Contracts OK’d for Dickinson employees

IRON MOUNTAIN — Dickinson County employees will see wage increases of 2 percent in each of the next four years under contracts approved by the county board Tuesday.

Meanwhile, retirement benefits for new employees will come under a defined contribution plan, which should produce a long-range savings for the county.

“Financially, it’s a good move for the next generation,” Controller Brian Bousley said.

Contracts were set expire at the end of the year for about 65 county employees represented by four collective bargaining units — patrol and dispatch, corrections officers, command officers and governmental employees.

In adopting the four-year agreements, the county board will apply the governmental employees’ contract language to elected and appointed officials as well.

“Our new employees will be on defined contribution going forward,” Commissioner Barbara Kramer said.

The Michigan Municipal Employees’ Retirement System defined contribution plan provides employees with an invested retirement account they manage. It is funded by contributions from both the employer and the employee.

This is a departure from the MERS defined benefit plan, which funds guaranteed pensions through employee and county contributions, along with MERS investment earnings.

Under the change, Bousley said, county retirement contributions may actually increase over the next eight years before leveling off and then declining.

The county’s appropriation for MERS in 2018 is nearly $1.13 million, an increase of 3.6 percent.

In other action, the county board:

— Approved a 2018 general fund budget calling for spending of $9.32 million, an increase of 1.9 percent. The county’s operating levy remains at 6.1403 mills, or $6.14 per $1,000 of taxable value. There were no comments during a public hearing.

— Heard Commissioner Joe Stevens report that financial losses for Dickinson County Healthcare System are projected at $11 million for 2017. Earlier this month, DCHS signed a letter of intent to be acquired by Bellin Health Systems, a non-profit health corporation based in Green Bay, Wis. “It’s tough … we want what’s best for the community,” said Stevens, who serves as a liaison to the DCHS Board. The sale, which will require county board approval, is expected to be completed by summer.

— Learned Ford Airport had 16,558 passenger boardings through November, putting the airport on pace to exceed 18,000 boardings for the year. That’s well above the 10,000 annual enplanements needed to qualify for up to $1 million in Airport Improvement Program funds, a threshold the county has met since 2013. “That’s outstanding,” Bousley said of the 2017 figures.

Through Ford Airport’s Essential Air Service contract, SkyWest Airlines provides daily round trips to Minneapolis and Detroit on 50-seat jets. The current federal EAS contract provides an annual subsidy of up to $3,924,019 to provide 13 direct round trips a week — seven to Minneapolis and six to Detroit. Stevens said the county appreciates U.S. Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, both Democrats, and U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman, a Republican from Watersmeet, for their support of EAS.

— Heard Board Chairman Henry Wender describe the Ford Airport seating area expansion as “just beautiful.” St. George Glass & Window of Iron Mountain did the work providing room for 18 to 24 more passengers in the secure holding area.

— Heard Stevens congratulate Christopher Ninomiya on being appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder as a 41st Circuit Court judge for Dickinson, Iron, and Menominee counties. Ninomiya, who has served as 95-B District Court judge in Dickinson County since 2009, will fill a vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Richard Celello. He must run in November to fill the remainder of the current term. Ninomiya will serve a dual role until a new district judge is named.

— Tabled a decision on whether to fill a district court department assistant vacancy.

— Heard Commissioner Ann Martin say the county is fortunate to have Equalization Director Sid Bray, particularly because of his historical knowledge of county revenue sources and the implications of state decisions and policies.

— Mentioned plans for a limited timber harvest on county-owned property near the Pine Mountain ski jump after the Feb. 10-11 Continental Cup tournament. A cutting also is planned this winter at Lake Antoine Park.

— Scheduled the 2018 organizational meeting of the board for 11 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 3, in the correctional center conference room.