Executive Office flustered by cuts in county board's budget

By: Jeremy Selweski | C&G Newspapers | Published September 18, 2013

MACOMB COUNTY — The Macomb County Board of Commissioners made numerous changes to the $631 million budget proposed by the office of Executive Mark Hackel, but it was the unexpected cuts to the executive branch that prompted outrage from Hackel and his associates.

The 13-member board unanimously approved Macomb County’s 2014 budget on Sept. 12, adding a series of 18 amendments to the document that was originally submitted by Hackel’s office and Finance Director Pete Provenzano on July 1. These changes resulted in an overall savings of nearly $50,000 from Hackel’s proposed budget, but it also included a $150,000 reduction to salaries and benefits within the Executive Office and a $50,000 decrease in the office’s funding for contract services.

Deputy Executive Mark Deldin was unsure of exactly how these cuts would affect his department going forward but said that they would likely require layoffs. However, he believes that the commissioners intentionally targeted the Executive Office because of the frequent disagreements between Hackel and the board over the past two and a half years.

“This was nothing more than political retaliation, plain and simple,” Deldin said. “What happened today was not about good government; it was about the board rewarding those who they like and punishing those who they don’t like. They didn’t even think to ask how these cuts would affect the operations of our office. But obviously, this is not enough funding to operate the Executive Office at its current staffing level.”

Deldin pointed to statements made by Board Chair Dave Flynn, D-Sterling Heights, about the board using these reductions to “send a strong message” to the executive branch about the need to, in Deldin’s words, “fall in line with whatever the board wants.” But Flynn countered that Hackel’s office has expanded greatly since it was first established in January 2011, growing from five employees to nine and increasing its annual budget from $600,000 to $1.4 million.

“It seems that there’s some animosity from the Executive Office about the board doing exactly what was set forth in the (Macomb County) charter, which is approving the most fiscally responsible budget that we possibly can,” Flynn said. “It’s unfortunate, and untrue, that they feel like these decisions were political on our part. The cuts that the board made represent one-tenth of 1 percent of the overall budget. I think that most people would be satisfied if they received 99.9 percent of what they asked for.”

Commissioner Fred Miller, D-Mount Clemens, chair of the board’s Finance Committee, added that the board was trying to “trim some of the fat” from Macomb County’s budget.

“What we don’t want is a top-heavy county government,” he said, “so it made sense to us to reallocate some funds from central administration to the programs and services that need them more.”

Other amendments that the board made to Hackel’s proposed budget include providing about $222,000 in extra funding for additional staff at the Macomb County Clerk’s Office, allocating $250,000 in supplementary revenue to the Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office for the same reason, restoring about $168,000 in funds lost by the federal sequestration cuts to the Macomb County Community Services Agency’s senior nutrition program, channeling about $65,000 from a voter-approved millage to directly serve military veterans via Macomb County Veterans’ Services, providing $60,000 in professional staff assistance for the county’s Ethics Board, and allocating $66,000 to the Board of Commissioners to fund independent audits of county funds.

Flynn noted that by the end of 2014, the county budget will feature a fund balance of $80 million, which amounts to about 42 percent of its total general fund expenditures of $191 million. This number is well above the commonly recommended benchmark of 15 to 20 percent.

Miller pointed out that this year marked the first time that the Board of Commissioners adopted a combined budget by Sept. 30. In previous years, the board had always passed its special revenue and enterprise funds in September and its general fund in December.

The commissioner was glad that the board managed to make changes to Hackel’s budget without adding any expenditures.

“An important goal for the board was to remain at least revenue-neutral with the budget that they presented to us,” Miller said. “We were able to do that through a handful of smart cuts that will enhance the county’s ability to provide services to the public, while at the same time adding capacity to the Prosecutor’s Office and the Clerk’s Office.”

Flynn agreed. He explained that the extra funding for the Clerk’s Office will result in shorter lines for residents, as the additional staff can implement electronic filing services and address a backlog in processing court matters. Meanwhile, the Prosecutor’s Office is currently even more short-staffed and operating at its lowest staffing level in 20 years. The office handled roughly 5,000 cases per year in 1985, while it now handles about 22,000.

“The Clerk’s Office and Prosecutor’s Office were hit the hardest when the county experienced major cuts in 2006 and 2007,” Flynn said. “Overall, I think the board was able to enhance the budget that we were given by addressing some needs that weren’t being met over there.”

But Deldin took issue with the way that the two departments were able to secure additional funding. He noted that officials from the Clerk’s and Prosecutor’s offices reached out to the board on their own, giving presentations about why extra revenue was needed.

“We asked those offices to hold the line on creating new positions for one more year,” Deldin said, “but they chose to work around us. The charter is very clear that the Executive Office prepares the budget for all departments in the county. So, we’re very disappointed that they went about things this way, but obviously it worked out well for them.”

Deldin further stated that by focusing so heavily on the Clerk’s and Prosecutor’s offices, the Board of Commissioners neglected to consider the needs of other county departments. However, Flynn offered some suggestions to the Executive Office if it’s seeking to receive more funds and make the most of the funds that it already has.

“They didn’t come to us and make a business proposal the way that the Clerk’s and Prosecutor’s offices did, but they certainly could have,” he said. “They should also start thinking about their internal operations a little more. The Executive Office’s salaries are inflated compared to other departments, so they could avoid layoffs if they would just get their salaries in line with their counterparts in other branches of Macomb County government.”