CADILLAC — Janet Koch has been working long hours over the past few weeks.
She has been poring over spreadsheets. Staring at numbers and moving pieces around to see what fits and what doesn’t. It is budget time in Wexford County and the new Wexford County administrator is jumping feet first into the process. While long hours of staring at paper and numbers likely isn’t a joy for most, Koch said she finds it fascinating.
“At this level of detail, this (the fiscal year 2020 budget) is my first budget. I learned a lot about the different departments’ revenues, how they work and their expenses,‘ she said. “I plan to do more budget analysis this winter to find general trends and do a long-term budget forecast. I’m just a geek about this stuff.‘
While Koch plans to dive deeper into the county’s finances this winter, she said the current proposed budget for the general fund is roughly $13.87 million for both expenditures and revenues. Like many municipalities, Koch said the Headlee Amendment and Proposal A have made it hard to recoup revenues as fast as they decreased.
Koch said the proposed 2020 budget was balanced by using a portion of the county’s fund balance. The shortfall for the proposed budget was less than $200,000 and that was smaller than the 2019 budget.
Although the budget had a shortfall, Koch said the county’s fund balance increased by nearly $800,000. She said the county’s policy is to hold at least 30% fund balance but currently it is higher.
That money, however, is not just sitting there waiting to be used. A large portion of the fund balance is used to pay bills and employee wages in January, February, March, April, May and June. The county’s revenues from taxes don’t start coming into the coffers until the end of July. The county also receives some revenues from the state but more than half of the county’s funds are generated from local taxes.
Since there is more money coming into the fund balance, Koch said she would like to pay down the county’s pension liability. Currently, the county is 67% funded and she would like to bump that up to 75%, if possible. The goal, however, is likely never going to be getting to 100%, Koch said.
“You are never going to have all employees retire at the same time so it is not the end goal for Wexford County. For some municipalities it is, but not for us,‘ she said.
Besides paying down the pension liability, Koch said she also would like to see the commissioners put money aside for future capital projects such as parking lot repairs, roofs and any other big-ticket items that possibly could need attention in the future. She also said the proposed budget doesn’t contain any cuts to personnel or services.
“I’m not a numbers person but the numbers have a story. How do we have the wisest use of the taxpayers’ dollars while balancing the needs of the departments that are trying to provide services,‘ she said.
The first step of the current budget process started in June when Wexford County commissioners received budget target information and department heads and elected officials received blank 2020 budget worksheets.
By the end of July, those same offices submitted completed budget requests and narratives back to Koch’s office. By the end of August, Koch provided recommended budgets to department heads and provided copies of the proposed and requested budgets to the finance committee, according to the budget calendar.
With the calendar flipped to September, the finance committee is reviewing the budgets which they received last week. At its second monthly meeting on Sept. 26, the committee is scheduled to consider appeals from department heads before forwarding the proposed budgets to the full board of commissioners, according to the budget calendar.
In October, the budget schedule shows Koch presenting the budget to the full board on Oct. 16. By Nov. 20, the full board would schedule a public hearing on the budget and then consider adoption.
The budget has to be in place by Dec. 31 so the county can operate beginning on Jan. 1.