Macomb County commissioners got out the budget knife and sliced county funding for a proposed financial empowerment center and some funding for elections to help bump up the single-year 2024 budget surplus by over a half-million dollars.
The county Board of Commissioners’ Finance, Budget and Audit Committee conducted its annual meeting to add or subtract expenditures from the proposed $322-million 2024 budget proposed by County Executive Mark Hackel before final approval of the $1.1 total billion budget next Monday. Hackel, for the first time in his tenure, personally presented the budget to the board.
Through the budget amendments, the board increased the general-fund surplus by about $550,000 to about $620,000 of the $322-million budget, which is the local-dollars portion of the spending plan. Some departments, such as Roads, Community Mental Health and Macomb Community Action, are nearly fully funded by state and federal grants to reach the $1.1 billion total budget.
The county Prosecutor’s Office was subject to seven of the amendments, the most for any single department, continuing Prosecutor Peter Lucido’s focus on adding staff in his first nearly three years in office.
A big chunk of additional surplus was due to pulling back $256,000 in general-fund dollars and $175,000 in Treasurer’s Office monies to pay for staff to operate an empowerment center at the Verkuilen Building to counsel residents on improving their financial prowess.
The center was to be created as a partnership between Macomb Community Action, the Treasurer’s and the Executive’s Office to set up a program through the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund, a New York-based nonprofit group that supports efforts of communities to improve individuals and families’ financial stability.
But the board said no in two of the amendments after virtually no discussion on it at the meeting.
Commissioner Joe Sabatini of Macomb Township, the committee chair, said after the meeting board members believe residents have other avenues through the county in programs offered by Michigan State University Cooperative Extension and Treasurer’s Office.
Multiple commissioners questioned whether the program would duplicate what is already being done at a recent prior board budget meeting, where it was first discussed.
“We don’t want to have multiple programs with the same purpose,” Sabatini said Monday. “MSU Extension has those types of programs already in there that we’re already funding with general-fund dollars.”
Sabatini noted county-administration officials could seek alternate funding to start it.
The funding of elections, meanwhile, generated a great deal of discussion as a board member initially proposed reducing the supplies-and-services budget for the Elections Division by $235,000, from $985,000 to $750,000. But the board, in a motion by Commissioner Don Van Syckel of Sterling Heights, in an 8-3 vote restored $100,000 of the proposed reduction to put the allocation at $850,000 for 2024.
Chief Elections Clerk Michael Grix pleaded with the board to restore the full amount of $985,000 because changes in election law that take effect next year will have a “significant impact” on expenses due to the early-voting provisions.
“We will be spending more money on ballots, precinct test kits, a number of things,” Grix said. “I am significantly concerned that this reduction, if it goes through, will have a monumental, detrimental impact to our office and ultimately to voters. The changes to early voting are the largest change in Michigan elections law that I’ve seen in my career so far. I’ll be the first to tell you that I don’t know exactly how much it’s going to cost. Nobody does.”
Brian Brdak of the Clerk’s Office acknowledged his office could return next year and ask for more funds if needed but pointed out that the funds may be needed more quickly than the time it takes to go through the board-approval process.
Board Chairman Don Brown assured elections officials the board will react in a timely fashion to an increase request next year in order to assure a smooth election. “You should have some ability to plan,” he said. “If you’re short, you can come back to us.”
But Commissioner Sarah Lucido of Eastpointe, one of the three who voted against taking any money from elections, told the board: “We should make sure the money is in the budget. We should be making that decision now. We should be budgeting this item, in my opinion, right now. If they don’t use it, it can go back into the general fund.”
VanSyckel said elections officials should be able to determine their needs following the presidential primary in early 2024 and the August general primary to help determine if more funds should be requested to stage the presidential election.
Grix said of that process: “I know it’s possible. I’m not confident that it can be done.”
“This is all sort of guess-work,” VanSyckel said.
In the Prosecutor’s Office, a dozen positions were added, although only two use general-fund dollars and some were previously announced.
But the biggest general fund request by Lucido was denied. The board said no in a 6-5 vote to the addition of two assistant-prosecutor posts for district courts and specialty courts that would have cost $271,000.
The board approved adding two principal trial lawyers, two assistant prosecutors and two investigators positions. Five of the six position for the Conviction Integrity Unit are entirely funded by a $1.6 million federal grant to use DNA to affirm convictions that was announced earlier this fall.
The only approvals for the prosecutor’s office that use new general-fund monies are an additional assistant prosecutor position for the Appeals Unit at a cost of $159,000 and the upgrade of one principal trial lawyer to chief of district courts at a cost of $14,500.
The board agreed to add a permanent, part-time independent counsel post to handle Lucido’s legal matters in running the office at a cost of $42,000 by transferring funds from conferences and training to the forfeiture fund.
Four part-time office assistants were added to the Prosecutor’s Office using $136,000 via an “offset by assigning an unallocated reduction,” according to a board document.
The board also voted to place the $25,000 in restitution that was paid by former prosecutor Eric Smith into the same forfeiture from which he was accused of illegally spending tens of thousands of dollars after which he pleaded guilty to pleading guilty to forgery conspiracy, misconduct in office and tampering with evidence.
The board made other cuts, including eliminating its $177,000 contribution to fund an employee at Michigan Works, Macomb/St. Clair Training, in a 9-2 vote, as a protest to St. Clair County failing to contribute.
“This is an important position but I think St. Clair should contribute to this positions,” Sabatini said.
Also, in a 7-4 vote, the board eliminated the $100,000 budget for the Department of Human Resources and Labor Relations’ “more than a job” campaign despite vocal support from board Chair Don Brown and Vice Chair Harold Haugh. Brown said the program is “important … to bring in quality people” to county government.
The program provides testimonials from employees that are displayed with photos on a human resources web-site page.
VanSyckel, however, noted the county already operates a recruitment program in the “tech area” that has had “some success.”
The board also reduced the “professional development initiative” by $100,000, from $225,000 to $125,000.
The county’s general-fund surplus is currently about $100 million. The county may use about half of that in the next couple of years to help fund the $230 million jail project.
The budget has been subject of over two-dozens departmental hearings over the past two months.
Sabatini, the budget panel chair, for at least the second time in recent weeks was commended for leading the board through the process.