‘Huge’ county budget gap closed to $150,000

Published 3:06 pm Thursday, July 14, 2011

CASSOPOLIS — That audible thud is Cass County’s FY 2012 budget hitting commissioners’ desks July 7 from County Administrator Charles Cleaver, although it could have been noisier had he not pared a “huge” initial $989,000 deficit from requests down to $150,311 in the $14.1 million document.

“I have used that amount of funds from the Budget Stabilization Fund to balance this FY 2012 proposed budget,” Cleaver reported. “I’m still working towards a goal of getting the budget in a balanced state.”

“We took quite a dent out of a huge gape,” Cleaver commented.

Cleaver said projected revenues are down $279,264 from FY 2011 amended budgets and $500,585 from FY 2009 amended budgets.

“As you know,” he advised the 15 commissioners, “the bulk of the reduction in the FY 2012 projected revenue comes from the expected reduction in state revenue sharing as reported to us recently.

“Though the recommended expenses for the General Fund are down $309,568 from the amended 2011 budget, there are scheduled compensation increases as well as increases in benefit costs that are to be expected and being included in this proposed budget. Over the past few years, the county has taken some proactive cost-cutting initiatives in conjunction with other governmental entities in our self-insured health insurance plan, including using some of the excess in the plan’s reserve fund. This has lessened the rate of increases in the existing plans.”

Cleaver continued, “The budget does not include any additional employees or capital improvement purchases other than the normal rotation of cars, a replacement lawn mower, a replacement freezer for Animal Control and some replacement of computers. There are other reductions, of which many were coordinated with the department heads.

“Three factors are key to understanding our current and upcoming financial challenges,” the administrator said, ticking off falling revenues, stagnant revenues and increasing costs.

“While less affected than the rest of the state,” he said, Cass County “is feeling the  effects of the national economic challenges. As challenging as this FY 2012 budget was to balance, the FY 2013 will prove to be the most challenging budget to balance that Cass County has faced in many years.”

The coming year’s spending plan will be finalized and approved by the Board of Commissioners Sept. 1

Cleaver requested a budget work session to address issues and concerns commissioners expressed. Possible dates he suggested are an evening meeting the week of July 25 or Saturday, Aug. 13, which would require amending the budget calendar. There seemed to be consensus for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 27.

Change made 11-4 to retirement

Commissioners voted 11-4 for Cathy Goodenough’s, R-Marcellus, motion to amend the personnel policy as follows: “4.10 Retirement plan: Employees may be eligible for retirement benefits as determined by the rules governing the plans. Information is available from the County Administrator,” inserting an additional sentence, “All non-union employees hired on/after Oct. 1, 2011, will only be eligible for a defined contribution plan.”

“I really have some problems with going from defined benefit to defined contribution,” objected Commissioner Robert Wagel, R-Wayne Township, who was joined in the minority by Dowagiac Commissioner E. Clark Cobb, Dale Lowe and Skip Dyes.

Wagel said, “First of all, these individuals would essentially be contributing to a 401K-type program. The stock market is not a very good place to be invested. People could be retiring and have $100,000 and, lo and behold, the stock market takes a dive and they have $25,000 in their account, their program goes out the window and they’re out there starving.

“I don’t know if we conducted an actuarial assessment or study to see what might be happening in this program long-run. I cannot vote for this. I think it’s bad for potential new employees. It’s characteristic that county employees and government employees work at lower salaries than other individuals because they can anticipate a decent retirement at the end. By changing this to defined contribution it’s bad news for new employees. County employees should be under defined benefit plans.”

“Are you aware the governor is changing this law?” wondered Chairwoman Minnie Warren, D-Pokagon Township.

“I’m well aware of that,” Wagel said, “but it’s a suggestion, not the law per se, so I think we should consider not doing it.”

On the other side of the issue, coming from the private sector, Ron Francis, R-Cassopolis, disagreed. “Defined benefit plans are the buggy whips of the insurance industry.”

Dan Rajzer retiring after 27-year career

Daniel B. Rajzer, who was recognized in 2007 by the National Association of County Agricultural Agents at its 92nd Annual Meeting and Professional Improvement Conference in Grand Rapids by receiving its Distinguished Service Award, is retiring in August.

Cleaver said Rajzer, the former Michigan State University Extension director for Cass County, spent 17 years of his 27-year career in Cassopolis.

His 2007 award is presented to the top 2 percent of county agents from each state with more than 10 years service in the nation’s Cooperative Extension Service.

The selection was made by county agent peers in that state and endorsed by the state Extension director. That year, 69 individuals from throughout the United States were presented Distinguished Service Awards.

To commissioners, Rajzer is synonymous with the household hazardous waste program, which he promotes and tabulates, prompting Commissioner Charlie Arnold, R-Cassopolis, to introduce a motion to adjust the contractual services line item from $680 to $1,200 to account for the increased cost of the waste collection disposal program, “The reason we’re asking for more money is because it’s been so phenomenally successful. Dan did a wonderful job spearheading this project. He’s done so many jobs that I don’t think people realize that he does, he’s been a blessing to the county.”

Road commission may join group health plan

The Medical Care Facility, Woodlands Behavioral Healthcare Network and Council on Aging are currently partnered with the county under its group health insurance plan.

Commissioners considered allowing Cass County Road Commission to “join the county’s group health insurance plan if or when they choose,” which Commissioner Robert Ziliak, R-Milton Township felt Commissioner Roseann Marchetti’s, R-Edwardsburg, motion was “too open-ended. It could be next week or 10 years from now. There should be some kind of time limit.”

“How about past employees and retirees? Is that plan up to date and fully funded?” asked Commissioner Dale Lowe, R-Howard Township.

“Health insurance is different than pensions,” Cleaver replied.

“If there are more people in the pool, does that lower the rate? At one time there was talk that was why they wanted to stay out on their own, because they got a better rate in a smaller class,” Ziliak inquired.

“That may have been” before the county went to a self-insured plan administered by a third party, Cleaver said.

Commissioners supported defining an enrollment period.

Ziliak also questioned Commissioner Robert Wagel’s resolution passed by the board 14-1 for a Michigan Employees’ Retirement System (MERS) benefits change from a B2 multiplier to B3 for a new employee contribution rate of 5 percent effective Sept. 1 for the Division 10 group.

“It’s my understanding that this is in lieu of a pay raise,” Ziliak said. “My concern is that we never even authorized a pay raise for this group. We never took a vote, so I don’t think we should change this at this point unless we see more information, but I’m just one of 15.”

Vice Chairman Ed Goodman, R-Silver Creek Township, pointed out, “We had a committee appointed to review this and to bring a recommendation to the board — and this is the recommendation that the committee brought. You appointed the committee when you were chairman. Johnie Rodebush was its chairman and Ron Francis and myself were on it and we added Commissioner (Carl) Higley and (Chairwoman Minnie) Warren.”

In other July 7 business, the commission approved Ziliak’s motion for the release of fourth quarter appropriations: Mental Health Authority, $48,750; Department of Human Services Child Care Fund, $40,000; and Family Court Child Care Fund, $37,500.

Hartman’s historical contributions lauded

Wagel introduced Resolution 82 of 2011, adopted in a unanimous 15-0 vote, thanking Kenneth Hartman of Wayne Township for his three years service on the Cass County Historical Commission starting with his appointment on July 1, 2008.

“The board wishes Mr. Hartman to know that his contributions to Cass County are very much appreciated,” it states.

More than three years, “He is probably the foremost authority on one-room schools in the county,” Wagel said. He was also involved in The Museum at Southwestern Michigan College’s grain drill restoration.

Wagel said Hartman was unable to attend because of cancer treatment.