by Graham Sturgeon, co-editor

The Shiawassee County Central Dispatch Board, along with several other county officials, convened on Thursday, Aug. 2 to discuss, among other items of business, a pressing budgetary issue that could potentially bankrupt the county’s 911 Fund if not addressed.

Earlier this year it was discovered that, due to the restructuring of employee groups in the county’s MERS retirement payment plan, Central Dispatch’s monthly MERS (Municipal Employees’ Retirement System) payment had jumped from $14,000 or $15,000 to approximately $90,000. The dramatic increase occurred after MERS payments for active and retired Sheriff’s Office employees were mistakenly added to Central Dispatch’s MERS payment schedule.

Commissioner Jeremy Root, who sits on the Central Dispatch Board, has asked MERS to look into when exactly the accounting change took place, but the county cannot wait too much longer to resolve the mistake.

“This has to stop now,” said EMS representative Guy Hubbard. “We have known about this for months now, so if we continue this misuse of 911 funds knowingly, this will turn into a criminal matter. I don’t think this mistake was made with malice, but the county needs to pay 911 back or we may not get through the end of the year.”

Board chair Deb Doyle (center, right) and Central Dispatch Director Angela Norling (center, left) detailed the MERS situation to begin the meeting, and Commissioner Root explained how he is attempting to correct the error.

“I have contacted MERS to request they look into this, but there is no telling how long they will take to get us the information we need,” shared Root. “We are unraveling a 20-year problem regarding the county’s unfunded liability. We understand you guys need to be paid back, but we need a figure so we can make Central Dispatch whole again.”

Norling explained that the State of Michigan could withhold revenue from Central Dispatch if the misuse of funds continues. Owosso Public Safety Chief Kevin Lenkart called the mistake embarrassing, while Corunna Police Chief Nick Chiros suggested letting the Michigan Attorney General conduct an audit as part of a criminal investigation.

Commissioner Dan McMaster, from his seat in the audience, suggested the Central Dispatch Board seek an independent audit, stop making payments to MERS until the situation is resolved and request temporary funding relief from the Board of Commissioners for the rest of the year.

“We are not going to let Central Dispatch go bankrupt,” insisted McMaster. “We are not working against you, despite what is being spread around the community. I suggest you make a formal request to the Finance & Administration committee on Monday, Aug. 13. The Board needs to know what is going on here.”

After the lengthy and sometimes heated discussion, the Central Dispatch Board voted unanimously on Aug. 2 to stop payment to MERS, and to make a formal request to the Board of Commissioners to authorize funding for an independent audit. Central Dispatch can spend up to $5,000 without Board approval, but the cost of the audit is expected to exceed that amount.

The formal request will be presented to the county’s Finance & Administration committee, which is comprised of Commissioners McMaster, Root and Brandon Marks, at 5:15 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 13. Following the decision by the Commissioners on Thursday, Aug. 16, Central Dispatch will meet again at noon on Tuesday, Aug. 21 to further discuss their options. The group meets at the new Central Dispatch Center on Corunna Ave. in Corunna.

Central Dispatch Board Seeks Independent Audit was last modified: August 13th, 2018 by Karen Elford