HARRISON – Just two days after its monthly meeting, the Clare County Board of Commissioners met at 1 p.m. Friday, April 24 for a special meeting. The main focus of discussion was how to cut budget expenses by cutting some employees through layoff or furlough, allowing them to collect some of the CARES money/unemployment insurance. And, if any employees wanted to volunteer for layoff or furlough, including those who were already working reduced hours because of the Clare County Building being temporarily closed to the public, that would make department employee cuts much easier to enact. Feelers had been put out previously, inquiring if there was any employee interest in taking early retirement, but Commissioner Jack Kleinhardt made clear that savings secured through employee retirement are realized only if that employee is not replaced.
One idea put forth at this meeting was to not call back all those laid off/furloughed employees once the governor’s Stay Home, Stay Safe order expires. That led to discussion of who is or isn’t an essential worker, as well as clarification that the BOC has no authority to name specific individuals for layoff or termination. Those choices fall within the prevue of the department heads – and no department heads are in any hurry to give up any of their employees, each of whom the department heads value highly and deem to be “essential.”
Eerily, the statewide alert sounded around 1:25 p.m., officially announcing the governor’s Stay Home, Stay Safe order had been extended until May 15 – effectively moving the goal post yet again.
This special meeting was executed via virtual Zoom and garnered 55 participants including county employees, courts, township government, and more.
Karl Hauser, Director of Clare County Veterans Services, informed the board that his department could help the budget situation by laying off his office assistant and reducing his own work hours. Hauser also reported that some of the veterans grant funding his department had received has been spent on billboards and bus wraps which feature photos of three Clare County veterans, along with his office’s phone number prominently displayed.
Commissioner Dale Majewski thanked Hauser for stepping forward to make departmental changes to help out with the budget, which was reiterated by Kleinhardt and Commissioner Mark Fitzpatrick.
Drain Commissioner Carl Parks dropped by the meeting to update the board on the status of the Little Tobacco Drain Project. He first informed that Wade Trim is now the project’s grant administrator
“We have paid them a little over $36,000 last week for work that was done,” Parks said. “They’ve been going around to these homes for inspections. Right now, we’ve got 10 of them done and I just saw on my computer that we have three more that have been done. It looks like there will be 17 or 18 of them.”
Parks said things have been slowed down because of the COVID-19 situation, but work has continued via conference calls and it is still hoped the work will be put out for bids in June.
Commissioner Leonard Strouse noted that Parks was looking a little bit wounded and asked if he had been bitten by a beaver. Parks explained that he had been injured pulling up a beaver cage.
Many Zoom attendees participated by submitting questions and/or suggestions of ways to cut costs and improve the budget situation, i.e. early retirement timing and costs, layoffs or furloughs. A sampling of the comments follow; note that comments from an individual which occurred in back-and-forth conversation are combined and separated by ellipses (…):
Michelle Ambrozaitis: Prosecutor’s Office – no early retirements. No employees agree to voluntary layoff. We might discuss furlough, however, all staff is working because crime has not stopped, court continues to send new notices for hearings, etc. … Why are you worried about losing grant funding when you voted to not fill a position that is tied to federal funding coming into the county? Effectively cutting the revenue stream right now to the county budget when you are in a crisis? But can vote to enter into a new janitorial contact for $10,000 more rather than looking at other low-cost options to clean the building – like having offices dust their own space and trustys cleaning public spaces after courthouse hours? Paying armed bailiff to stay later to watch them could be about $7,00 per year versus $80,000-plus.
Undersheriff Dwayne Miedzianowski: With our volume and lack of staff already, we can’t … I know this is hard, but this has to stop. The voluntary method will not work for long term unless a senior employee takes it and doesn’t come back. You need to know the financial number you want to have to balance the budget for the loss of revenue and for what you want in the fund balance, and do the layoffs that ae going to happen ultimately anyway. If you don’t know the revenue loss then do the amount you want to put in the fund balance and act on it. The public and employees that would be laid off are losing more money the longer this goes on … We at the sheriff’s office with the small amount of $7,500 can supervise the trustys for cleaning and save the county $72,500 on the cleaning contract to save our pubic the money.
Deputy David Aldrich: Ultimately the lowest seniority workers are going to get laid off. Why offer higher seniority workers an opportunity to make more money on unemployment to later come back to work, whereas the lowest seniority are going to make less, then lose their job. It should be simple. Lay off the lowest seniority with the terms that they may not return to work. It’s better they know now rather than prolong and doing it later. It’s not better to volunteer. Cuts need to be made. Time to rip off the Band-Aid. People who are on the block need to know where their employment stands … We don’t have the money now! Make the cuts and do what we have to to settle this ship. We are prolonging the inevitable. Make the layoffs now and let the people who are going to end up jobless collect the federal and state unemployment money.
Deputy Brad Feger: What is the amount of money you guys are trying to save with furloughs/layoffs when the county has made mention of getting a loan just for payroll? It seems like every meeting has talked about laying off people because of the budget, yet outgoing expenditures continue to go up. For example, the cleaning of the courthouse … Lay off the lowest people now, that way they can have access to the additional monetary funding now for unemployment! They will make more on unemployment than the county will pay them! I agree with Aldrich.
Rudi Hicks: Until the Shelter is allowed to open, I can furlough/lay off both of my clerical staff.
And on it went – commissioners realizing they will have to authorize serious personnel cuts, and employees understanding vividly that they are in the unemployment crosshairs. There will be some survivors of this joust, but no real winners.
To learn what upcoming meetings will be done via Zoom, visit www.clareco.net. Live participation instructions accompany each posting. One of the few advantages of such a set-up is that the meetings are recorded and available for viewing anytime on the county’s web page; just click on the menu bars, then “Community,” then “Public Meeting Videos” and select the meeting of choice. The meetings can be lengthy, so don’t forget your popcorn.