Easy budget hearings lead to hard choices

PLYMOUTH — After a relatively quick and painless hearing process on the 2012 budget, the Marshall County Council found itself in a unique position for budget adoption — room to maneuver.
And while the hearing process may have been relatively painless, the confirmation was not.
“I thought this was going to be an easy year,” said Councilperson Judy Stone. “It turned out to be one of the toughest.”
After the hearings and first round of Council cuts totaling $185,051 — the County budget was at the $10,685,171 level well under the goal of $10,750,000 and the projected revenue level for the coming year of $10,757,533. The problem came on revue of items put on the table during cuts.
First was the question of whether to make the Veteran’s Services Officer in Marshall County a full time position instead of its current part time status. The County Commissioners had made the recommendation to the Council during the budget process based on increased work load in the office. Numerous veterans from around Marshall County as well as the American Legion had come before the Council during the hearing process to express their feeling that the office should be a full time position in the county.
While the Council had no problem with the suggestion of a $30,000 salary for the position, it did have a problem with full time status. Along with the $8,500 in benefits offered to full time employees in the county the precedent — in a time where the Council had strongly suggested no new full time employees — was a sticking point for most Council members.
“The issue for us is creating a new full time position,” said Council President Matt Hassel. “There is no doubt the need is there, the hours need to be extended and our Veteran’s Service Officer should be fiscally rewarded but how far are we willing to go?”
Councilman John Benedict supported the Commissioners’ recommendation sighting the popular support of the veterans who attended the hearings and stating that the efforts of the current officer, Josh Wakeland, would result in millions of dollars of benefits for veterans coming into Marshall County.
“On a very practical basis, it’s justified,” said Benedict.
Councilman Ward Byers and Stone offered the alternative of paying Wakeland the salary of $30,000 for his services but retaining his part-time status. The Council also wished to revisit the issue at budget time in the next year.
The Council also struggled with the issue of a new patrolman for the Sheriff’s Department. While the Council initially saw the position as a new full-time position, Sheriff Tom Chamberlin added a different take on the situation.
“You’ve given me resources to do the job that I have to do,” he said. “I’m simply re-allocating those resources.”
Chamberlin pointed out that the new patrolman would be paid for out of money he had pulled from several different parts of his budget — $2,100 from not appointing a replacement for the position of Detective Sergeant in his department, $29,000 from eliminating a bookkeeping position, $7,100 from not replacing a position for emergency deputy and $15,000 provided by the town of LaPaz after eliminating their law enforcement for the town.
“A lot of areas are going to be cutting emergency services and there are those who have said just leave LaPaz alone and let that take care of itself,” said Chamberlin. “I guarantee you that’s not going to happen. The Sheriff’s Department will take care of LaPaz. That’s not going to be the last place that cuts emergency services.”
The Council denied a new officer but did add $15,000 for the overtime line item to pay officers to pick up the extra duties.
In the end, the Council cut $185,051 out of the original requests of $10,952,115 ending with a budget adoption of $10,736,504.