Marquette Township Board cuts expenditures to meet employee health care responsibility

By LISA BOWERS

Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE — The Marquette Township Board on Tuesday was able to make almost $15,000 in cuts to the township’s already trimmed-down 2018 budget in an effort to accomodate a larger-than-expected increase in employee health insurance costs.

The funds were recovered by reducing board education and travel costs by $2,500; eliminating the township’s Marquette Chamber of Commerce membership renewal in October for a savings of $450; reducing the planning department budget by $2,000; deleting a $4,500 swingset purchase for the Lions Field from the township’s recreation budget; and eliminating $5,500 in spending from the townships appropriations budget, consisting of a $1,000 contribution to the annual 4th of July fireworks display, a $2,000 reduction to community events and a $2,500 reduction to the beautification committee.

Marquette Township Manager Randy Girard said the cuts would not have a direct impact on residents.

“It would be training and education and equipment-type things that we could potentially put off for another year,” Girard said. “It would be things like the beautification contribution that we’d make since they are going to be working on the U.S. 41 corridor for 2019 and 2020. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to put money into aesthetics at this point since we will be tearing them up.”

The changes were approved by a 6-1 vote, with Trustee Pete LaRue casting the lone nay vote, citing concern over eliminating the chamber of commerce funding.

Girard said staff was first notified by its former insurance provider in November of a proposed health insurance premium increase of nearly 32 percent, or $40,209 over 2017 rates.

“Obviously, that was not acceptable,” Girard said. “We had anticipated the change in the market to be about 12 percent.”

The township researched alternative plans and changed providers, choosing Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan as the most cost-effective way to maintain the current level of employee coverage.

But, Girard said, even that move resulted in a 16.67 percent increase, or $9,062 more than budgeted.

Township Treasurer Ernie Johnson said while the township is showing fiscal responsibility, more can be done.

“It’s the direction we have to go, but I think we have to go a little bit further too,” Johnson said. “I think, overall, we need to look at all travel, every bit of travel in the township has to be scrutinized.”

Girard said the township travel budget is already tight, but the staff would be willing to reassess it.

“We are limited to that travel that is going to be necessary to retain certifications,” Girard said. “It’s pretty skinny right now, but we can certainly look at it again.”

Everything the township does has been looked at through a fiscal microscope, considering it is currently operating with about $368,000 in reserve in its general fund, which would allow the municipality to function for two months, Girard said.

“The auditor and the board directive is to maintain a three-month reserve to continue services should unexpected fiscal events occur, i.e. revenue sharing or ‘dark store’-type events,” Girard said.

The dark store method of tax valuation used primarily by big box stores throughout Michigan has allowed businesses to reduce the taxable values at their properties by comparing recently built stores to others that have closed or gone “dark.”

The health insurance increase is just another reminder that revenue has dropped or remained stagnant, Girard said, while costs continue to rise.

Township revenue was $2.49 million in 2014 as compared to estimated revenues of $2.12 million in 2018, according to budget documents.

“Again, 2018 is the year we have been talking about for six years as the result of revenue reductions through taxation,” Girard said. “Not just the dark store issue with the (Michigan) Tax Tribunal, but other changes the state has made in terms of taxable values.”

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is lbowers@miningjournal.net.