County commissioners raise pay for elected officials, including themselves

By Ralph Echtinaw

Gratiot County elected officials got pay raises last week, including Drain Commissioner Bernie Barnes, who was arraigned for drunk driving (third offense) on Sept. 6.

County commissioners unanimously approved increases of 4.5 percent for Clerk Angie Thompson, Treasurer Terri Ball, Register of Deeds Kimberlee VanHoose and Barnes on Tuesday. The raises take effect next month.

And, yes, commissioners knew of Barnes’ arrest when they raised his pay.

Sheriff Mike Morris and Prosecutor Keith Kushion received increases of 11 percent and 8 percent, respectively, because their pay was left unchanged two years ago when salaries were last adjusted.

The new salaries are as follows:

Prosecutor: $110, 707

Sheriff: $86,815

Drain Commissioner: $66,019

Clerk: $65,089

Treasurer: $64,280

Register of Deeds: $63,728

A work group led by Human Resources Officer Sheila Barnaby recommended the pay increases based on comparisons with officials in Sanilac, Mecosta, Branch, Newaygo and Montcalm counties.

However, commissioners deviated from the recommended 2 percent increases for treasurer, clerk, register of deeds and drain commissioner, upping the raise to 4.5 percent on a motion by Commissioner John Lemmermann.

Morris and Kushion got bigger pay increases because they got none the last time pay was adjusted two years ago and because the average pay of their counterparts in Sanilac, Mecosta, Branch, Newaygo and Montcalm counties is within a few hundred dollars of what they wound up with.

As for commissioners, they voted themselves a 20 percent raise from $12,000 a year to $14,400. (The chair gets $14,900.) The increase takes effect Jan. 1. The last time commissioners voted to increase their pay was 2016.

In a roll call vote, commissioners Sam Smith, George Bailey and Lemmermann said yes. Chairman Chuck Murphy said no. Jan Bunting abstained. 

“Does that mean you won’t take the money?” Smith asked Bunting. 

Bunting replied: “Well, I just feel like I don’t know like…”

Smith cut her off, adding, “You don’t want to just have somebody say, ‘Oh you took a raise.”

Bunting then said, “I just feel like…” and the rest is unintelligible on the You Tube video. Bunting did not respond to an email asking what she said.

Court TV

Commissioners voted unanimously to spend $245,000 on court video recording equipment with Justice AV Solutions of Louisville, Kentucky. “This represents a major improvement in technology and service compared to the system currently in place,” said JAVS Regional Sales Manager Don Kiler in a letter to the county.

Juvenile detention

Commissioners voted unanimously to approve a contract with Midland County for juvenile detention. Midland will now reserve one bed for Gratiot County juvenile offenders in exchange for $63,875/year. State government “has been experiencing a critical shortage of detention beds for juvenile offenders,” said Court Administrator Jennifer Wood in a memo to the board. “This contract will guarantee us one secure detention bed at Midland Detention Center to be used as directed by Judge Bakker for her delinquency needs. The Sheriff’s department has transported youth as far as Jackson or Ottawa County when a bed is needed. Often times, there are no beds available in the state regardless of the offense alleged to have been committed by a youth. This will guarantee us at least one bed for a year.”

Software vendors

Commissioners voted unanimously to approve a plan by Register of Deeds Kimberlee VanHoose to change software vendors. The new vendor is Fidlar Technologies of Davenport, Iowa. “The reason for this is to improve the integrity of the records, the ability to integrate parcel numbers with the county GIS site among other things,” said VanHoose in a memo to the board. “This change will benefit the citizens of Gratiot County, various county offices and an unlimited variety of other entities.”

No more handouts

Commissioners voted unanimously to reserve the remaining American Recovery Plan Act funds for in house capital improvements. Commissioners have given away more than half of the county’s $7.9 million in ARPA funds to various townships, cities, villages and non-profits and vowed twice to stop. At one point they voted unanimously to save $1.5 million to use in-house but soon gave more away and now have just $700,000 left.

Union contracts

Commissioners voted unanimously to ratify two-year contracts with the Government Employees Labor Council and the Technical, Professional and Office Workers Association of Michigan (TPOAM).

In year one of the TPOAM contract, staff will be moved to a single scale. (Until now there were two pay scales: One form employees hired before October 1, 2005, and another for everyone else. To make this happen, the following adjustments will be made:

A. Employees hired before Oct. 1, 2005, receive a 1 percent wage increase and a 3 percent lump sum payout.

B. Employees hired after Oct. 1, 2005, get a 4 percent wage increase.

In the contract’s second year all employees get a 2.5 percent wage increase and a 1.5 percent lump sum payout.

In year one of the Governmental Employees Labor Council contract employees get a 4 percent wage increase and a $250 lump sum payout.

In year two employees get a 2.5 percent wage increase and a $250 lump sum payout.

Commissioners voted unanimously to approve annual raises of 4 percent in the first year and 2.5 percent in the second year for 26 non-union county employees.

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