The Charlevoix County Board of Commissioners has unanimously adopted its 2014-2015 budget at its maximum allowable rate of 7.5 mills, but voters may soon be asked for more.
The $14,633,438 budget is actually down 10.19 percent from $16,294,545 in the last fiscal year, but there may be two new millages on the horizon.
“I wouldn’t be objectionable to having a public forum … to get together and discuss how this would hash out,” said Charlevoix County Commissioner Chris Christensen (R-District 2) during recent budget talks…. “As learned from the countywide road millage project, the first time around it failed because they weren’t specific on necessarily what they wanted to do.”
Currently, the county levies the following millages: Allocated 4.7 mills, Transit .25 mills, Grandvue Operating .75 mills, Senior Citizens .65 mills, Recycling .15 mills and Road Improvement 1 mill for a total of 7.5 mills; however, county officials have been discussing presenting voters with both a veterans millage and a parks and recreation millage.
A veterans millage is slated for one-tenth of a mill to help pay for mileage to the VA hospital, in addition to health, compensation and emergency help for veterans, as well as hiring a second veterans affairs worker at the county building.
A recreation millage would be used for county and township parks and recreation projects, and is slated for .15 mills—which would cost county taxpayers an additional $298,000 annually and be levied in four-year intervals. The moneys could also be used to help maintain county trails.
If approved, the millages would add a combined additional burden of .25 mills on the taxpayers.
“If either one of them pass, or if they both pass, I believe this board … should pass a resolution that the .25 mills that would be put into recreation and veterans, that the allocated millage be reduced accordingly,” said John Haggard of Charlevoix. “That way, the taxpayer is not paying more. Whether the taxpayers want to have recreation is their decision. It’s your decision also to fund the recreation department. It’s your decision to fund the veterans affairs department.”
He added, “But, then, don’t go one step further and keep your 4.7 mill and .25—reduce so the taxpayers do not have to pay more than they’re paying today.”
Christensen then opined on the two new tentative millage proposals.
“My personal intention would be to do what we can to offset that increase so that it is as close to budget neutral scenario as possible… That’s always been my intent since I started putting this out here ,” he said. “The real issue that I have with some of these things is the sustainability. You know, we go through all these requests all the time… We put these moneys in and we commit to these dollars but there’s no sustainability plan in place.”
Christensen added, “We say that trail is going to be there for 10 or 20 years but the first time a tree root uproots that asphalt, or the first time something tears that trail apart … that requires maintenance, where is that money going to come from?”
Under the current budget structure, any additional funds needed would have to come from the county’s general fund budget.
“I think this is a great way to give the government back to the people,” Christensen said.
According to Charlevoix County Clerk and Fiscal Officer Cherie Browe, the new budget includes an overall one percent increase in salary for all employees not covered by a union contract or corrections agreement.
“I’ve spent some time going through the budget. Generally I don’t have a concern with it overall. However, I think some attention needs to be paid towards the wages that are being paid,” said outgoing Charlevoix County Commissioner Larry Sullivan (R-District 6), who was the only person to speak during the public comment portion of the commission’s Wednesday Sept. 10, 2014-2015 budget hearing. “I went through the budget in considerable depth and I think our wages, in terms of the various offices and responsibilities they have, are severely out of whack. I think some attention needs to be paid to that.”
Sullivan said that, when Charlevoix County Coordinator/Human Resources Director was hired, the county’s wage scale was on a list of issues that needed to be addressed.
“To this point, that has not been accomplished and I think it needs to be,” Sullivan said. “I won’t go into specifics at this point but I think there are some things that are just totally out of whack.”
Shepard said anyone who wants to discuss wages is welcome to come into his office or see the Charlevoix County Personnel/Internal Government Committee and talk about the matter.
“I didn’t know that was an issue,” Shepard said.
Following are notable increases and decreases in the 2014-2015 budget.
Board Of Commissioners increased by 10.52 percent to $254,750.00
Circuit Court increased by 11.44 percent to $218,596.00
District Court increased by 15.2 percent to $509,175.00
Friend Of The Court increased by 10.98 percent to $596,461.00
The Jury Board decreased by 28.23 percent to $4,450.00
Probate Court increased by 7 percent to $701,429.00
The Clerk’s office increased by 4.85 percent to $514,432.00
The Audit costs increased by 6.06 percent to $35,000.00
Data Processing decreased by 27.11 percent to $257,930.00
Public Improvement decreased by a whopping 54.57 percent to $29,807
Elections will cost taxpayers 21.31 percent less, next year, for a total of $92,300
The Prosecuting Attorney’s budget went up by 6.57 percent for a total of $437,570.00
Reg. deeds increased by 10.45 percent to $285,051
Human Resources also jumped, and by 24.43 percent, to $111,538.00
The sheriff’s office went up by 7.99 percent to $2,127,514.00
Sheriff marine costs also increased by 27.69 percent to $86,949
The Secondary Road costs went up by 8.01 percent to $104,264
Jail costs are up 2.98 percent for a total of $1,812,707
Building Inspection costs also rose, by 8.75 percent, to $460,642
Planning saw an increase of 11.3 percent, to $115,321
And, parks jumped up 43.99 percent to $803,039
The county’s contingency fund was adjusted upward by 83.31 percent to $54,992
Current Property Taxes are expected to increase by 2.99 percent, for a total of $9,475,000
Unpaid Personal Property Tax will fall by 5 percent, to $5,000
Swamp Tax will jump 25 percent to $40,000, as will Industrial Facility, which will garner $50,000
The Property Tax Administration Fee will go down by 15.15 percent, for a total of $140,000
Trailer Fees are expected to drop 14.29 percent to $3,000
Burglar Alarm fees should increase by 11.76 percent to $9,500
Dog Licenses are expected to remain stable at $23,000
Building Permits—a major sign of economic activity—are expected to increase by 10.33 percent to a total of $249,131
Pistol Permits should go up by 14.94 percent to $10,000
Electrical Permits will increase 13.78 percent to $108,770
Plumbing Permits could jump 15.78 percent to a total of $48,339
The number of Mechanical Permits will likely go up by 8.94 percent to $86,157
Salaries and meeting fees for 2015 remained unchanged from last year.
Board of Commissioners – $250 (each) per month
Drain Commissioner – $50 on-site inspections
Fiscal Officer – $10,400
County Road Commission – $75 special meetings; $50 for under four hours
General boards, including human services, election commission, etc. – $50
Also during the budget talks, county officials discussed dissolving the limit of one overnight conference per department head per year, and instead state that any more than one trip must be approved beforehand. Charlevoix County Clerk Cherie Browe said appropriate county employees can already attend as many day conferences as they like so long as they do not incur lodging expenses.
The general consensus of the board was that conferences and seminars are an effective way to keep county officials abreast of the latest information and trends.