STANTON — Montcalm County commissioners continued to hash out the upcoming budget year in another three-hour meeting Monday.
Controller-Administrator Chris Hyzer led the meeting, along with Finance & Personnel Committee members Commissioners Ron Baker of Howard City, Tom Lindeman of Greenville, Betty Kellenberger of Carson City and Ron Retzloff of Crystal.
Noncommittee members were also present, including Commissioners Ron Braman of Vestaburg and Tom Porter of Coral, as well as Board of Commissioners Chairman Patrick Q. Carr of Lakeview, who attended part of the meeting.
The county is facing an estimated $200,000 budget deficit this upcoming fiscal year, which is a vast improvement over years past, such as 2011-2012, when the county dealt with a $1.3 million deficit, or 2012-2013, when the county dealt with a $733,000 deficit.
“The goal as we move forward is to reduce some of this deficit,” Hyzer said. “I think the biggest area we could go after for savings is health insurance.”
County clerk’s salary
Montcalm County Clerk Kristen Millard attended Monday’s meeting to further explain her request for an $8,000 salary increase. She currently earns an annual salary of $56,286.
The heart of Millard’s argument in favor of a salary increase was based on how her duties have vastly changed since she was first elected and took office in 1998.
“This is not a new request,” Millard said. “I’ve always felt the position of clerk was not paid fairly in regards to what the pay scale is for other elected officials. I think the position of county clerk is one of the most unique and diverse among all county officials.”
As county clerk, Millard has two offices and two sets of staff (one at the Montcalm County Administrative Building in downtown Stanton and one at the court complex on the north side of Stanton). She deals with three cities, six villages, 20 townships, seven schools and Montcalm Community College.
“When I say I deal with these, I pretty much hold their hand,” she said, referring to election duties.
Millard tried to paint a picture of the multiple duties she juggles as clerk, including Board of Commissioner meetings, concealed pistol licensing, court reporting requirements, judicial sales of foreclosed properties, jury board requirements, publications and weddings.
Then there’s election duties, everything from filing deadlines to prep work to equipment testing to maintaining the qualified voter file to ruling on recall language efforts to the election management portal, which requires continuing education through the state of Michigan.
“I think you can all attest to the fact that we’ve done pretty good, that things go pretty smoothly,” she said regarding elections.
Millard said she’s had just five days off in the past 18 months. She said she’s had to cut back on issuing wedding licenses or she would never have a day off.
“Since I took office in 1998, the office is not the same at all,” she said. “It’s really a very technical position. It’s a constant battle to stay on top of requirements. When I took the office I didn’t have to be a teacher. Now I have requirements where I have to go out and train. I think we’ve done an exceptional job at it.
“The office of the clerk interacts with nearly every office in the county,” she said. “We’re not comparing apples to apples when it comes to paying elected officials. The clerk is definitely a decision maker, where others might not be.”
Commissioners have not yet taken any action on Millard’s request.
“I understand totally where you’re coming from,” said Retzloff, but he wondered aloud whether the timing was right for making a decision about the salary of an elected official.
“The wage of clerk should have been changed years ago,” Millard said. “It’s an injustice that’s occurred over time that needs to be dealt with. I just hope you’ll take the information I gave you into consideration.”
Other budget requests
Also at Monday’s committee meeting, commissioners tentatively agreed to grant a salary increase to Undersheriff Mark Bellinger.
Sheriff Bill Barnwell had requested Bellinger’s salary be increased from $58,322 to $63,000. Commissioners compromised and tentatively agreed that Bellinger’s salary be increased to $61,711.97.
Barnwell also requested several new vehicles for the sheriff’s office. In another compromise, commissioners tentatively agreed to give Barnwell a figure of $113,000 for all his vehicle requests and allow him to prioritize which vehicles were most needed.
Another budget committee meeting has been scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday.
No decisions are final until the full Board of Commissioners votes on the budget.