2017-08-03 / Local News

Some seniors gave up services to avoid budget cuts in programs

The Leelanau County Board of Commissioners will take its first look at the county’s budget for 2018 during a special “workshop” session at 1 p.m. Tuesday or after the conclusion of the board’s monthly executive meeting which begins at 9 a.m.

Chief among the concerns in the new fiscal year beginning Jan. 1, 2018 will be a budget for the county’s Senior Services Department. The county was forced to dip into its reserve fund balance and limit services for some senior citizens earlier this year after demand for certain services increased more than expected.

County administrator Chet Janik said the immediate budget crisis for the Senior Services Department has been solved, but careful consideration will be given to “means testing” more of those seeking services in the future.

After a budget review this spring showed the department might run out of money before the end of this year, about 38 of 65 people notified that budget cuts were imminent voluntarily terminated the services they were receiving, saving the department a considerable amount of money, Janik said.

“The message we need to get out there right now is that anyone over 60 who really needs help from our Senior Services Department should go ahead and apply for it,” Janik said. He said that waiting lists for most services are currently either very short or nonexistent.

In addition to paying close attention to the Senior Services Department in this year’s county budget process, Janik said, close attention will also be paid toward further reducing “unfunded liabilities” the county has with the Municipal Employees Retirement System (MERS). In previous years, the County Board has opted to draw down a delinquent tax revolving fund and other funds in reserve to pay off the retirement system.

Leelanau County is believed to be in much better shape than most other counties in Michigan in paying down its MERS debt, but County Commissioners are eager remain on top of the issue, Janik said.

Leelanau County Clerk Michelle Crocker said her chief deputy clerk and head accountant is currently compiling budget books for the County Board based on input received from each of the county’s department heads over the past few months.

“We told departments they should once again avoid increasing spending this year and to hold the line whenever possible,” Crocker said. “And that’s how our draft budget seems to be shaping up so far.”

Last year following a months-long effort, the County Board adopted a nearly $13.2 million spending plan for fiscal 2017 based on revenues estimated at the same amount.

At next week’s initial budget workshop meeting for fiscal 2018, Janik said, the County Board is expected to set a schedule for several additional budget workshop meetings through next month. During the workshop sessions, the board will hear from county department heads justifying their annual budget requests.

Each of the budget work sessions are open to the public. On Oct. 10, the County Board will hold its annual Statutory Meeting during which a formal public hearing will be held on the 2018 budget. The budget itself is customarily adopted in November prior to the end of the fiscal year on Dec. 31.

– Story by Eric Carlson

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