Houghton County approves budget

HOUGHTON – The Houghton County Board of Commissioners approved an $8.87 million general fund budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year at its meeting Tuesday.

County revenues were up 2.2 percent over 2012-13, while expenditures increased 2.7 percent. The general fund has a deficit of $74,004, which will come out of the county fund equity.

Forsberg said his biggest concern is health insurance and Michigan Employees Retirement System costs.

He said the county’s health carrier informed him insurance costs would rise another 6 to 8 percent just to pay for the tax the county will be assessed for the Affordable Care Act.

“Most likely, we’re going to have to look at higher deductibles and co-pays and self-funding those things,” he said. “So that’s my big worry for right now.”

Current and retired Houghton County Sheriff’s Department personnel came to the meeting to protest the potential elimination of a rider that provides for a 2 percent cost of living adjustment to their benefit package after retirement.

Deputy Scott Leonard, union president for the deputies’ association, said Controller Eric Forsberg had requested they eliminate the rider or pay a certain percentage of it.

Dan Judnich, a retired sergeant with 25 years at the department, spoke on behalf of other retired department personnel, several of whom attended.

Judnich disputed the notion that employees hadn’t contributed anything towards the cost-of-living adjustment. While he couldn’t cite the exact year, he said sometime around the early 80s employees gave up roughly 40 cents of a raise to go towards the COLA.

“It may not be in writing, but it’s there,” he said. “… They asked us to help out, and that’s how we did it.”

Forsberg said the issue will be addressed in negotiations. The general fund deficit hovered over two other points of discussion during the meeting.

The board tabled a motion to add $11,505 to the budget of the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department pending a more detailed breakdown.

Commissioner Anton Pintar, who made the original motion, said under the interlocal agreement establishing the Health Department, the costs allocated to Houghton County went up by that amount by looking at the 2010 census increased state equalized value.

If the county didn’t provide the money, the health department would generate the money through raising fees on things such as food licenses, Pintar said.

He said the money would have to come from the equity fund.

Commissioner Tim Palosaari said he favored passing the increase more narrowly onto users.

“I’d increase the fees before making everybody pay,” he said.

Commissioner Scott Ala said he understood Palosaari’s point, but said the increased cost to the county was a reflection of the county being the biggest user of the department.

“We’re the ones who have them available to us at our beck and call, in our county, all the time,” he said.

Chair Albert Koskela said he wanted to see a breakdown of the additional costs before committing to the additional funding.

The board also approved creating an ad hoc committee to look at a wage study for county employees. Commissioner Tom Tikkanen, who proposed the motion, said it may result in having an independent group come in and evaluate county salaries to see if they are properly structured relative to job expectations and comparable positions.