County Commissioners Target 2022 For Animal Control Millage Renewal, Approve New Assistant Prosecuting Attorney
Grand Traverse County’s officials on Wednesday declined to add an animal control renewal mill to the November ballot in November because of the cost of holding a special election. However, they expressed their willingness to do so in 2022 as part of a regular general election. The commissioners have pledged to close the one-year funding gap for the expiring Millage from the district’s general fund in order to keep animal control at the same service level in the meantime. The commissioners also voted on Wednesday to approve a new assistant prosecutor for the prosecution and to change the board’s rules for remote participation in commissioner meetings.
Animal Control staff were hoping to have a renewal in November for the department’s expiring three-year 0.037 millage, first approved by voters in 2018. The Millage is one of two main sources of funding for the department – the other is dog license fees – and has raised $ 183,646, $ 191,580, and $ 198,500 annually for the past three years. With no regular elections in Grand Traverse County this fall, the Millage renewal would require a special election at an estimated cost of $ 197,000 that would be split between the county, city, and local townships.
Several commissioners said they supported the animal control services – and put voters on renewal control – but couldn’t justify holding a special election that would cost almost the same amount as a year’s revenue from the Millage. Commissioner Brad Jewett said the feedback he had received from local community officials had indicated that they would all “prefer to vote in a general election” in 2022. However, waiting until 2022 would create a year-long gap in millage funding for the department, prompting commissioners to include a commitment in their application to keep Animal Control from the county’s general fund at the same or higher levels next year Fund until the renewal of the Millage can be checked again.
Commissioners also voted Wednesday to approve a motion by prosecutor Noelle Moeggenberg to add a new full-time assistant to the prosecutor to her department at an estimated cost of just under $ 70,000 including benefits, and to increase a current prosecutor’s secretary to add one Rate from 0.75 to full time (a cost increase of $ 16,745). These costs are covered by the district’s general fund. Moeggenberg noted that her law firm has fewer lawyers than in 2008, while since then the county’s population has increased significantly and cases have become more complex. The upcoming inclusion of body cameras in the sheriff’s office is also expected to add significantly to the department’s workload, Moeggenberg said. Lawyers must import, view, and process body cameras for judicial use and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.
Moeggenberg said her department would have to start “testing cases” with no additional staff and may have to offer plea agreements or let go of some cases because staff could not adequately handle the workload. While some commissioners – notably Jewett and Chairman Rob Hentschel – were skeptical of Moeggenberg’s claims and waited to see how body cameras would affect their office workload before approving the new position, other commissioners supported her request and recognized the likely looming extension of the Time needed to handle body camera recordings. The commissioners voted 4-3 to fund the new position, with Betsy Coffia, Bryce Hundley, Penny Morris and Darryl Nelson supporting them and Jewett, Hentschel and Ron Clous being against.
The commissioners also agreed on Wednesday to amend the board rules that set out how members can attend meetings remotely. The new rules allow commissioners to remotely attend meetings by telephone or video conference for two categories of reasons: travel / personal reasons, or military service, health status, or local or state emergency orders. In the case of an emergency order, the order must be in the commissioner’s municipality of residence or in the municipality where the meetings are being held, and the commissioners must notify the district administrator in writing of their remote presence at least 48 hours in advance of the meeting. If a member attends remotely, the administration will record the commissioner’s remote attendance and provide an email address on the county website and in the meeting note so that the public can contact the commissioner about all business before the board. Remote attendees must indicate that they are attending remotely and their location at the beginning of the meeting, unless they are in military service.
The commissioners removed a controversial clause in the proposed rule changes that required a board member to obtain the approval of a majority of commissioners in order to attend meetings remotely for travel or personal reasons. Coffia expressed concern that the provision could allow a majority block of the Board of Directors to reject remote visit requests from minority members and then set agenda items for the meetings they wanted to enforce. Other commissioners also expressed unease about the provision, which Hundley said “would only end in tears”. Coffia, Hundley, Morris and Nelson only agreed to approve the rule changes after that language was removed. This means commissioners can now attend remotely for personal or travel reasons without seeking approval from the Board of Directors.