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Dickinson board appeals to state on budget vetoes

IRON MOUNTAIN — The budget impasse between Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Republican legislative leaders has left Dickinson County with a $584,750 hole in its 2020 budget — a loss that would require layoffs equivalent to seven full-time employees, county officials said Monday.

“Dickinson County does not have the necessary funds to counteract these revenue cuts while maintaining the expected quality of services that the people of Dickinson County have come to expect,” Controller Brian Bousley said in a letter that will be sent to state lawmakers and the governor.

The county is imploring both sides to approve a secondary budget that restores all local funding stricken from the state spending plan. “They need to work together,” Democratic Commissioner Kevin Pirlot said.

Whitmer had pledged to veto any budget that did not include a comprehensive road funding plan. She followed through with line-item vetoes after lawmakers presented a budget that continues to use general fund dollars to pay for roads.

The vetoes chopped nearly $1 billion from the state budget and killed a range of payments to county governments. Dickinson County is particularly hurt by elimination of “swamp tax” payments totaling $420,000 — monies intended to reimburse the county for lands controlled by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Whitmer has called on Republicans to negotiate a supplemental spending bill and meetings were expected this week.

Republican Commissioner Barbara Kramer was optimistic the funds would be restored. “It’s going to take another 30 to 45 days,” she said.

Commissioner John Degenaer Jr., a Democrat, voted against the letter, saying it was requested by the office of state Rep. Beau LaFave, R-Iron Mountain, and might be used against the governor.

In other action the board:

— Approved a request from the Dickinson County Library to levy its full voter-approved millage of .9 mills on winter tax bills. The library had levied .85 mills in 2018 after levying the full .9 mills the previous six years. “I’m glad the library did reduce their millage when they could,” Chairman Henry Wender said.

— Heard Degenaer report that Tina Koski, activities director at the Marquette County Medical Care Facility, has been selected as the new administrator at Pinecrest Medical Care Facility in Powers, a joint operation of Dickinson, Delta and Menominee counties.

— Learned from Sheriff Scott Rutter that a new Victims Services Unit soon will be up and running with seven volunteers trained by the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association. The advocates help victims deal with trauma and legal processes.

— Heard Friend of the Court Heidi Van Slooten report that the creation two years ago of a joint position in which she also serves Iron County has proved successful. Iron County is showing increased collections, improved accounting and better efficiencies while Dickinson County continues to rank as the most cost-effective Friend of the Court’s office in the Upper Peninsula, she said. The office has also helped establish a Child Advocacy Center to provide support and other services for abused children in Dickinson and Iron counties.

— Voted 3-2 to deny support for legislation that would amend state law to enact four-year terms for county commissioners. Michigan is among just five states that has two-year terms, but Wender, Pirlot and Commissioner Joe Stevens said they believe staying with two years is appropriate. The Michigan Association of Counties supports the proposed change to four years, as set forth in Senate Bill 505 introduced by Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan.

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