Isabella County's $590,136 question

Board of Commissioners working to close projected budget gap for FY '25


An Isabella County Sheriff police cruiser sits parked outside the Isabella County Jail at 207 Court St. in this March 2021 file photo. Sheriff's road patrol deputies are not considered mandatory employees in Isabella County and so were facing elimination following a Feb. 27 vote against a millage increase. However, this spring the county Board of Commissioners directed staff to find roughly $515,000 to keep deputies on the road through the end of the calendar year. (CM Life photo | Michael Livingston | file)

Isabella County is projecting an almost-$600,000 shortfall in the coming fiscal year, according to a preliminary budget presented to the Board of Commissioners Tuesday night. 

County Administrator/Controller Nicole Frost presented a first draft of the financial road map which predicts just shy of $24.2 million coming into the coffers, and about $24.8 million heading out. The financial year begins Oct. 1.

“Let’s talk about why it’s upside down and what’s included, and I think it will become clear,” Frost said. 

The projected $590,136 shortfall came from a series of must-have priorities laid out by the board in the wake of the Feb. 27 election.

Earlier this spring, voters batted down a 2.5-mill tax increase that officials had hoped would add $6.15 million in revenues starting next year. 

According to a press release published Feb. 28, the shortfall would be balanced through trimming financial partnerships with external organizations and groups, and “all General Fund, non-mandated, non-essential staffing and services will be considered for elimination.” 

That included sheriff’s road patrol deputies, whose work is not specifically mandated. But the commission prioritized keeping law enforcement on the road through the end of 2024, to the tune of an estimated $515,000.

As the county administration launched the budget process, it did so with a zero-based model. That meant the plan was built from the ground up, hitting first the positions and jobs the county is obligated to cover, then adding back priorities to meet the anticipated revenues. 

“The whole point of the zero-based (budget model) was to start at zero instead of taking last year’s budget numbers and adjusting,” Frost said. “We start at nothing and start adding in the mandates. -- We have to have a board of commissioners, we have to have a treasurer, we have to have a chief deputy treasurer, we have to have an IT director. -- We start to build all these things in.

Which included road patrol. 

“As we know, the zero-based did not include road deputy services because it was not a ‘mandated function,’” Frost told the commissioners.

Other expenses

Among the other dozens of line-item requests highlighted on the first draft, Frost pointed to a $750,000 bond payment for rehabilitation to the county administration building in downtown Mount Pleasant, and $500,823 in contingency funding that commissioners had asked her to build into the plan. 

“Logic tells you, we promised you, we would give you a large contingency to be able to utilize,” in the case of emergency or unexpected expenses, she said. “If we hadn’t done the contingency, obviously we would be closer to balancing this first draft.”

Another looming financial pressure came in the form of the new $48 million jail campus on East Remus Road. 

“Also in fiscal ’25, we will have the last portion of the correctional facility,” Frost said. “Remember that ($41.5 million) USDA loan doesn’t pay for the $48 million project, so we will still have a little bit of cash outlay … that is our portion. That’s about $571,000 and that is built into this draft.”

With all that taken into consideration, she said, it’s “pretty fantastic” the shortfall is only $590,000. 

Tough decisions

The county expects to collect $16.66 million in property taxes next year, the lion’s share of its estimated $24.19 million in revenues. Federal, state and local contributions should bring in an estimated $4.03 million, and charges for services about $1.8 million. 

The balance should come from licenses and permits, fines and forfeitures, interest and rents, unspecified “other income” and transfers from other funds, according to the draft budget. 

That does not include the potential revenues that could be generated by a millage increase the county is expected to put on the ballot this fall. The details of that proposal have not yet been finalized. 

Making the scales tip remotely close to even was no small task. The draft budget does not include some key positions, including an emergency management coordinator and a grant-funded senior prosecuting attorney, Frost told the board. That means the county prosecutor’s office would have one fewer attorney than the county defender’s, she said. 

“We know when the funding goes away, the position goes away,” she said. “There has certainly been a level of interest from the commissioners to build that back into the draft.” 

“We would be remiss if we didn’t try to work that (prosecuting attorney) back into the budget,” Commission Chair Tobin Hope said. “If we can’t do that, it has to be part of the special millage that we’re going to ask for. 

“We have to staff our prosecuting attorneys. I doesn’t help to arrest people if we can’t prosecute them.” 

The emergency management coordinator, he added, is also “a critical position.” 

While Finance and Administration Committee Chair Jerry Jaloszynski admitted it has taken a tremendous amount of work to get to this point, he said the task wasn’t done yet. 

The committee is scheduled to meet at 11 a.m. June 11 and June 25, and Jaloszynski set his sights on minimizing the shortfall by October.

Frost said in introducing the draft budget that any imbalance could be covered by the General Fund balance.  

“It’s been a pleasure working with the department heads and elected officials in coming up with a nearly balanced budget,” Jaloszynski said. “We still have some challenges ahead of us, but we’re going to get there.”