Dickinson County budget flat for 2019

IRON MOUNTAIN — Facing flat revenues, Dickinson County will have a public hearing today on a proposed 2019 general fund budget that totals $9.34 million, an increase of $20,500.

The budget hearing will take place during a county board meeting that begins at 6 p.m. today in the circuit courtroom of the courthouse. The county’s operating levy remains at 6.1403 mills, or $6.14 per $1,000 of taxable value. For a house worth $85,000 and with a taxable value of $42,500, a levy of 6.1403 mills amounts to a property tax of $261.

The county continues to deal with a decline in property valuations due to personal property tax reform and Michigan Tax Tribunal appeals and settlements. General fund property tax revenues are projected at $5.37 million in 2019, a decline of about $38,000, or 0.7 percent. In 2018, the decline was more than $500,000, or 9 percent.

A projected payment of $561,000 from the state’s local community stabilization program, which provides a personal property tax reimbursement, will help offset the valuation challenges. This year the county received $974,430 from that source, nearly $440,000 more than budgeted, but County Controller Brian Bousley cautions that may not continue.

State shared revenues, meanwhile, are estimated at $584,170 for 2019. The 2018 total of $495,000 was about $90,000 less than projected.

Most other revenue projections are stable. The county is revising its estimate for register of deeds fees down to $105,000, reflecting a shortfall of about $13,500 from the $120,000 projected for 2018.

Last month, the county accepted a one-year agreement with Blue Cross/Blue Shield for employee health insurance that is expected to reduce employee and retiree health care costs in 2019 by roughly 9 percent, or $160,000. In recent years, the county has purchased high-deductible health plans combined with Health Savings Accounts or Health Reimbursement Accounts, which have shown favorable rates and have collectively saved in costs, Bousley said. Employees pay 20 percent of the premiums.

The county’s cost for retiree health insurance in 2018 is projected at $780,000, down about $80,000 from this year’s spending. Employees hired after 1995 are not eligible for such retirement benefits. A $75,000 withdrawal from the county’s retiree medical care reserve fund will be made, leaving a balance of roughly $3 million.

Retirement costs through the Michigan Municipal Employees Retirement System will rise to $1.25 million, an increase of 10.9 percent. Effective this year, new hires have been moved from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan. In the long run, this will save on legacy costs, Bousley said. As of 2017, the county’s MERS pension fund was 60 percent funded with unfunded liabilities estimated at $14.5 million.

“The ever-increasing unfunded liability will present budgeting challenges each year, but steps have been take to lower future pension liabilities,” Bousley noted in a memo to the county board. In 2015, the county had reduced pensions for new hires, but still under a defined benefit plan.

Some other budget items:

— General wage increases are budgeted at 2 percent, following approval last year of a four-year agreement with bargaining units representing unionized county employees. Wages account for nearly 44 percent of county spending while fringe benefits represent 30 percent.

— The county parks budget totals $156,597, including an appropriation of $16,547 from the general fund. The county continues to work toward a self-sufficient parks system. A portion of the park’s fund balance may be used as a match for grant projects or to offset expenses, Bousley said.

— A support staff position is being added to be shared between Ford Airport, parks and courthouse and grounds. Half the salary and benefits will come from the airport and the other half from the parks budget.

— The appropriation for the airport is $260,240, up from $231,000 in 2018. The county continues to invest in improvements, including construction of two new hangars for lease.

— A recent retirement from district court has resulted in a full-time department assistant position being changed to part-time. The district and probate courts will continue a cost-saving measure in which a full-time position is shared between the offices.

— With the adoption of the state’s new indigent defense standards, the state will commit $477,866 to the county for attorney costs. The county’s contribution is estimated at $68,000, but that could rise depending on the number of defendants needing representation.

— A comprehensive plan is being developed to address the current and future needs of county buildings and infrastructure. The public improvement fund has a balance of $110,000. A courthouse roof replacement is among the major needs in 2019.

— A $5,000 allocation for the Dickinson County Humane Society is proposed, along with $5,000 for the Dickinson Area Economic Development Alliance and $1,500 for the Dickinson County Planning Commission. Otherwise, there are very few discretionary allocations.

— The county board is increasing the controller’s salary to $86,199, up from $79,100 this year.

— The county’s fund balance has climbed to 21 percent of expenditures, up from 19.8 percent. Bousley, however, advises against spending down the balance to cover any shortages.