A balanced 2018 budget with no cuts and funding for department operations and capital improvement projects was approved by the Livingston County Board of Commissioners Monday night.

The budget (see link below) aligns with the county’s 2015-2020 Strategic Plan and does not include any tax increase or reduction in service levels. Administrator Ken Hinton says it includes modest increases in revenues thanks to continuing growth in the county, coupled with an expanding national economy. Hinton tells WHMI growth in revenues will allow the county to continue all of the services currently provided and add some select new ones. He says the biggest one people will see a benefit from is an appropriation to public transportation that will be used to leverage additional grant dollars -providing five full time LETS drivers and allowing for more hours of operation and expanded service.

The $50,000 general fund appropriation to the Livingston County Essential Transportation System or LETS will be used as a local match, to accede approximately $315,000 in additional federal and state operating grant revenue. Commissioner Bob Bezotte said he thought it was an excellent move to better expand services to the southern portion of the county. Livingston County Democratic Party chairwoman Judy Daubenmier and spoke during call to the public, saying it will be valuable for those without transportation. Dr. Leo Hannifin with the Livingston County Transportation Coalition echoed those thoughts, calling it a wise and fiscally sound decision to serve the needs of those that are not being met.

The other area of the budget that got additional funding for the coming year was court security services. Hinton says there have been a number of incidents in courthouses throughout the state and country so there’s a heightened level of concern in the courts and the county is addressing that by moving to full time bailiffs.

Pensions are probably the biggest challenge but Hinton says the county has a solid budget and economy so their challenges are limited and not nearly at the level some other entities have to deal with. Pension costs are described as a major expense in all funds and represents 6% of all expenses. Funding pension obligations has been deemed a priority for the board, which is working to make additional payments to reduce unfunded liabilities. The county is funded at 71%, with over $41 (m) million in unfunded liabilities.

Prior to approving the 2018 budget, commissioners discussed what to do with some additional funds expected to be received this year from the Michigan Counties Workers' Compensation Fund, which should be in the neighborhood of $350,000. Commissioner Don Parker, who serves on that entity's Board of Trustees, put forth a motion to earmark the monies as an additional payment to the pension system and unfunded liabilities. It passed unanimously and will require an amendment to the 2017 budget.

In general, Hinton says the county has tried to address
non-union employees’ challenges to meet rising expenses with an approximate 2% wage increase, which elected officials will also receive. The county has six collective bargaining units so their wages are governed by their contracts. Hinton says the county will be expanding options in its healthcare plan for non-union employees. The county self-insures for healthcare, which he says has been key with helping keep expenses in line and under control. Hinton says the county will be adding a high-deductible plan teamed with a health saving account as an option for non-union employees, adding it will be an opportunity to see how that goes in their workforce.

Finally, the 2018 budget includes a list of various capital projects. Hinton says every year the county reviews what will be done for facilities, parking lots and those types of items. He says acquisition of buses and ambulances are part of planned capital expenditures and different projects have different sources of funding. (JM)