County officials continue to protest cuts from state budget impacting local services
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
The Crawford County Board of Commissioners fired off another letter to state lawmakers in hopes of getting funding restored to several county entities before the end of the year.
The Crawford County Board of Commissioners, at its regular monthly meeting held on Thursday, November 21, voted to send the letter to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Whitmer used line item vetoes to cut $1 billion from the $59.9 billion budget, which started on October 1. She exercised her right to veto programs in protest to get more money to fix state roads and bridges.
For Crawford County, the cuts mean the county could lose $547,405, which is nine percent of the county’s $5.6 million budget.
That includes non-payment of $338,500 in swamp taxes from the state, which are paid through the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The tax has been collected since 1934 after lumber barons left land after the trees were harvested and it reverted back to the state for non-payment of taxes.
The next big hit for the county would be non-payment of Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILT) for millages levied on state land to support local services. The cuts would impact the county by a loss of $93,920. The taxes go to the county’s general fund, road patrol, road commission, commission on aging, Grayling Recreation Authority, transportation authority, library, and veterans administration.
Whitmer responded to the county’s letter sent to her office on October 30, pointing out that they should contact members of the state Legislature serving the region.
“I am well aware that people’s lives will be impacted by the current budget as it is, and as I have said for weeks, I remain ready to work with the Legislature to find a solution,” Whitmer said in a letter addressed the Crawford County Administrator Paul Compo on November 4.
In response, the county board directed Compo to send a more pointed letter to Whitmer and Rep. Daire Rendon, R-Lake City, and Sen. Curt VanderWall, R-Ludington.
The board, last week, unanimously voted to send the letter as it was drafted by Compo.
County Commissioner Carey Jansen, however, said she would be in favor of toning down the way the letter was written.
“I don’t think that’s going to achieve the desired result,” she said.
But Jansen voted along with fellow commissioners when approving that the letter should be sent to state officials in Lansing.
“I like the strongly written language,” she said. “I would be in favor of softening the edges. It’s OK if we disagree.”
In the letter, Compo stressed that politics should be put aside to resolve the budget debate.
“We have faith that you can and will find a way to work toward a compromise that does not require you to hold the residents of northern Michigan hostage as leverage to accomplish your political goals,” he said. “There must be another way. Otherwise, we will be left with the realization that the most basic needs of our rural communities just don’t matter to you when they can be sacrificed to further your political goals.”
Shelly Pinkelman, chairwoman of the Crawford County Board of Commissioners, said she considered the response from Whitmer to be a “generic” form letter.
“We wanted to let her know that needs have to be justified, and it has to done before the first of the year,” Pinkelman said. “We have too many things that are going down the tubes.”
Pinkelman implored the governor to find a fix with lawmakers for all counties in the state.
“Please get us a balanced budget, because it’s not only us, its every other county north, south, east, and west,” Pinkelman said. “She’s making us all suffer.”
Compo said the county would be forced to lay off employees as soon as January if the funding is not restored.
In a statement recently released by VanderWall, he squarely put the ball over the budget debacle in Whitmer’s court.
“Whitmer has stated that it is her desire to restore many of these mean-spirited cuts, but talk is cheap,” VanderWall said. “She has given the Legislature no assurance that she will not again use an administrative board to transfer funding – and in the process using those among us with the greatest needs as pawns in her political game.”
Rendon also released a terse statement after the budget cuts were made.
“We’re starting to see a familiar trend with Gov. Whitmer – a lot of double-speak and no action,” Rendon said. “Remember, in the governor’s perfect world, it’s only good enough if she can drain the pocketbooks of Michigan’s taxpayers. The Legislature provided the governor with a responsible budget without tax increases reflecting the priorities of every community across the state. The governor’s vetoes are broken promises, and the people of Michigan deserve better.”
Grayling Charter Township Supervisor Lacey Stephan III said he will continue to be in contact with Whitmer’s staff. He said the Grayling Fire Department, which is operated by the township and the City of Grayling, stands to lose $200,000 if the budget cuts are not restored.
“I’m not going to let off,” he said. “I’m going to keep pressuring and we’ll see what happens.”
County Commissioner Phil Lewis requested that the letter should be sent to all 83 counties in the state to get them on board to address the state budget.