By Graham Sturgeon, staff writer
The Shiawassee County Board of Commissioners voted during the Wednesday, Nov. 18, Committee of the Whole meeting to go ahead with its plan to include an Operating Millage question and a Telephone Surcharge increase for Emergency Telephone Service (9-1-1 Services) on the March 8 election ballot. The board’s deadline to submit the ballot proposal language is 4 p.m. Dec. 15.
The board moved to authorize the creation of a Tax Advisory Committee to put together the Operating Millage proposal, which would raise the county’s millage rate from 5.555 mills (5.1146 of which is captured because of the 1996 Headlee Override). The plan will be developed by the committee, but will still need approval from the Board of Commissioners before going to the ballot.
Commissioner Jeff Bartz spoke in favor of the committee, saying, “It is past time to get a separate committee of our peers formed to put this proposal together instead of this committee, which a lot of the county doesn’t have faith in. It’s time that we do something.”
Commissioner Les Schneider came out against the motion. “I think we are moving too fast. We need to present this to the public and educate them, and I don’t think the March time frame gives us enough time to do that.”
The board’s decision to add a 9-1-1 Services increase proposal to the March ballot was approved by the board, though Commissioners Hartmann Aue and Bartz were not enthusiastic about the timing.
“I have some concerns, but this is going to be necessary, whether it’s today or next year,” Aue said on Wednesday. “The 9-1-1 board does not have the ability to raise their own funds and this is a way for them to patch up their budget. The timing is a little unfortunate, but it can be beneficial if we combine the two. I think it is important to collaborate and work together on this.”
Commissioner John Plowman further explained the need for the increase, which would raise the county’s 9-1-1 surcharge from $1.22 per month per phone line to $2.65 per month per telephone line. He said that the combination of the diminished use of land lines, the county’s decreasing population and increased operating and equipment expenses have forced this move.
The board broached another controversial subject during the meeting, as cuts from the county’s 2016 Emergency Management Department Budget were discussed. The 2016 budget calls for a reduction of Coordinator Richard Warner’s hours to 29 per week and an overall $116,101 reduction to the Emergency Management Department Budget, both due to a decrease in federal funding.
Commissioner John Horvath stated that the county will always need an emergency preparedness coordinator, while Aue reiterated that the cuts were made as a budgetary decision and that the board needs more information before devoting additional resources to the department. Committee Chairman Jeremy Root had to gavel the discussion between Aue and Horvath before Bartz could give his opinion, but Bartz got his opportunity later in the meeting.
“Do we get that funding for the department, are we losing our regional director? I really think our chairman (Aue) and Rich Warner need to sit down and we need to get the facts straight before this board has to make a decision by the end of the year to either terminate him or put him back,” said Bartz.
(Horvath said during the Monday, Nov. 16, Owosso City Council meeting that a number of fire departments in the county have expressed concern with a reduction in Emergency Management’s budget.)
The board committee voted Nov. 18 to forward the matter to the Monday, Dec. 14, Finance and Administration Committee meeting.