 per hour, while court security officers in Gratiot County earn $14 per hour.

“I think $18 is high to do what they are doing,” Hyzer said. “I’m probably more along the lines of leaving it where it’s at and if we’re really struggling to find individuals to do court security, then let the market drive that demand.”

Barnwell also proposed increasing Marine wages from $9 to $10 per hour for officers with little to no training and from $10.75 to $14 for officers with basic training. Hyzer suggested commissioners revisit the issue for possible grant funding.

Barnwell also proposed a salary increase for Undersheriff Mark Bellinger from $57,966 to $63,000. Bellinger has worked for the sheriff’s office for 24 years — the last three years as undersheriff.

Barnwell said Bellinger has taken on additional jail and patrol duties after staffing was reduced. Barnwell noted the average salary is $63,381 for an undersheriff in counties comparable to Montcalm County.

Commissioners requested more information about undersheriff salaries in comparable counties.

Barnwell also requested four new Dodge Charger patrol vehicles for a total cost of $127,452. Barnwell said his average patrol car has 110,000 miles on it and five of the 12 vehicles have more than 150,000 miles. Commissioners are leaning toward purchasing three new vehicles.

Other salary requests

Commissioners tended to be in agreement against granting a 3 percent salary increase for Montcalm County Prosecutor Andrea Krause (currently $91,334.92), Chief Assistant Prosecutor Chris Hekman (currently $61,050.86) and assistant prosecutors Doug McFadden (currently $45,597.38) and Matthew Nave (currently $36,293.91,) even though the prosecutors have an increased workload, have not had a pay increase in two years and took a pay cut as well as an insurance payment increase last year.

Commissioners were also in agreement against granting a salary increase to Register of Deeds Lori Wilson (currently $55,942.63) and Chief Deputy Register of Deeds Catrina Woodruff (currently $40,903.32), which would restore the women’s 2 percent salary cut from last year.

Commissioners were also in agreement against  Barnwell’s request to reclassify job duties and grant a salary increase to Barnwell’s confidential administrative aide Sue Gilbert’s hourly wage of $18.16 to $18.79.

Commissioners were also in agreement against  Drain Commissioner Sandy Raines’ request to reclassify job duties and grant a salary increase to drain commission employee (Sandy’s husband) Veldra Raines’ hourly wage of $18.50 to $18.65.

Additional staffing requests

Montcalm County Building Department Director Scott Minard requested returning a code officer position from part-time back to full-time. Commissioners are in favor of revisiting this request this winter.

Michigan State University Extension requested 4-H Coordinator Rebecca McCafferty be given a full-time position in Montcalm County. McCafferty is currently part-time in Ionia County and part-time in Montcalm County.

“Obviously if we could do it, that would be great, but I don’t think we can support doing additional staff for 4-H when we can’t remove furlough days for employees,” Hyzer noted. “It’s hard to even make that argument right now.”

Drain Commissioner Sandy Raines requested additional drain workers. Commissioners agreed to revisit this issue after a drain commission employee’s medical leave was resolved.

Commissioners were also in agreement not to grant requests for additional enforcement officer staffing for Friend of the Court, two corrections officers at the Montcalm County Jail (which lost four positions last year) and more sheriff’s deputies (three deputy positions were lost last year, ending 24/7 road patrol coverage in Montcalm County).

“We just can’t fund this one, but I think this is the priority at the top of everyone’s mind,” said Hyzer of the request for another sheriff’s deputy.

Equipment requests

Commissioners are also considering an array of equipment requests. Some were not impressed by several requests for new office chairs, including four chairs for the Register of Deeds office for $1,200 and five chairs for the sheriff’s office for $2,000.

“I’m sitting on this old wooden thing here and they’re worried about some luxury?” Commissioner Ron Retzloff of Crystal asked. “I’m assuming these (the current chairs) are really bad chairs?”

“I’m sure they sit in their chairs longer than we sit in ours,” countered Commissioner Betty Kellenberger of Carson City.

Hyzer said he will gather some more information about the chair requests, but noted “it should be everybody or nobody” when it comes to getting new chairs.

“These were bought in 1920,” joked Baker of the commissioners’ stern wooden chairs. “Let’s stick with the 100-year program.”

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