CRYSTAL FALLS—The financial news coming out of the regular monthly meeting of the Iron County Board of Commissioners held on April 8 was unpleasant to hear.
Equalization Director Joan Mussatto presented the 2014 Equalization Report in which she stated that the county will lose a little over $14 million in taxable income this year after local assessors filed their reports after the March Board of Review.
“We’ve lost quite a bit of value in both in SEV (state equalized value) and taxable,” Mussatto said. “A large portion of that is due to the utility multiplier, which reduced the utility personal property by 60 percent. Last year, we lost about $9 million in SEV, but we gained about $10 million in taxable.
“Fourteen million lost from last year is a large loss for the county. Everybody’s going to be hit by this.”
One of those effects was discussed later in the meeting – the possibility of Iron County enacting a hiring freeze effective April 9. The motion carried 4-0 (commissioner Ray Coates was absent) but not before a spirited discussion.
County administrator Sue Clisch presented the motion of a hiring freeze for all departments at the courthouse. Speaking for the sheriff’s office, Iron County Jail Administrator Vernon Jones brought up the practicality of that idea, at least for his department.
“There are some jobs - the jail is one and dispatch is another - where we have the minimum number of people working. Jail works with two, dispatch works with two. We can’t work with less. So if somebody quits, they have to be replaced. There’s no physical way that either of those two operations could work with one person.”
Commissioner Carl Lind asked Jones what he would recommend to the board.
“I’m not in the position to offer advice to the board. My only reason for standing up here was to point out that you cannot run those two areas with less people,” Jones responded.
Chairman Jim Brennan pointed out why the idea of a hiring freeze was brought up to begin with.
“I think it’s important that everybody at the courthouse realizes that the trend is less money coming into the courthouse, and it’s not short-term. It looks like long-term. Our population’s dropping, our jobs are dropping and so we only have so much money to work with.
“Department heads - elected and appointed - and everybody here needs to remember that. That’s the real message of a hiring freeze.”
Iron County civil counsel Steven Tinti brought up a constitutional issue. Tinti explained that office holders like the clerk, the sheriff, the register of deeds and the treasurer, have the ability to appoint a deputy that is funded by the county.
Also, Tinti said that at present when somebody retires, the spot is automatically filled.
“So the real point of a hiring freeze is to force the discontinuation of the automatic replacement and force the analysis of, ‘can we afford that person? Do we have to reallocate people among the various departments to perform the duties?’
“Because if you do nothing, they will be replaced. And you’ll be in a position that you cannot pay all the people that want to work here. And then you’ll have to make life-altering decisions.”
Clisch brought the discussion back to the bottom line, pointing to the $68,000 revenue loss in the budget this year that hasn’t been addressed.
“I’m just saying that if something comes up where there’s even more than the $68,000, which is what it’s looking like because the taxable revenue won’t be here, then we may have to do layoffs. And I’m trying to avoid that. I don’t want to see that happen.”
Commissioner Tim Aho moved that the board adopted the hiring-freeze motion as presented by Tinti and the motion carried.
In other business, the board discussed the procedure and costs associated with Freedom Of Information Act requests. The county is trying to coordinate the requests it gets through one person.
“When we went to seminars for this, (we were taught) you designate one person out of the whole workforce to do this and then everybody stays on the same page,” Clisch said. “If everybody is on the same page, it would just run a lot smoother, instead of individual offices answering their own FOIA.”
Aho also motioned that the board rescind the previous charge of 30 cents per copy. The motion carried 4-0.
- The board appointed Brock VanOss, Anthony Dallavalle and Gary Lopez to the Parks and Recreation Committee. The election of the fourth spot on the committee was tabled until the May meeting after a series of tied votes.
- Peggy Connors and Joan Luhtanen were approved to the Northpointe Board.
- The board voted to enter buy out its current contract with Waste Management for $1,196.46 and to enter into a contract with GAD.
- The board also voted to transfer the CORS (Continuously Operating Reference System) at West Iron County High School to MDOT for the purposes of updating the system. The system is used primarily by surveyors and road builders, Brennan said, and MDOT will operate the system at no cost to the county.