Tax discussed again in Alcona Co.

HARRISVILLE — The Alcona County Board of Commissioners will have to secure a lasting stream of revenue if the county’s budgets are to remain in the black in the coming years, officials said Wednesday.

Commissioners on Wednesday learned that the county’s cash on-hand account is dwindling and that county officials have regularly dipped into that fund balance since 2014 to make ends meet. Governments use cash on-hand accounts to cover bills when expenses exceed revenues.

The county has used a little over $1 million from its fund balance in the past three years, according to Commissioner Dan Gauthier.

“That’s astronomical,” he said “With a fund balance of $771,185 left going into 2019, the way we’ve been going, I mean, that gives us two years left in fund balance, if indeed we do not try to remedy the situation,” he said.

The county has a nearly $5 million general fund.

Alcona County has been scrambling, financially since a property tax that would have added more revenue for operational expenses was voted down twice by voters — the first time in August and the second time in November. The county, ultimately, ended up making budget cuts to balance the budget in 2018.

County board Chairman Craig Johnston said he does not beleive a millage proposal for operations would pass. He said residents might pass individual millages for things like libraries or ambulances, but not for operating millages.

“I don’t think we’ll ever see money coming into this building on an operating millage,” he said. “It’s just not going to happen and you can see that across the state this doesn’t work.”

County board Vice Chairman Adam Brege said commissioners might try to identify what is important to voters when they try to secure funding in the future.

Gauthier asked the board to hold Wednesday’s special meeting so it could take an in-depth look at its finances and see what has happened to the county’s budget over the last decade. He wanted commissioners to have a greater understanding of the budget.

Commissioner Carolyn Brummund, who serves on the county’s finance committee, agreed with Gauthier’s analytical approach to the budget, saying that plugging a hole in the budget doesn’t solve the overall problem.

“We need to have more understanding,” she said.

In addition to last year’s nixed property tax proposals, a combination of stagnant revenues, decreased funding from the state and increased expenditures has made it tough for commissioners to balance the budget. The county has only seen its revenue increase by about $154,000 over the past 10 years.

The county used about $343,000 from its cash on-hand accounts to balance its $4.9 million 2018 budget, according to Treasurer Cheryl Franks. Commissioners began 2019 with a starting balance of $771,185 in the cash account.

Gauthier noted there will be a presidential election in 2020 and the county should think about putting a millage proposal on that ballot. Presidential elections tend to draw more voters than midterm elections, such as the 2018 votes when Alcona County’s property tax proposals sank.

The commissioners need to start talking about that now, Gauthier said, because next year is going to come up quickly.

“There’s just no way we’re going to rectify this without getting something done,” he said. “We’ve got to get on this right away and I think we’re going to need professional help.”

He said he would like to see a financial consultant speak to the board to see how they might be able to help the county pursue a millage.

Crystal Nelson can be reached at 989-358-5687 or cnelson@thealpenanews.com.