Andrew Trzaska | August 15, 2012
Muskegon County plans to keep all tax rates the same in the next fiscal year, according to a presentation of the proposed 2013 budget at Tuesday’s county commission meeting.
Finance and Management Services Director Heath Kaplan and County Administrator Bonnie Hammersley facilitated the presentation and answered questions Tuesday.
Even with needing to cut $1.8 million from its budget this year primarily due to declining property values and changes in the personal property tax, county tax rates will remain as follows, with 1 mill equaling $1 of taxes per $1,000 of taxable value:
County Operating – 5.6984 mill
Museum Operating – 0.3221 mill
Veterans’ Operating – 0.0752 mill
Quality of Life Bonds – 0.3000 mill
Central Dispatch – 0.3000 mill
In the proposed budget, the county will dip into $4.285 million in reserve funds to achieve a balanced budget of $262.6 million.
The budget also counts on receiving the full allotment of EVIP dollars, roughly $550,000, which the State of Michigan offers as an incentive to municipalities who comply with three specific conditions: transparency including “dashboard” style reporting, submitting a consolidation collaboration plan, and compliance with Public Act 152, which deals with health insurance.
From figures presented Tuesday, the proposed budget actually sees a slight net gain of employees, rising from 1263.57 full time employees from 1259.34 in last year’s budget. However, this does not mean there will be no layoffs. As Hammersley explained Tuesday, 22 positions would be eliminated, 10 of which are filled right now, including two information system technicians and the sheriff department’s registered nurse. Different positions will offset these layoffs, and Hammersley responded to a public comment that those being let go would have opportunities to apply for new positions or apply with the companies those jobs are being outsourced to.
Hammersley noted that the four working groups instituted to help plan the budget last year came together again this year, each balancing mandatory and discretionary line items on their budget. The four groups – general government, human services, community services and public safety – brought their budgets together to make the final total.
Among county board questions included a pair district 2 commissioner Alan Jager. The first focused the county commission budget line items. Jager hoped a budget reduction for ancillary commission expenses with “force [the commission] to behave” fiscally.
Kaplan noted that the budget committee didn’t want to presume too many cuts outside of the reduction of commissioners from 11 to 9, which includes salaries and fringe benefits.
Jager’s second remark concerned fiscal possibility drug court, a hot topic in this month’s primaries.
“There is no funds at this time for a drug court,” said Nancy Hennard, district court administrator. “We have had some internal discussions within district court but that’s where it’s at at this time”
Regarding the borrowing health of the county, Kaplan stated that the county’s bond rating would most likely stay at AA, but proposed a stretch goal of a AAA rating in the future. A better credit rating would make borrowing money less expensive.
Many counties in the area hold a AA credit rating, though Ottawa County holds a AAA rating. The U.S. federal government’s rating stands at AA after being downgraded from AAA in summer of 2011.
“Absolutely, it is a very obtainable goal, though some variables are out of our control,” according to Kaplan, who cited declining property values and changing state revenue sharing as some of those factors. Kaplan also noted that rating agencies look at the rate of reinvestment in the community and may deem Muskegon’s reinvestment as positive, including the planned Fortu battery plant and exploration of wind farm technology.
Amendments to the budget can be made until the planned September 25 adoption date.