2018-08-30 / Local News

Is there a place in Leelanau budget for big-ticket expenses?

By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff

County Commissioners began looking closer this week at a draft budget for 2019 that does not yet include funding for some big-ticket items that have been requested by department heads.

Included is an estimated $225,000 for additional improvements to the county’s 9-1-1 dispatching capability, some $107,000 in “matching funds” for a $428,000 patrol boat the Sheriff hopes to acquire, plus an estimated $2 million for improvements to the county Law Enforcement Center (LEC) and Government Center buildings.

Without those issues addressed, the draft budget currently outlines $13.6 million in projected revenues and expenditures, balanced through a transfer of $1.06 million from the county’s fund balance.

Last year, the County Board adopted a $13.6 million budget almost identical to the draft $13.6 million budget they were considering this week.

County Clerk Michelle Crocker explained that state law requires the budget to be balanced, so a routine paper transfer of reserve funds is needed. However, the county has historically underspent its projected budget and ended the year having collected more revenue than anticipated.

So it has not been spending down its fund balance in any substantial way.

In 2017, for example, the county expected to collect $9 million in general fund tax revenue, but actually collected $9.2 million. Similar windfalls were realized in 2013 through 2017.

“We will have money available for many of the additional items being requested for 2019,” Crocker said. “It will just be a matter of the County Board deciding to spend it — or not.”

Notably, the county will continue to reduce its debt to the Municipal Employees Retirement System (MERS), by adding a $250,000 payment on top of routine contributions. Since 2011, the county has added more than $5 million to its budgets to reduce its MERS debt, and has one of the lowest debt obligations in the state.

“We are in a very enviable position financially compared to most counties in Michigan,” Crocker said.

During a nearly 4 1/2-hour meeting Tuesday, the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners began by reviewing the 2019 draft budget and discussing a list of “additional budget requests.”

They also heard from Leelanau County Drain Commissioner Steve Christensen about his one-man department’s budget and a proposed special assessment district to add another stormwater drain in the county. No decisions were made.

Christensen is also a member of the Leland Dam Authority. He and Crocker outlined the authority’s 2019 budget at this week’s meeting.

The “budget work session” included a “preliminary discussion” on a project to replace the roof at the LEC and options for renovating a Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system in the county Government Center building.

The county board will hear from experts on the HVAC system at its next budget work session on Monday, Sept. 10. The board has already heard from roofing consultants on a project to replace the failing 15-year-old roof on the LEC but has yet to decide which consultant to hire.

Preliminary budget documents estimate that both projects could cost anywhere between $500,000 and $2 million.

Numerous other requests for funding still need to be considered for next year’s budget, according to a memorandum from County Administrator Chet Janik:

 $30,000 to fund the county’s Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition

 $60,000 to upgrade camera system recording equipment at the County Jail

 $32,672 for a portable generator for the Government Center

 $15,750 for a new door on a pole barn used to store county vehicles

 $4,800 for cell phones for Construction Code Authority inspectors

 $7,534 for an electric club car for use on the Government Center campus

 $12,975 for a one-man mechanical lift for the maintenance department

The County Board will continue holding special budget work sessions until a 2019 budget is finalized for the its annual meeting and a formal public budget hearing in October. The new fiscal year coincides with the calendar year beginning Jan. 1.

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Once again 911 is spending

Once again 911 is spending way too much money. We need an audit of and article of all these expenses Enterprise!