County budget adopted on 9-6 vote

Published 6:34 pm Friday, September 23, 2005

By By JOHN EBY / Cassopolis Vigilant
CASSOPOLIS - Cass County commissioners split 9-6 last week Thursday on the $16,191,437 general fund budget they will be operating by Oct. 1.
A bipartisan faction advocating deeper cuts now rather than later included Commissioners Gordon Bickel, R-Porter Township, David Taylor, D-Edwardsburg, Robert Ziliak, R-Niles, Terri Kitchen, R-Silver Creek Township, Cathy Goodenough, R-Marcellus and Alan Northrop, R-Marcellus.
Chairman Robert Wagel, R-Wayne Township, and Commissioners Jack Teter, R-Edwardsburg, Carl Higley Sr., R-Edwardsburg, Vice Chairman Ron Francis, R-Cassopolis, Ann File, R-Cassopolis, John Cureton, R-Dowagiac, Minnie Warren, D-Pokagon Township, Johnie Rodebush, D-Howard Township, and Dale Lowe, R-Niles, adopted the 2005-2006 General Appropriations Act recommended by County Administrator Terry Proctor, in which the number of employees will be reduced from 180.83 Sept. 30 to 172.73 Oct. 1.
And while Vice Chairman Ron Francis, R-Cassopolis, went along with the majority, he read from a prepared statement that he could only do it by "holding my nose and closing my eyes" because the spending plan "only forestalls inevitable cuts that need to be made in staff and services. Changes will be harder to make the longer we wait. We are, in fact, spending more than we are receiving in revenue."
Francis added, "To defeat it, and to attempt to develop a new budget by Oct. 1 would be, in my opinion, chaotic. I also regard this as a temporary budget as we don't know the full impact of wage and benefit negotiation issues with the sheriff's union."
In the meantime, Francis said, "Commissioners should concentrate on reaching some consensus on what's important … Once we've identified the priorities, we can allocate the dollars available with the goal of continuing to chip away at the current deficit. My overall goal is to greatly reduce the need to tap fund reserves."
Commissioner Carl Higley Sr., R-Edwardsburg, offered an unsuccessful amendment to cut the board's own budget by $30,000 - an amount equal to $2,000 for each of the 15 commissioners "to show we're willing to take a cut, too."
Only Northrop, Goodenough and File joined him, however.
Voting against Higley's amendment were Chairman Wagel, Bickel, Teter, Taylor, Francis, Cureton, Warren, Rodebush, Lowe, Kitchen and Ziliak.
At the public hearing on the Oct. 1, 2005-Sept. 30, 2006 budget Sept. 1, commissioners established the millage rate at 4.8307 for general county operations, .9329 mill for the Council on Aging and .4931 mill for drug enforcement.