Traverse City Record-Eagle

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December 22, 2013

GT commissioners' per diem, travel and benefit bills up

TRAVERSE CITY — Grand Traverse County commissioners are preparing to make budget reductions that could lead to employee layoffs and reduced county services, but their own compensation and benefits appear to be safe.

The county board’s seven elected members are on pace to collect tens of thousands of dollars in compensation beyond their base salaries during 2013, county documents show. They’re collectively set to pocket more than $113,000 from county taxpayers, and thus far in 2013 they’ve piled up an additional $26,000 in conference and travel expenses.

Commission Chair Herb Lemcool said he’s “fairly comfortable” with commissioners’ 2013 compensation.

“I think there should be some discussing it, but I am happy with the compensation and the amount of work it takes to be a commissioner,” Lemcool said.

Not everyone agrees. Bob Donick, a business representative for Teamsters Local 214, a union that represents some county employees, questioned the thousands of dollars in extra cash board members pocket for attending meetings, as well as their cumulative $26,000 in travel and conference bills.

“There’s people that I represent who don’t even make $26,000 a year, and if they do, it’s barely,” Donick said.

Lemcool and other board members proposed only minor potential changes to their compensation, despite a pledge they made to review every county department in 2014 in a search for areas to cut spending. The pledge surfaced when commissioners passed an 11th-hour, 2014 budget that tapped into nearly a $1 million in cash reserves to shore up a deficit that’s poised to grow in coming years if board members don’t address the county’s unfunded retirement liabilities.

Donick said he asked commissioners — to no avail — to review their own compensation during budget cuts in 2011, when the board fired 11 custodians in favor of contracted custodial services.

“Nothing was ever done,” he said.

Commissioners are considered full-time county employees. Most are paid an annual salary of $7,000, with the vice chairman receiving an extra $500 and the chairman an extra $1,000. They also receive retirement benefits and health, dental and vision insurance, though they can opt out of county-funded insurance in exchange for a $2,000 cash payment.

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