Cass County counting on health savings to ease budget woes

By By JOHN EBY / Niles Daily Star
CASSOPOLIS -- Cass County is counting on $192,644.07 in health care coverage savings to close a $450,000 gap when it adopts the $13,151,373.50, 12-month, 2004 general fund budget on Nov. 20.
The county spent $12,566,491.34 in 2001, $13,129,707.60 in 2002 and a projected $13,124,013.10 in 2003.
From gambling on no big snowfalls to reducing irrigation of the lawn at the new Law and Courts Building, every season has helped chip away at expenses to balance them with revenue in the 592-page document.
County Administrator Terry Proctor at Thursday's public hearing reviewed with the Board of Commissioners three pages of budget changes, including: snow removal, $8,200; moving Michigan State University Extension into the 1899 courthouse from an adjacent building to save $4,000 on gas heat; not replacing a retired employee in the Sheriff's Office, $37,005; reducing Family Court child placements, $35,000; halving the Parks Department requested increase, $4,000; removing funding for the Prosecuting Attorney's new part-time receptionist position, $16,096; cutting Prosecuting Attorney travel, $1,000; and reducing purchases of office supplies, $3,000.
Stopping irrigation entirely wouldn't be very smart because trees and grass planted this year would die, but reducing watering could save $1,000.
Proctor recommended increasing non-union pay scales across the board 2.5 percent at a cost of $28,525.
Proctor reported "a lot of progress" made in the last three weeks on a health insurance plan. "It involves a basic level of coverage for employees provided by the county. It requires employees who want a higher level of coverage to buy up to it. And if they want the coverage level they have now, they have to buy up even further. That will save a significant amount of money and it has been negotiated with one of the bargaining units. I anticipate that is something we'll need to look at with our non-union folks and our other bargaining units in order to balance not only the 2004 budget, but also 2005 and 2006," Proctor reported.
On a motion by Commissioner Larry Malsch, R-Porter Township, supported by Commissioner Carl Higley Sr., R-Edwardsburg, the county board set Undersheriff Rick Behnke's 2004 salary at $54,757. Animal Control Director Patrick Fetherston will earn $38,684.
As written, next year's spending plan contemplates only one of the two additional employees requested by Fourth District Court, according to County Commissioner David Taylor, D-Edwardsburg.
Commissioner Minnie Warren, D-Pokagon Township, reported on a meeting she and Commissioner Robert Wagel, R-Wayne Township, attended in Gaylord about putting together business plans for commissioners.

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