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Iron County to tap its budget reserves

CRYSTAL FALLS — The Iron County Board has approved a $5.8 million budget for 2020 that will require dipping into its reserve funds.

The need to shift an estimated $204,128 from the fund balance primarily is due to accelerated payments for Michigan’s Municipal Employees’ Retirement System, or MERS, for the next four years, county officials explained.

The county’s share of property tax bills will remain 6.43 mills, or $6.43 per $1,000 of taxable property value, Iron County Treasurer Melanie Camps said. It should generate an estimated $3,309,523 in revenue.

“It’s going to be a tight budget,” Camps said, adding this will be one of the deeper dives into reserves she’s seen in her 16 years at the treasurer’s office.

The need to turn to reserves led the board Dec. 19 to turn down a push for additional money for the Michigan State University Extension’s local 4-H program and the Iron County Economic Chamber Alliance.

After several people pleaded with the board to restore cuts to both agencies, Board Vice-Chairman Mike Stafford said he’d found a double charge in the budget that seemed to require taking $60,000 less from the fund balance.

He proposed $40,000 of that be used to raise the 4-H allocation from $15,000 to $25,000, the Iron County Economic Chamber Alliance amount from $10,000 to $35,000, plus increase payment for Western Upper Peninsula Planning and Development Region membership from $2,500 to $7,500.

The spending still would be $20,000 less than the board already had been willing to approve coming into the Dec. 19 budget hearing, Stafford pointed out.

But board members who had backed the cuts in earlier meetings balked at the move, citing the still-slim margins in the budget.

“I’m not comfortable with these numbers, I guess,” Commissioner Tim Aho said, noting they’d only had a few minutes to digest the new numbers. He later commented, “They (the figures) were just thrown at us.”

Aho was joined by Ray Coates and Sharon Leonoff in opposing the additional funding, while Stafford and Board Chairwoman Patti Peretto supported the transfer.

“Unbelievable,” a person in the audience grumbled in response.

“You’re cutting (for) the kids, you’re cutting planning, you’re cutting economic development,” Peretto said.

But Aho insisted he’d been assured by the MSU Extension that 4-H will continue and remain “viable.” He characterized the complaints about the cuts as overblown and “misinformation.”

Deb Divosky, Iron County’s 4-H program coordinator, called the refusal to restore the funding “sad, very sad.”

The final vote to approve the budget split along the same 3-2 lines, as did the proposed contract with the Northwoods Animal Shelter and the ICECA.

In other funding moves, the board earlier in the month authorized putting a new four-year tax levy of .075 mill, or 7.5 cents per $1,000 of taxable property value, for county veterans services on the March 10 ballot. If approved, the tax would generate an estimated $38,938 in the first year in 2020.

However, a proposed four-year county 911 central dispatch services tax levy of .25 mill, or 25 cents per $1,000 of taxable property value, has been postponed to gather more information. That levy would have raised an estimated $129,795 in the first year.

The board will be in session at 9 a.m. Monday to make any final year-end budget amendments, then again at 10 a.m. Thursday for its reorganizational meeting.

Betsy Bloom can be reached at 906-774-2772, ext. 240, or bbloom@ironmountaindailynews.com.

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