With $18.2 Million On The Method, GT County Headed For “Transformative” Budget

Grand Traverse County’s commissioners on Wednesday took a first look at the county’s proposed 2022 budget, a balanced generic fund budget of $ 42 million that the board is expected to refine in the coming weeks before being passed by year-end . But while it’s straightforward in some ways – no reductions in staff or services planned, conservative revenue and expenditure projections included – the upcoming budget marks a “transformative” time for Grand Traverse County, according to County Administrator Nate Alger, with far-reaching IT changes, staffing extensive wage reviews, the county’s pension debt tie-up, and $ 18.2 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds raised to the county.

Alger noted that Grand Traverse County is in a “strong” revenue position, with property taxes remaining the county’s largest source of income. Tax revenue in 2022 is projected to exceed $ 28 million, up 3.4 percent from 2020. Despite some rising costs – particularly a 9.2 percent increase in health care costs for employees – the draft budget shows a balance between income and expenses. Approximately $ 1.1 million in investment projects are planned for next year, including replacing the HVAC unit and roof over Howe Arena locker rooms, upgrading the roof, and replacing two boilers in the Law Enforcement Center, repairing them the foundation and walls of the Hall of Justice; and upgrading the Government Center Committee Chamber used by both Grand Traverse County and Traverse City commissioners.

The budget also includes the purchase or leasing of 15 new vehicles for the county departments (half of which will be used by the Sheriff’s Office) and hiring a consultant to create a master plan for the county facilities that “gives us a long-term plan for the Build, improve, and manage our facilities, ”said Alger. “This plan would provide a roadmap for the county to consolidate most, if not all, of the county offices at our two main locations – Boardman and LaFranier. A dual campus consolidation plan has long been a goal identified in previous long-term plans. “Alger said that given the county’s population growth, which rose 9.4 percent in the 2020 US census,” now is the time to strategically plan the improvement of current facilities and the construction of new facilities ”.

The 2022 budget also includes a payment of $ 1.6 million for a total project of nearly $ 4 million – spread over several years – to revamp the county’s software technology under a contract with software provider Workday. The move will replace the district’s decades-old DOS-based system called AS-400 with an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) subscription. ERP is a type of software that is widely used by governments and other organizations to perform day-to-day functions such as accounting, finance, human resources, and project management. Alger said the investment was a “big bump” in the budget and would likely require a bumpy transition between services, but the move would transform the operation of the county and significantly improve public services.

Alger pointed to another proposal approved by the commissioners that is likely to have a significant impact on the 2022 budget and beyond: tying the county’s pension debt. With interest rates at historically low levels, commissioners agreed earlier this year to pledge up to 95 percent of the county’s unsecured pension liabilities of approximately $ 40 million. That could save the county $ 8-15 million in the long run, according to employee estimates. While Alger saw a placeholder for a $ 5.9 million retirement debt payment in the 2022 budget, he noted that once the bond process is complete, the annual bond payment will almost certainly be “far less than $ 5.9 million will amount to “. This could free up a significant amount of funds in next year’s budget that could be used in other areas, staff noted.

Other budget unknowns are also likely to have a big impact on the next year and beyond. Department heads applied to hire almost 20 new employees in the entire district. Alger has not determined which of these requests it will recommend to commissioners in the 2022 budget, although he said positions in the Commission’s Aging and Building Code offices would likely be high on the list due to significant backlogs and waiting lists in those departments. Commissioners expressed their interest in the possibility of using contractors instead of full-time workers for services in some areas. Commissioner Betsy Coffia said she wanted to see a “consistent process” in handling requests from department heads to ensure parity across the board when hiring new staff. Coffia said that in recent years some department heads have been allowed to take their cases directly before the commissioners, but others have not.

Employee salaries are another important issue that emerges from the budget. Administrators and commissioners are waiting for the results of a $ 38,500 wage study conducted by the consulting firm Management Advisory Group (MAG) International to analyze every position in the county and their salary, and not just wages with other competitors of the public sector, but also to compare with private companies. The report will be presented this autumn and could have an impact on the final budget before it is approved by the commissioners. County HR director Donna Kinsey previously told The Ticker that the timing of the report will allow administrators and commissioners to consider increases as part of the 2022 budget, but that with nearly 600 employees likely not all positions over Night be increased. “It could be a big budget hit,” Kinsey said. “I don’t think we can tear the association down and do it for a year. You’re trying to get people where they should be in the next few years. ”Coffia said Wednesday that if Grand Traverse County – which had a turnover rate of 15.5 percent in May – wants to hire and retain employees, it has to“ Be as competitive as possible (in terms of wages) and be responsible for tax purposes at the same time ”. Alger noted that the draft budget includes a three percent adjustment to the cost of living for employees, but the numbers may change based on the wage study.

Perhaps the biggest question mark for Grand Traverse County is how it will spend $ 18.2 million in federal funding, sourced from the $ 1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP). The package includes hundreds of billions of dollars in aid to various industrial sectors and 350 billion dollars to state and local governments. The funds will be channeled across the state in two payments to local communities – the first payment came earlier this year and the second is expected next year – with a 2024 deadline for a decision on the allocation of the dollars. There are two notable restrictions on how communities can spend the dollars: they cannot be used to offset tax increases, and they cannot be deposited into pension funds. However, a wide range of other expenses can be covered by the funding, from investing in water, sanitation and broadband infrastructure to public health and community projects and bonuses for key workers.

Alger, who noted that even more funding could come to the county if Congress approves a multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure plan currently under discussion, will host a study session with commissioners on Oct. 27 to review the issue of ARP funds speak. He said the combination of ARP funding, tying up the county’s pension debt and overhauling its technology systems will be “transformative for this community” in decades. “Several commissioners said Wednesday that it was vital to have full public input on spending priorities and create a clear, structured process for using ARP funds. “That’s a big elephant to eat,” said Commissioner Darryl Nelson. “We want to do it right”

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