Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 27, 2013

Editorial: GT board's meeting and travel costs increase

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — Doing the public’s business isn’t always easy. The meetings, the scrutiny and the second-guessing can take a toll.

But Grand Traverse County commissioners don’t do it for nothing. They’re considered full-time employees and most get an annual salary of $7,000, with the vice chairman receiving an extra $500 and the chairman an extra $1,000. Commissioners also receive retirement benefits and health, dental and vision insurance, though they can opt out of county-funded insurance in exchange for $2,000 in cash.

Board members also get per-diem payments for attending meetings; $35 per meeting with a cap of $90 per day.

It can add up.

Board chairman Herb Lemcool is expected to take home nearly $20,000 this year. So far he’s earned $6,000 in per diems, $4,600 in insurance, $1,200 in retirement benefits and his $8,000 salary.

Commissioners Larry Inman and Charlie Renny will each get about $19,000, including per-diems of $6,000 and nearly $7,000 respectively. Commissioners Christine Maxbauer, Dan Lathrop and Dick Thomas each earned about $14,000; Commissioner Addison Wheelock Jr. will total about $13,000.

The commission as a whole is expected to pocket more than $113,000 in compensation plus $26,000 in conference and travel expenses.

All this comes against the backdrop of a sea of red-ink, Commissioners voted to spend nearly $1 million in cash reserves this year to close a deficit that is expected to keep growing if the board doesn’t deal with unfunded retirement liabilities.

Sooner or later, there will likely be cuts, and that almost certainly means eliminating jobs. Bob Donick, a business representative for Teamsters Local 214, which represents some county employees, said he asked the board to look at its own spending in 2011, when the county fired 11 custodians and contracted for custodial services.

And board members pledged earlier this year to review every county department in a search for cuts. Did that include the board?

A place to start may be the designation of board members as full-time employees who work 40-hour weeks and get health care and retirement money. While a few say they put in the time, does anyone believe they average 40 hours a week? If so, how much of that is at meetings, for which they also get a $35 per diem?

The board isn’t going to make up a $1 million deficit by cutting commissioners’ compensation. But dollars count, and examples count even more. Where better to start cutting than with one’s own compensation?

No one is forcing these people to run for office. And no one can force them to lead by example. But it would help.