Back to the drawing board

Alcona County continues belt-tightening after second tax failure

HARRISVILLE — An Alcona County property tax proposal failed by just under 400 votes during Tuesday’s election, which was a much narrower margin than when a similar proposal failed during the August primaries, but still not enough to push the proposal over the finish line.

During the August primaries, 3,065 voters who showed up to the polls voted on the millage, with 331 voters disregarding the millage question altogether. In August, 1,908 voted no, with 1,157 voting yes, leaving a 751-vote margin.

That left a significant gap that county officials tried to address in hopes of passing the tax on Tuesday.

In between the primaries and the general election, the county Board of Commissioners worked to address all the issues voters had voiced about the millage. They held budget meetings and helped with a Facebook page called “Maintain Alcona County” in order to put out information and clear up misconceptions. For the sake of simplification, the millage was also revised from a request for 1.0718 mills to a flat 1 mill, or about $50 a year for the owner of $100,000 of property, for a four-year period.

The board offered information, answered questions, explained budget cuts, and detailed the ways a millage would help the county. Those efforts did pay off — to a certain extent.

On Tuesday, 5,658 registered voters cast ballots in the election, with 5,461 voting on the millage. Only 197 did not vote on the measure at all. On Tuesday, 2,910 voted no, while 2,551 voted yes, leaving a margin of 359 that kept the millage from passing.

Despite their efforts to pass the millage, the board has been working on a budget for the last month that did not include any money that the county might collect if the millage happened to pass.

At a special budget meeting the last Wednesday in October, county officials were able to bring the bottom line of the roughly $5 million general fund budget to an estimated $81,000 to the positive, without using any money from the county’s dwindling cash-on-hand account.

While that number might look good on paper, it came at a high cost, with many county services cut, many budget items still need to be addressed.

Unexpected expenses will also play a role in what that bottom line will eventually look at the end of the budget year.

There will not be enough funding to support a school resource officer, which means the temporary officer currently working in the schools will most likely be pulled. Alcona Community Schools Superintendent Dan O’Connor said in an email to The News they are considering alternative options.

“I haven’t had formal communication between last night or today, but I know the county will need to make some difficult decisions,” O’Connor said. “The district realizes that the school resource officer may be one of the positions cut. We are looking into options for funding for the officer, but have not reached any decision as of yet.”

During Wednesday’s regular board meeting, David Hanson, head of the grounds and maintenance for the county building, discussed the need for a new boiler, adding a necessary expense to an already overstretched budget.

The board passed a motion to fund the replacement of the boiler at roughly $14,500.

While the board is making cuts where possible, they are also working on bringing in more revenue. MGT Consulting Group Senior Manager Gordon Stryker was at Wednesday’s meeting to discuss cost allocations, which will be a new practice for Alcona County to pad the budget. The county will be charging for services the clerk, treasurer and technology department provide to any other department that is funded by a millage or has an excess in fund balance.

The board will continue to push forward to amend the budget and work toward a positive balance sheet while trying to prevent any borrowing from the general fund.

Kaitlin Ryan can be reached at kryan@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 989-358-5693.