HARRISON – During the Clare County Board of Commissioners’ Nov. 20 meeting, Commissioners Samantha Pitchford and Dale Majewski took issue with the spending practices facilitated by the BOC. Pitchord started out by questioning the practice of authorizing spending based on anticipated grant funding, adding that if that grant does not come to fruition, the preapproved spending will “come out somewhere.”
“We’ve got to start nailing department heads down,” she said. “It’d be great if we could get all the money they think they’re going to get. But if you think you’re going to make $50,000 at home, are you going to budget $50,000? No. That’s how life works; just because you make it doesn’t mean you can spend it.”
She likened that to the sheriff department where incentive money could be used to bring in new deputies, but it is not available because everything the undersheriff works to bring into the department is all accounted for in spending.
“Until we can figure that out, and everybody can see that, then we’re never going to get anywhere,” Pitchford said. “We can talk all we want … but until we actually do something, then it’s not going to happen.
“Ever since I’ve been on this board, we’ve had budget meeting after budget meeting. We cut it and cut it, then right before we pass it, it all goes back in. So, we’re just wasting our time and doing nothing we say we’re going to do.”
Majewski also threw in a little salt, referring to financial reports and saying the board has 10 years of year-end revenue, 10 years of true information.
“And if it’s true information, then we can budget on the next year with that information,” he said. “Revenues are going to change slightly, but they’re not going to change that much.”
He noted that the actual revenue for 2018 was $12 million, but that $12.8 million was projected for 2019. Majewski said he understood a variance of about $100,000 but asked why it was projected so much higher than the previous year’s actual revenue.
“It makes no sense,” he said. “And I think that’s what’s gotten us into the predicament we’re in. Year after year, after year I’ve said we need to quit taking out of Fund Balance. We need to start battening down the hatches – it’s come to roost now.”
Commissioner Jack Kleinhardt pointed out that the county can control expenses but has no control over revenues – which he said are actually going down and he would like to know why. Kleinhardt said he doesn’t know who projects the revenues or how much will be brought in.
“If you don’t know how much money you have coming in, how do you set a budget?” Majewski said.
Commissioner Mark Fitzpatrick said it also needs to be clarified just what services are mandated by the state, allowing an understanding of exactly when the budget is moving into discretionary spending. Clerk Lori Martin said she could send Fitzpatrick the statutes, but said they are vague. Fitzpatrick then pointed out the “funding a department at an acceptable level” requirement begs the question of just what is an acceptable level?
At the encouragement of several department heads, including clerk-register of deeds Lori Martin, the treasurer and prosecutor Michelle Ambrozaitis, the board agreed to set additional budgetary workshop meetings to fall between the regular board meetings. The goal of those workshops will be to work collaboratively in an ongoing manner to ferret out potential problem areas, explore budget solutions or at the very least, bring into the discussion specific departmental needs and insights in an effort to stave off the early summer panic caused by budget threats of cuts/possible layoffs.
The first such workshop was scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 4.
Moving on to her State of the Budget Report, Clare County Treasurer Jenny Beemer-Fritzinger laid it all on the table for the board, as she provided them with the county’s current cash position [as of that morning], an update of the monthly treasurer’s report, and some pertinent questions.
Beemer-Fritzinger said that in her September report to the board she had discussed the need for her to put in additional tax monies, because she could see that with the additional monies required for payout to DHHS coupled with her concern about a couple other things, it was clear that more money transfer would be needed.
She made it clear that revenues had not come in as anticipated, and that fact was definitely spelling trouble for next year’s county budget.
“In my job as the treasurer, as the cash manager, I have to make sure we end with positive cash,” Beemer-Fritzinger said. “So, at the end of the fiscal year, we had two loans we had to pay back. The tax anticipation note in the amount of $1.5 million plus the interest, which is an additional $20,000. I also had to pay back the Delinquent Tax Reversion Fund $1.1 million that I advanced on top of appropriating.”
She said that when all was said and done, that left $4,000 which without the additional monies added in, would not have been there.
“On top of that, the revenues are being overstated,” she said. “I don’t believe they’re being overstated maliciously; I think they’re doing it to try to help ease the budget.”
The treasurer brought up the issue of the wall in the jail, which had taken away some floor space and thus reduced jail rental revenue.
“They had originally planned $1.6 million,” she said. “We had $1.2 [million] coming in.”
She said there is still about $28,000 “out there” that will be accrued – once it is received.
“I have also been asking about the Indigent Defense Fund,” Beemer-Fritzinger said. “It just seems there was supposed to be more revenue; all the expenses are coming out of there, but no revenue.”
She said that administrator Tracy Byard had found in the end that $122,000 had to be appropriated for the Indigent Defense Fund from the General Fund which meant another $122,000 of revenue that “went away.”
“I think there’s something wrong with the formula, because I cannot fathom in my mind why there’s $800,000 sitting in the Indigent Defense Fund, and on top of that we have to give $122,000,” Beemer-Fritzinger said. “I can’t reconcile that in my mind why that works.”
Noting she had informed in her September report of giving the additional $300,000 in Delinquent Tax fund money, she added that she had also given budget adjustments, which she notes with line items, and are for the board to approve.
“I take a budget adjustment for all of my tax funds for anything,” she said, adding that those items go through Byard and into the board packets or for board finance meetings.
Beemer-Fritzinger also noted an October meeting comment related to board members voting on budget adjustments and approving things that maybe should be going through, or that the board wasn’t sure what they were.
“I would suggest that if you don’t know what they are, not to approve the budget adjustments,” she said, adding that the board has the ability to require that exactly what is being adjusted be written out.
“Because you’re only seeing line item numbers,” Beemer-Fritzinger said. “And I bet you guys don’t even know what cash line item number is generic all the way across every fund.”
Her concern was that if the board members don’t know the line item numbers, how can they know what is being adjusted by just numbers? She again referenced the recording of the October meeting and the board discussion of line item transfers and the implication that because money is being shifted around that there is more money out there than is being hidden.
When Kleinhardt suggested the board is obliged to trust the administrator who reviews those line item adjustments which appear on the agenda for approval, Beemer-Fritzinger dug in and said that would be great except the discussion had been totally different with implication that things were being hidden via budget adjustments.
“You don’t think there’s stuff being hidden?” Kleinhardt said.
“Do you know? That’s my question,” Beemer-Fritzinger said. “I can guarantee that probably is the case, but do you know that?”
Kleinhardt said there always seem to be budget adjustments from things that the money is not being used for in that particular line item.
The treasurer agreed and again noted that the budget figures are projections until revenues are actually in hand, and that as it sits, revenues will be lower than was budgeted.
“That’s why we need you guys at meetings to help us out,” she said. “It all comes back to we discuss things – and like Samantha says – nothing ever gets accomplished.”
Commissioner Leonard Strouse referred back to the projected shortfall, and Beemer-Fritzinger replied that when all is said and done, the figure will be about $800,000. That figure will be clarified during the audit in early December.
She also urged the board to decide what it was going to do to address the revenue shortfall in the county, reminding that the county is low-funded for the services it provides.
“My suggestion is to ask the taxpayers,” she said. “And if they don’t want it, then cut the services. You might even have to cut the services before. And when you’re talking cutting services, you’re talking cutting almost 20 people. If you don’t put it on the ballot, you can start cutting services – services are people. You have to pick which 20 you’re going to cut.”