Published September 11, 2023
Photography by Simply American
On August 1, the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners was presented with a budget proposal during the Finance and Administration meeting. The committee met again on August 10 for the first of two work sessions regarding the budget.
During the August 10 meeting, six areas were discussed in greater detail. Those areas included expanding the veteran services department, increasing the budget for legal services, discussion on grant funds received by the county, an analysis of county building usage, budgeted vs hired positions, and asking department heads if they would be able to find where they might be able to reduce expenses by approximately 5%.
The commissioners stated that they were not cutting budgets across the board, but looking to the departments to see where things might be able to run more efficiently or where expenses may be able to be cut in order to save taxpayer dollars.
At the second work session meeting on August 21, commissioners recapped the six specific areas from the August 10 work session. There was $55,000 added to the contracted services line for the corporate council budget item to reflect the current hours needed for the county.
The commissioners then looked at grant funding received by the county. They want to ensure the county is guarding protective health information when agreeing to participate in the grant funding. They are also taking steps to remove grant funds from programs that are ending or no longer relevant.
The discussion on the county building usage included learning how county buildings are being used and if there would be ways to better use space available. Discussion noted the fact that some employees are able to work remotely now. The building usage conversation also touched on certain upgrades such as LED lighting, but that would take an estimated 17 years to benefit the county financially.
County Administrator John Gibbs gave an update on budgeted positions within the county versus hired positions. It was brought up at the August 10 meeting that the county has several positions posted on the website that have been open for months, but nobody has been hired. The Board questioned if the county was operating efficiently while those positions were vacant, that maybe they could be cut. Administrator Gibbs worked with the county human resources department to identify ten positions that had been posted for over six months. He then reached out to the corresponding departments to get more information on the status of each position and was able to determine that three positions could be eliminated.
The majority of the new commissioners were elected on a platform promising fiscal responsibility and efficiency, and Finance Chairperson Gretchen Cosby asked at the August 10 meeting if department heads could find a way to cut approximately 5% of their budgets by taking a deep dive into supply management, travel and conferences, and more.
“We want to demonstrate that we recognize our taxpayers are under inflationary pressures and be able to, in fact, demonstrate that we are able to pull in our belt as well out of respect for what all of us are experiencing regarding inflation,” Cosby said at the meeting.
With limited time to approve the FY24 budget, Administrator Gibbs recommended that the 5% budget decrease carry over into FY25’s planning in order to provide departments an adequate amount of time to make those necessary and difficult adjustments.
New items discussed at the August 21 meeting included restoring the public health budget to pre-covid levels, the clerk’s budget that [would be] discussed more at the September 5 meeting, a review of county memberships, the hiring of a digital media specialist, and the cost of the county newsletter.
Between 2009–2019, the general fund allocations for the department of public health were in the $3-3.5 million range. The remainder of the budget is from grants, which are most often federal funds.
Commissioner Moss pointed out that there were significant increases to the budget as the health department responded to the pandemic and hopes to see the budget back to pre-covid levels. The Board wanted to see more information on what services are funded with general fund versus grant dollars, how many families are served each year with each different public health service, and what new programs the department may offer.
Instead of answering questions and providing the requested information to the Board, the interim health director took to social media with concerns that the health department wouldn’t be able to operate within that budget and would close.
Several press releases were sent out via email and social media from the county with more in-depth details on the budget requests regarding the department of public health.
More details can be found on the county website and at https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/MIOTTAWA/bulletins/36d375d.
The opinions expressed within this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the positions and beliefs of Simply American or its affiliates.