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Iron County Board cuts funds for 4-H, Economic Chamber Alliance

CRYSTAL FALLS — The Iron County Board will give final consideration Dec. 19 to a budget that would scale back funds for some programs in 2020.

The board Tuesday amended the budget for the coming year, giving $10,000 to the Iron County Economic Chamber Alliance and $15,000 to the Michigan State University Extension 4-H program.

Those amounts are significantly less than in 2019, as the board focused on paying the county’s Municipal Employees’ Retirement System obligation.

Commissioners Tim Aho, Ray Coates and Sharon Leonoff voted in favor of the amendment, while Board Chairwoman Patti Peretto and Board Vice-Chairman Mike Stafford opposed.

Stafford had proposed making MERS payments “more manageable” by extending the county’s payment plan two more years and lowering the 2020 payment to $475,000.

A portion of the $116,446 reduction would have been used to fund the ICECA and MSU Extension programs — $35,000 and $25,000, respectively.

But Aho, Coates and Leonoff voted no on that amendment.

“Michigan’s 100 largest municipalities in 2016 had $4.6 billion in unfunded liabilities for pension. In 2019, it’s grown to $5.57,” Aho said. “If you think by not making payments that it’s going to get better? Or making smaller payments? Explain the rationale to me. I don’t get it.”

A number of people spoke on the cuts, most in favor of keeping the funding in the budget.

Chris Cheney, co-owner of Contrast Coffee, said while he recognized MERS was significantly underfunded and understood the board was in a difficult position, the commissioners should invest in the community.

“I don’t think anybody is promoting the idea that we don’t honor those funds, that we put anybody at risk. Those pensions will be paid,” Cheney said. “I think, really, the bigger question is how, as a county, do we pay those back in a way we don’t have to take as big of cuts in valuable programs that a lot of community members here are really passionate about?”

Approved amendments to the budget included the transfer of funds to cover shortages in health insurance benefits for the sheriff’s office and county jail; and $15,000 from the beginning of year balance in child care to the Iron County Trial Court legal fees expense line.

The changes bring the 2020 general fund balance to $262,550.

A public meeting is set for 9 a.m. Dec. 19.

Newly elected Iron River Council Member Benjamin Garcia asked the board how tax revenues would increase if Iron County was not a desirable place to live, referencing the cuts to the ICECA and 4-H programs.

“How is that tax revenue, that tax base, going to go up if we continue to discontinue and eliminate things that are growing our community?” Garcia said.

The board Tuesday also approved the language on a number of millages set to appear on the March 10 ballot.

A millage for county veterans services calls for a property tax levy of .075 mill, or 7.5 cents per $1,000 of taxable property value, for four years beginning in 2020. The levy would be used exclusively for equipment, staffing, operations and delivery of veterans services by the Iron County Veterans Committee and is expected to raise an estimated $38,938 in the first year.

A millage for county 911 central dispatch services would levy .25 mill, or 25 cents per $1,000 of taxable value, for four years beginning in 2020. The levy would raise an estimated $129,795 in the first year.

The third proposal would renew a millage for the Dickinson-Iron District Health Department to levy .42 mill, or 42 cents per $1,000 of taxable value, for four years beginning 2021. The levy would raise an estimated $210,268 in the first year.

The final measure is an additional operational millage for the DIDHD that would levy .05 mill, or 5 cents per $1,000 of taxable value, for five years beginning in 2020. The levy would raise an estimated $25,959 in the first year.

In other business, the board:

— Adopted a resolution urging Gov. Gretchen Whitmer continue rational state funding and outlining the effect of budget vetoes on county finances.

— Set Dec. 12 and 19 for bill review and Dec. 30 for year-end financial adjustments by the Finance Committee.

— Established a $50 fee for plat wall maps.

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