Budget time approaches for Osceola County Commissioners

REED CITY — It's time to crunch the numbers for the Osceola County Board of Commissioners as they iron out the budget for fiscal year 2020.

At the board meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 1, county coordinator Susan Vander Pol, told the board with the current projected revenues and expenditures, they are looking at a general fund deficit of $1.3 million for FY2019.

"When you look at all the county's budgets combined, we're looking at $22,373,553 in revenues taken in so far and $23,736,529 in expenditures and right now the difference is in the general fund," she said.

In recent years, Vander Pol said, there have been additional expenses with the indigent defense fund and veterans services, as well as increased costs of health insurance benefits and employee defined benefits.

That, along with a loss of more than $300,000 in revenues as a result of losing a contract to house state inmates, has resulted in using the fund balance to balance the budget, Vander Pol said.

"In the last three years we have used almost $1 million," she said. "Rather than just appropriate from the fund balance to balance the budget, the board will have to give some serious thought as to what you see as priorities for the county, what you want to fund and in what areas you may want to see reductions."

To reduce expenditures, the board may consider possible changes to the employee defined benefits plan, including decreasing the employer contribution to the retirement fund, increasing the retirement age for new hires from 60 to 62 and changing the early retirement requirement for new hires from 15 years of service at age 55 to 25 years of service at age 55.

Other reductions may involve changes in the employee health care benefit, including reducing the county contribution and increasing the deductible in order to reduce the cost of premiums.

No action was taken on the budget at the regular meeting. The board hosted a special meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 8, to discuss the budget.

During the regular meeting, the board approved additional funding for the county child care fund up to $165,000, to come from the appropriated fund balance. The child care fund is used for the placement of youth in Osceola County who are in need of out-of-home placement due to neglect and abuse, or delinquency.

"We have been going through a very high rate of difficult delinquency cases, which has resulted in higher costs," Osceola County Probate Court Administrator Kate Frederick said. "The average cost, right now, of placing a youth outside the home is between $230 and $250 a day. The state reimburses the county 50 percent, but there's no money left in our budget right now to pay our bills."

The board also approved a request from Commission on Aging Director Justin Halladay for three new vehicles at a cost of $63,056 to be paid for utilizing unused wage and benefits funds. In addition, they approved requests from Halladay for a 12 foot by 16 foot storage building for $3,768.50, four AED units with wall mounts for $3,740, a walk-in cooler for $8,630.50 and a double oven for $7,770, all to be paid for out of COA capital funds.

Other action taken by the board included:

• Approval of the Prosecutor's Crime Victim Rights Grant in the amount of $47,104;

• Approval of the Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan (AAAWM) Older Americans Act Contract for FY2020 through 2022;

• Approval of the appointment of Evart Chief of Police John Beam, Jr. to the Meceola 911 Authority Board;

• Approval of updates to the county employee policy 1024 Personal Appearance and policy 1025 Personal Conduct & Code of Ethics;

• Approval of recommendations for the establishment of the court security committee; and

• Approval to designate parking along the north front of the main courthouse on Upton Avenue as reserved for the public with no employee parking allowed during business hours.