(Iron Mountain - December 27, 2017) - The Dickinson County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night approved a 9.2 million dollar operating budget for 2018. The budget resolution was approved unanimously following a public hearing during which there was zero public input. The single person in the audience, possibly due to the cold weather, was Iron Mountain Mayor Dale Allesandrini.

The County will continue to levy the same property tax assessment as in 2017, a total of 6.14 mils, or $6.14 per $1,000 of taxable property value.

The budget is the culmination of several months of closed-door negotiations with representatives of the unions representing County employees. Those negotiations were only finalized within the past two weeks. Payroll and employee benefits will make up nearly 75% of the expenditures, with only minor appropriations for capital improvements or repairs.

While staffing levels will remain static in most areas, the budget does allow for the hiring of three additional full-time corrections officers by the Sheriff's department. Theoretically, this will result in little or no increase in spending since it will result in less part-time hiring and will cut back substantially in the amount of overtime payments.

While the operating budget is balanced, the County will dig into reserves to repay nearly $400,000 to Verso, as the result of that company's successful appeals to the State Tax Tribunal which resulted in drastic decreases to the taxable value of their pulp and paper plant located near Quinnesec. Those appeals have also resulted in reductions for Breitung Township and for the Breitung Township School System. The downward pressure on assessed value of properties is likely to continue, as more industrial and retail companies, feeling that they are being overtaxed, file appeals before the Tax Tribunal. Several attempts to "rein in" the Tax Tribunal have failed in the State Legislature.

Despite this, the County will still maintain a fairly healthy cash reserve of nearly one-fifth of Itís annual budget.

The difficult job of balancing the budget was aided by healthy payments from the State of Michigan. These payments total more than one-point-one million dollars and comprise State revenue sharing funds as well as payments to reimburse the County for reductions previously paid on personal property, a tax which is being phased out.

More than 1.1 million dollars will be paid to the Municipal Employees Retirement System. While this amount is projected to increase in the immediate years, it is expected to decrease over time as the result of changes adopted by the Board over the past several decades. These changes include the purchase of higher deductible plans, and the elimination of County-funded retirement medical plans for more recently hired employees. It will take several decades however, for the latter to have any significant impact on the budget.

The new budget goes into effect on January 1st.

In related actions, the Board approved resolutions covering working agreements with four employee groups: The Police Officer Labor Council covering the Sheriff's road patrol and dispatch center, The Police Officer Labor Council covering correctional officers within the Sheriff's Department, The Police Officer Labor Council covering the command officers within the Sheriff's Department, and finally, the union contract between the County and the Government Employees Labor Council.