County board approves 2012 budget without deep cuts
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ARENAC COUNTY — The Arenac County Board of Commissioners avoided heavy cuts to the 2012 budget by through reductions over the last few years.
The commission voted to approve the budget 4-1 at a special meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 28, with board member Jeff Trombley voting against it. Board members Robert Luce, Joseph Sancimino, Mike Snyder, and Virginia Zygiel voted for the budget, which required four out of five board members to approve.
Board Chairman Snyder was happy the county was able to keep the budget from increasing in 2012, and thanked the county’s staff for their sacrifices.
“We cut in places where I think they could live with,” Snyder said. “They deserve credit for getting us where we are.”
Snyder told the Independent the whole point of the cuts made over the past few years has been to come to 2012 with a balanced budget, allowing the county to “live within its means.”
He said cuts to staff and hours had already been made over the past few years. Only minor cuts were made in 2011 to get the budget balanced, Snyder said, and he did not believe there would be any noticeable changes in service to the public.
The county’s general fund revenue is budgeted out for $5,442,140 for the year, down approximately $59,000 from the 2011 budget.
Factoring in budget money not included in the general fund, such as grants and other expenditures, the total budget comes out to approximately $17 million.
Some cuts were made from the original 2011 budget levels. Approximately $8,000 was cut from the 911 operating fund, another $8,000 from the county road fund, and just over $30,000 from the road patrol millage budget.
County Treasurer Dennis Stawowy said the county was in better shape this year than neighboring ones such as Iosco or Ogemaw Counties despite losses to state shared revenue.
“They’ve been going the speed limit to the wall with no cuts for the last two, three, four years when everyone’s been saying ‘prepare for this’,” he said. “They’re looking at where they can cut, and we never offered lifetime health benefits like they did, and didn’t get into a lot of stuff like they did.”
County Clerk Rick Rockwell noted a few parts of the budget the board would need to keep an eye on, such as county parks, which he called difficult to budget since park maintenance requirements and revenue are so reliant on the weather.
Trombley’s objections stemmed from the county’s budgeted $7,949 donation to the Heritage Route program, which highlights businesses and historical sites along US-23 from Standish to Mackinaw City for tourists.
According to Trombley, the county has given approximately $8,000 a year to the program since its inception in 2004, and he felt that money could be better used for parks. He added there has been talk of adding in an ice skating rink at Children’s Park in Standish, which that money could have funded.
“It’s a good budget, don’t get me wrong,” he said. “It’s better than anyone’s around here. That particular line item just doesn’t sit well with me.”
A few last minute adjustments were required to get enough board approval to pass the budget. Board member Sancimino had questions about the Arenac County Sheriff’s Department budget, where an extra $1,000 sat in the Strike Team Investigative Narcotics Group (STING) account.
STING, a multi-county task force dealing specifically with illegal drugs, was funded in Arenac County through a federal stimulus grant which ran out in November. The account is in the process of being closed down.
When called in to explain the $1,000, Undersheriff Don McIntyre stated that the department had not put in for the money but rather received it as court-awarded restitution. He anticipated it being moved to another part of the budget.
“I don’t accept the explanation with the STING account,” Sancimino said. “But I can’t vote no because the rest of the county needs (the budget).”
In the process of approving the 2012 budget, the board also gave Stawowy and the county’s auditors permission to balance and close out the 2011 budget.
Rockwell said he already has a stack of 2012 bills to be dealt with at the next board meeting, which is set for Jan. 5 at 10:15 a.m. at the Arenac County building.