Traverse City Record-Eagle

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October 31, 2012

Public hearing on GT County budget is tonight

Another attempt to restore funding for Meals on Wheels

TRAVERSE CITY — Grand Traverse County Commissioner Ross Richardson will make one more attempt at restoring $20,000 to feed home-bound seniors from general fund and senior millage budgets that top $40.2 million.

The county board will hold a public hearing on its budget today at 7 p.m. in the commission chambers of the Governmental Center. The board is expected to adopt the budget following the public hearing.

Richardson's previous attempt to restore funding failed when the county Commission on Aging objected and the county board failed to second his motion. Richardson said he's heard COA officials in November may reconsider their decision to recommend against funding for Meals on Wheels, but the county will adopt its budget tonight.

County funding helps the nonprofit Meals on Wheels of Northwest Michigan serve 907 seniors more than 70,000 meals in Grand Traverse County. Program officials said 27 seniors in Grand Traverse County will have to be put on a service waiting list without funding.

Meals on Wheels funding may be one of the few debates over the budget, a change from past years. Administrator Dave Benda's proposed $37.7 million general fund budget has drawn few objections. The budget calls for a 1.4 percent overall increase, provides employee raises of 1.5 percent, and will use $625,000 worth of fund balance.

The board didn't have time to address the budget because Benda didn't join the county until July, said Larry Inman, board chairman. Plus, three current commissioners won't be back in 2013.

"We've pretty much decided to wait and have the new board get started on addressing the county's ... deficit right from the start in 2013," Inman said.

The county will fund the 2013 increases with $832,000 in one-time refunds from its insurance program and brownfield tax capture program, and by dipping into its fund balance.

But Benda said using the fund balance isn't the issue. The budget assumes full employment, but the county has a greater-than-average job turnover rate. The county can expect from $750,000 to $1 million in savings, thanks to vacancies between the time someone leaves until the job is filled.

Beginning in 2014, the county will need to find about $800,000 in savings to address the loss of the one-time payments, plus another $200,000 for deferred maintenance on buildings and equipment.

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