Thursday, December 29, 2011

Barry County prosecutor wants his ‘fair share’

Barry County prosecutor wants his ‘fair share’

Barry County prosecutor wants his ‘fair share’
by Sandra Ponsetto

Staff Writer

Barry County prosecutor Tom Evans is the only department head so far to appeal Barry County’s proposed 2012 budget. During a rambling appeal to the Barry County Board of Commissioners Tuesday, he repeatedly said his office wanted its “fair share.” Evans asked the Barry County Board of Commissioners to increase the prosecutor office budget by $44,493 from the D4 Incentive money that the county receives from the state.

“I don’t exactly have a new revenue stream for the county of Barry, but I have a stream I would like to have directed into our office, to about the tune of 45,000 bucks,” said Evans. “In our 4D budget, we basically have incentive payments, and the county receives about 89 grand, almost 90 grand, of those per year ... We only once tried to tap into those and then we realized, somebody else wanted the money; and we were doing pretty good at the time so we said, ‘Okay,’ but now we are not. Now we are reduced to looking at a very, very grim year.

“So, we’d like to tap into about $44,493 of the 4D Incentive Fund ... We just want our share of that,” he said. “It’s not going to direct any more monies to Barry. Our performance in this area has been very good. The ... prosecuting attorney function for paternity establishment percentage is 98.7 — well above the state average. So, we get an earning percentage from 100 percent. The prosecutor’s function in support order percentage is also way above the state average, and we get an earnings percentage from 100 percent. So, we’ve done well. We’ve really done well in those areas.

“Maybe we’ve been a Prima Donna in saying, ‘Okay, we’ve done well. We’ve spent well,’ said Evans. “Well, maybe we need to bill better. Folks may say, we came here a couple of years ago and you said, ‘Well, you got 24 grand, for 4D’s grant.’ We never got the 24 grand. Well, there’s two things to that: Number one is, not our fault. We did calculations, the state is the ones that said, ‘You should get 24 grand.’ They invited us to make calculations based on administrative staff and attorney work ... A couple of months in, they said, ‘This is just for attorney work.’ That’s not our fault; but, what is our fault is maybe we could do a more effective job of billing them. And, my suggestion, proposal, to this board is bill us or budget us for the $44,493 in the 4D. Bill us for 24 thousand in the 4D and look at this next quarter; if we don’t get your 11 grand in 4D, if we don’t get your six grand in 4D, then amend the budget as appropriate. I certainly won’t have any problems with that.”

Evans said his office has always been fiscally responsible from a spending standpoint but needs to be more aggressive about billing.

“Why can’t we amend the budget the other way? If you bring in these extra revenues; next year we can amend it the other way,” said Board Chairman Craig Stolsonburg. “Everybody else has come to us with a reduced budget. I guess I don’t understand why ...”

“Well, I have. I have too. Okay?” said Evans. “I have too. And, sure, that would be fine if this board wants to say, ‘One time Tommy came in here and said, ‘I got 24 grand coming in,’ and never made it to 24 grand.’ Why don’t we say, ‘Well, you show us the money and we’ll adjust the budget.’ That would be fine, too.”

Stolsonburg said the proposal sounded reasonable, and the board could consider amending the budget later when Evans could, “show them the money.”

“I hope that happens,” said Board Trustee Robert Houtman. “All these types funds, including what the court generates or even the diverted inmates fund that is generated by the court, and by the sheriff, and secondary road patrol, which is sent from the state, all goes to the general fund. So, it is a net zero sum gain as to whether or not the budget changes ... even if it shows up later, we adjust it to show we have more revenues but that means those revenues flow through to a particular department like yours, or the courts, or anywhere else. The 4D money we get flows through ... It’s all general fund revenue.”

“Yeah, and you guys got to decide where you are going to put the general fund revenue,” said Evans. “And we’ve never — outside of the one payment when I first discovered this — we’ve never asked for any of it to be diverted into our direction; but, it should be.”

“I don’t understand why this is coming at the 11th hour,” said Stolsonburg. “Why, when you initially had your budget packet from the administrator, didn’t you come up with it then or when we talked about the final numbers for the budget ... Can you answer that?”

“Absolutely,” said Evans. “When we discovered we were entitled to funding from this source, we took a payment and then we realized that other people needed it more than us. Then, I forgot about it until our last visit here and started thinking of ways to fund our office.”

“The fact remains that won’t necessarily fund your office,” said Houtman. “It goes to the general fund. Pam’s [Jarvis, county clerk] fees don’t fund her office and Dar’s [Leaf, sheriff] tickets don’t fund his office. They go to the general fund and the board spreads them.”

“You know what?” said Evans. “The money is going to go on an interesting journey, I’m sure. I don’t know a lot about things ... I know whenever I ask for my 11 thousand, the Friend of the Court pops up in the air, so I think I know where the money is going right now, and we’d just like to get our cut.”

Board Vice President Ben Geiger asked Evans if he had a plan in place if the board rejected his appeal.

“I thought you received my plan. But, yes, we do,” said Evans. “We submitted a timely budget with a $41,000 cut.”

Board Trustee Howard Gibson asked if Evans would reduce his staff if his appeal was denied.

“No, absolutely not. I thought I made that point abundantly clear,” said Evans.

County Administrator Michael Brown explained the 4D Incentive funds does not change the general fund.

“If Tom doesn’t take a cut, somebody else does,” he said. “We have to figure out where that $45,000 is going to be addressed. Who is going to have to take that initial $45,000 cut because there isn’t that additional money? It is just redistributing funds we already get.”

“If I didn’t make this abundantly clear, this does not result in more money for the county, it is just asking for our fair share of the function that we perform,” said Evans.

Barry County Friend of the Court and Trial Court Administrator Bob Nida explained in later interview that the 4D money is a federal incentive administered by the State of Michigan to support the collection of child support.

“The money goes into the general fund, but it has to be used for 4D services, which is for the purpose of the collection of child support,” he said.

“The Friend of the Court has a proposed total budget of $914,000 and qualifies to receive approximately $550,000 in federal cooperative reimbursement money, which is also administered through the state,” Nida said. “With the 4D Incentive, they take $88,000 away; so there is $462,000 left for any 4D service. Based on 97 percent, we would get roughly $295,000 almost $296,000. Those are rough numbers, they could change.”

Nida said the Friend of the Court provides three of the five 4D functions — collecting of current support, arrearages, and it accounts for how many dollars are spent for every dollar collected in child support. The percentages for each of the five, including the two administered by the prosecutor’s office, determines how much federal incentive money the county receives through the state.

“There is nothing that prohibits the prosecutor from receiving 4D Incentive funds but there are only two counties in the state — Kalamazoo and Chippewa — that do it because it causes a lot of accounting headaches: the money can only go toward 4D services; the county has to show how it was distributed and used; and departments lose one reimbursement dollar for every 4D dollar received, ” he said.

Nida said that while he has no doubt that Evans’ office does an excellent job and earns the 4D Incentive dollars, the Friend of the Court has traditionally received the funds because it has the easiest mechanism in place for accounting for how the funds are used. The county still gets all the money, and it is still used for 4D services.

The county board did not take action Tuesday on Evans’ request.

The board will hold a public hearing and recommend the approval and adoption of the proposed 2012 budget, General Appropriations Act and millage after the hearing during its regular meeting at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 25.

In other business, the board approved the following:

• A resolution to authorize the redemption of Series 1998 Fair Lake Bonds for Barry Township through the Southwest Barry County Sewer and Water Authority. The Barry Township Board requested the county to redeem $390,000 in outstanding bonds so it can obtain its own bonds at a lower interest rate.

• A policy regarding the refund of fees paid for the recording of instruments necessary to transfer title or interests in real estate from the county, or agency thereof, to a public body, when such interests are acquired by the county on behalf of the public body as part of a contract between the two entities for the financing of a public improvement for the body pursuant to state law.

• A resolution to honor Historic Charlton Park secretary and bookkeeper Linda Ferris upon her retirement.

• The purchase of new recording and imaging software from Tyler Technologies for the register of deeds, abstract office, and the county clerk’s vital records, for a cost of $159,250 plus annual support fee, with funds to be paid from the register of deeds automation fund. The software would allow many applications and payments to be made online.

• An increase in petty cash for the register of deeds office from $50 to $100.

• Approved the 2011-12 Child Care Fund plan and budget as presented by Nida. The budget must be approved by the county and submitted to the Michigan Department of Human Services before Oct. 1.