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Budget issues fall on the backs of commissioners

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The Ogemaw County Commissioners held a workshop retreat at the West Branch Community Airport May 18, with the intent of working through financial issues in the county and forming a plan for the future.

More than a half-dozen times the Ogemaw County Herald was brought up in conversation and blamed for misleading the public. The Herald was also blamed for the failure of last year’s Headlee restoration millage.

Simmons said during the workshop that the county was operating on 26 percent less revenue than it did 11 years ago. That is simply not true. While the rate of the county’s millage has been reduced due to the Headlee Amendment (by 16 percent, not 26 percent), the county’s total revenue has gone up. In 2016-2017, the county’s revenue totaled more than $9.8 million. It has increased $3.4 million since the 2005-06 fiscal year. Tax revenue also increased in that same period.

While the county’s tax revenue has not decreased as Simmons claims, it has remained virtually flat over the past 11 years, while expenses have continued to go up, especially with insurance and retirement costs.

When selling the need to build a new jail to the public, previous commissioners and the sheriff said a new jail would profit. The county sheriff continually tells people the jail is making money. Yet in the workshop, the commissioners said they are wasting time at public meetings explaining that the jail will never make money and that no jails in the state make money.

So, who has been misinforming the public?

While the cost per inmate may be less since the building of the new jail — we can’t be sure because no one has been able to provide that number despite our repeated requests — the cost to operate the jail has continued to increase. The audited expenses in the 2015-16 fiscal year for the current jail were $2 million. In 2008, when the county operated out of the former location, a Maximus Consulting Services report stated the jail’s expenses were $988,310, less than half the cost of the current jail.

While revenue at the jail has increased, the cost has also increased at a similar pace. No money is being saved with the new jail, and the county certainly isn’t making money off of it.

During the workshop, Simmons stressed the need for the commissioners to be on the radio because they can control what the public hears. She also claimed the Herald doesn’t talk to the commissioners to provide the public an accurate view. Clearly she is not a reader of the Herald.

If commissioners want to strive for transparency, hosting a retreat in a small conference room away from the county building and suggesting department heads do not attend wasn’t the way to work toward that goal.

Repeated claims by some commissioners that the Herald is reporting non-factual information are just that — claims. We have always been willing to correct errors when they are brought to light. We are human, after all, and sometimes do make mistakes. The current commissioners have not stopped into our office to tell us what is supposedly incorrect.

It might be the “in” thing to do right now to cry “fake news.” But unless you’re backing that up with some facts about what you think is incorrect, all you’re

really doing is crying wolf.

Instead of wasting time complaining and pointing blame at the Herald, the time would have been better spent actually working toward a solution. Suggesting that they prefer

radio because they can control the discussion should be cause for concern for every resident in the county.

The county has serious budget problems. Those problems have not been caused by the Herald. They have been caused by the repeated indecision and bad decisions of the Ogemaw County Board of Commissioners both past and present. These decisions, or lack thereof, have cost commissioners the trust of the people, to the point that millages for essential services such as 911 continue to fail because the public doesn’t trust the commissioners with its money.

These budget problems did not just pop up this year. They have been going on for years. Instead of working toward a solution, commissioners have done nothing more than stick their heads in the sand to hide from them.

It’s time for commissioners to do what they were elected to do — balance the budget. Be truthful with the people, and if the public still decides not to fund increases in revenue, then make the cuts necessary to stay afloat.

Meanwhile, we will continue our job to provide the public the accuracy in reporting it deserves.

In order to earn back the respect and support of the voters, while you’re talking about making cuts, maybe health insurance for commissioners should go back on the table. We think elimination of the county’s $37,117.74 insurance for commissioners would go a long way in showing the public that commissioners are willing to make the same sacrifices they want the public to make.

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denny

I agree with this 100%. I've always been against paying for health insurance for part-time commissioners. They definitely don't sit in a office 8 hours a day to earn their keep like those in the County building. People say that the commissioners take phone calls while at home and that means that they're working. Commissioners 'know' when they put their hat in the ring that they will be talking with people away from their monthly meetings. It's just the nature of the position. It's the way that it works. Add that some of the commissioners have families....... the extra people on the health insurance policy costs still more money. All paid insurance should end. And, how many times have the commissioners taken 'hasty' votes and then have had to rescind that vote because they hadn't given the motion(s) enough consideration and checked the ramifications of their action? Stop pointing a finger at someone else because your other 3 fingers are pointing back at you. Do your job efficiently and effectively and balance the budget because that is exactly what you've been elected to do.

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