Grand Traverse County commissioners Wednesday narrowly approved reversing a December decision that rolled back a millage for the Commission on Aging (COA).
Commissioner Cheryl Gore Follette made the motion to reverse the December board decision, which cut COA’s millage from .5 mills to .33735 mills – a move that would have returned nearly $750,000 to taxpayers’ pockets. Gore Follette cited the commission’s interest in keeping COA under county management instead of outsourcing oversight of the department as the reason for the rollback reversal, saying COA may need the millage funding going forward to properly right the department’s ship.
Commissioner Sonny Wheelock agreed, saying the board could always roll back the millage in the future if COA turned out to be over-funded, or else return a smaller amount to taxpayers. “Maybe the number we can send back is a half million dollars, I don’t know, but the big important thing is to make sure that we’re meeting the needs of the seniors,” he said.
Commissioners Gore Follette, Wheelock, Carol Crawford and Tom Mair supported the reversal in a 4-3 vote, with the motion passing. Commissioners Ron Clous, Dan Lathrop and Bob Johnson opposed the motion, with Johnson saying he was concerned COA was “hoarding money” and that overfunding the department was “just throwing money away.”
Commissioners Wednesday also decided to hold off making decisions on selling 36 acres of property on Keystone Road and scaling back benefit cuts for nearly a dozen non-contract county employees who were recently required to start contributing 10 percent of their salaries toward their defined benefit plans. In the case of the Keystone property, commissioners wanted to wait until the board’s next regular meeting to review and possibly adopt a property disposal policy prepared by county staff before moving forward with selling county land. With a policy in place, commissioners expressed a willingness to then sit down and evaluate a $400,000 purchase offer made by Petoskey-based business Robert Drost of Drost Landscaping for the property.
Commissioners will take up the issue of employee benefit cuts at a special March 29 study session dedicated to a range of possible options and solutions for addressing the county’s pension debt. While the non-contract employees affected by the cuts will continue to be impacted by them until the March 29 meeting, commissioners confirmed with county staff Wednesday that if the cuts were to be scaled back or eliminated following the study session, a compensation system would be instituted to make up the difference and make employees whole by the end of the year.