Commissioners throw around ideas for county’s future at workshop retreat


WEST BRANCH — Ideas for the county’s future were discussed at a workshop retreat held by the Ogemaw County Board of Commissioners at the West Branch Regional Airport May 18.

The meeting facilitator was John Amrhein, of Michigan State University Extension. Amrhein is an educator on government and public policy with MSUE and was hired by the commissioners to facilitate the meeting.

Kicking off the meeting, Amhrein played an audio file of the “Mission Impossible” theme song and used the song to tie into the challenges faced by the board to find balance between services provided and balancing the budget.

“Most of us have seen the TV show or the movie and it always opens with this absolutely impossible task and you listen to it and go ‘Oh there is no way. There is no way they are going to sort that out,’” Amrhein said. “By the time you get to the end of the show they have figured out how to solve the issue. In most counties in Michigan today that’s how finances flow.”

The plan for the meeting was for commissioners to identify and sort through issues and discuss plans to solve them moving forward.

Before starting the meeting, Amrhein shared his experiences from other counties he worked with, specifically in Muskegon County. He said that approximately four years ago, Muskegon County was facing a $3 million shortfall, and the administrator devised a plan to divide department heads into functional groups — general government, public safety, human services and community services. Amrhein was contracted to facilitate meetings with the department heads in each group to find ways to save money. Each of the four groups came up with the savings the county was looking for, Amrhein said.

Amrhein asked commissioners to answer a question: “If you were gone from Ogemaw County for the next 10-15 years and came back, what would you like to see? What would you like this community to look like in its ideal state?”

The answers from the commissioners ranged from public education on the inner-workings of the government, improving the local economy, more funding for county services provided and increased property values.

When challenged on how to fix the financial situation in the county, commissioners agreed that a millage would be necessary. But they could not agree on how best to arrange the millage.

Commissioner Brenda Simmons said she would favor each service having its own millage, providing an a la carte option to voters so they could decide what was important.

Chairman Pete Hennard, on the other hand, believed that a bundled option like a public safety millage including road patrol, animal control, child care and the Strike Team Investigative Narcotics Group would be more suitable.

According to information presented at the meeting, the county would need to find $1.5 million to continue to provide all the services it currently provides.

Amrhein suggested to the commissioners not to divide the budget and the millage and address them as separate issues, but together.

After discussing the continuing issues and the budget shortfalls the county faces, Amrhein challenged commissioners to take the identified items and place them, according to the commissioners’ opinions on urgency, in a timeline. The commissioners were provided with four timeline options — now, Sept. 30, Dec. 31 and Aug. 18, 2018.

Another topic of discussion at several points during the meeting was the funding and future of Ogemaw County Central Dispatch. Hennard said the county has not exhausted all of its options in regard to contracting services with another county. However, that suggestion was met with some disagreement by other commissioners, stating that contracting services might look good on paper, but could cost the county more money down the road.

“I am willing to do anything that the board asks me to do,” 911 Director Amy Beach said.

Beach told commissioners that when they wanted her to work with Roscommon County Dispatch to figure out the approximate partnership cost, she did, and when they asked for her to come up with other funding options, she did. She said all she wanted was a decision so she could make plans for her department.

During comments from department heads, Ogemaw County Register of Deeds Denise Simmons said the people have lost faith in the commissioners.

When the commissioners asked what they could do to earn the public’s trust, Ogemaw County Clerk’s Administrative Assistant Caren Piglowski said they needed to follow through on the promises they made to voters when selling the Headlee restoration millage and cut the services they said they would if it failed.

Commissioners left the meeting with an approximate timeline. Items to be addressed soon are educating the public, hiring an equalization director, further exploration of contracting central dispatch services, talking with the unions and researching other 911 options.

Read more about the meeting and items that were discussed in the May 25 edition of the Ogemaw County Herald.


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We are in debt and cutting people's jobs plus taking safety and security away, yet, the commissioners HIRED a facilitator for a meeting?? Maybe this is why people have lost faith. So much petty spending while you threaten your constituents with making cuts.

Saturday, May 20, 2017 | Report this

Looks like a step in the right direction.Willingness to be educated is a sign of strong leaders, and I hope the commissioners will work together to put what was learned to good use. Putting resources into finding a solution is not a waste - it's a way to get back what we've lost, or maintain what we stand to lose.

Saturday, May 20, 2017 | Report this

It would be interesting to know the Total cost of this meeting. But am sure the Commissioners didn't mention it to the writer. Maybe the Ogemaw Herald could find out, or better yet the Board Chairman would volunteer the info... I am so careful whom I vote for anymore. If these Commissioners are anything like the elected Officals in my Township, everyone is in for a long haul. Some are just not smart enough to handlle those positions... Come election time, vote for a person who is intelligent enough and trustworthy versus a friend or relative.

Monday, May 22, 2017 | Report this

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