May 4, 2007

Introduction to County Government - CG101

In Barry County, Michigan, the county government consists of an Administrator, a County Board of Commissioners, five Standing Committees, and assignments of Commissioners and others to an array of regional, etc. boards and commissions.The best way to observe and discuss this county government is in light of the County Budget. The Budget has a General Fund that is the main topic of conversation and is understood by most ordinary observers to be "The Budget". It is similar to the family checking account.

The search for the "whole truth" requires that we also consider the family "savings account" as well. This is the Special Revenue section of the Budget and is frequently ignored. It represents millions of taxpayer dollars.

In addition to the checking and savings accounts, the Commissioners are assigned to various outside boards as representatives of Barry County. Many of these boards manage budgets far in excess of the County Budget.The General Fund Budget has about 80 accounts. The Special Revenue Funds also have about 80 accounts. Each account represents at least one "issue". The number of issues could easily surpass 200.

17 comments:

el grillo said...

Do NOT call the number in the phone book! It now belongs to some nice people who should get their number changed. They even got a call from the West Yellowstone Library when I left my flash drive behind.
I rarely use the phone.

el grillo said...

Extra Credit:

While we are waiting for your classmates to get their books, we can jump ahead a bit. What I have done is set up some groupings of my own. This is hazardous, since it opens the door to all kinds of petty arguments, but it has been helpful for me.

The first thing to recognize is the difference between “budgeting” and “accounting” . What I am using is called the “Budget for the Year”. This isn’t the “General Ledger” that we learned about in bookkeeping class. This is a planning document that sets up our financial plan for the next year. As far as I’m concerned, if it is just an accounting entry it doesn’t help with the planning process. That is why I told you to cross off the “Road Commission (est)” account. It is only an accounting entry.

I’m pretty sure the groups called “Debt Service Funds” and “Construction Funds” are the same kind of thing. If they aren’t, we have even more slush than I think we have.

I don’t want to open the “Internal Service Funds” issue because it is too hot to handle. We probably need all that money to live well and prosper.

That leaves us with “Special Revenue Funds” and “Enterprise Funds”. I know the difference, and there is too much controversy to consider these different at this point, so I just lump the two together. Here are my groups of leftover balances, or surpluses (Projected Balance 12/31/2007):

Special Dedicated Millage-supported Departments - $ 3,000,000
Easily Identified Grants - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - $ 28,000
Mystery Accounts that shouldn’t have balances - - - $ 3,000,000
Definite Slush Funds - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - $ 9,900,000

That’s about $12,000,000 - $13,000,000 worth of surplus money in our Savings Account(s) that we don’t ever talk about.

Michael II tells us that we should have $2,000,000 - $3,000,000 set aside for a “rainy day”, so if that is the conservative way to do business, we only have about $10,000,000 worth of real “slush” .

Let’s say that I’m exaggerating and have done a half…way job, here. It still seems like we should be able to support the operation of four departments with money we already have, and then when we vote to buy a new jail, or add on to our vast real estate holdings, we can do the millage and bonding thing. We may even have enough spare cash to do something about domestic violence, and rehabilitation, and trails, and parks, and have some left over for Christmas gifts for farmers.

What worries me is that that much money is an awful temptation to a closed session. The Old Library is for sale. You never know when an old library may come in handy.

el grillo said...

MORE EXTRA CREDIT:

Suppose you use the same groupings and add up the INCOME side (2007 Budgeted Revenue):

Special Dedicated Millage-supported Departments - $ 15,000,000
Easily Identified Grants - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - $ 230,000
Mystery Accounts that shouldn’t have balances - - - $ 4,500,000
Definite Slush Funds - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - $ 19,000,000

On Pages 15 – 21 we have an elaborate explanation, with a pie-chart and lots of details, explaining all about the
($16,667,892) Generous Fund Revenue. So where are the six pages, and the pie chart, explaining where the rest of the $38,730,000 came from? That’s about $22,000,000 that isn’t very clear to me.

Extra Work for NO CREDIT!:
… and then there is this issue about $1 free lunches.

Trilogy said...

Yes. I do. Thank you.

I appreciate the information you have touched on. It is a most convoluted document. Requires some mental trudging. I did find the pie chart to be a little too sweet for my taste.

The county organizational chart is insightful. Curious take on the trickle-down theory, don't you think.

I will continue to track your site. It is worthwhile.

Trilogy

el grillo said...

Trilogy,

I think the chart has been unchanged for years and is a cut-n-paste. Michael II has made significant progress in changing the organization, but it has been changeless for so long that it is slow going.

The most important change involves putting one Standing Committee in a position of accountability for each and every line in the entire General Ledger. That has to begin in the Generous Funds by juggling related issues together. A number of years ago, a Chairman shifted the accounts around to take control and put the power in the hands of the "Bailey Five". That has caused some really silly arrangements. Michael II is nearly halfway back to where it belongs, but this creates work for Michael I. Change is difficult.

Commissioners are not required to have a background in accounting to get elected, and when the presentation requires "mental trudging" they tend to merely accept the explanations they are given. Being told that they have a financial crisis makes them overly protective of the "Savings Accounts". At the end of the year they are suddenly told that they have a surplus large enough to buy real estate, etc. It is hard to resist a "good deal" and they all mean well.

Barb,
Welcome back, I have condensed some comments and deleted some, like this, that are sidebars to the main topic, after about a week.

We have just been getting acquainted with the "textbook" and have started wondering where the income comes from to keep the Savings Account plump.

el grillo said...

Since we are being sheared every spring anyway, we don’t actually lose any hair.

Well, it’s been a while, but the HASTINGS banner had some items that set me off, again. Let’s begin on the front page. Jon Gambee did an excellent piece on the 911 millage. First of all there is a good batch of real numbers to look at. Commissioner Mark Englerth pointed out to the 911 Board that they have ferreted away a cool million dollars in their Savings Account, so far, by being given way more tax dollars than they could possibly spend in their wildest dreams. Don Boysen wanted to make the pot even richer, but Mark wisely pointed out that the County Board was still telling the taxpayers that they couldn’t find enough money to fund Charlton Park or Green Gables. Commissioner Englerth refers to the huge SURPLUS in Acccount #205 “Central Dispatch” as a “fund balance”. Boysen acknowledged that this huge SURPLUS was the whole truth on paper, but since they had thought of some favors they could perform for about a million dollars, it was “misleading”. Since there is no accountability by the 911 Board to any Standing Committee of the County Board, they can grant all kinds of favors whenever the spirit moves them. According to Boysen, not shearing every hair from the taxpayers would reduce their pot of gold down to a measly $334,000 after granting all the favors they could think of. Times are tough. That’s the power the County Board gave them years ago. Why does the 911/Central Dispatch Board need to have a Savings Account with a SURPLUS “fund balance of a million bucks?

Most interesting, for our purposes, is the discussion on the value of ONE MILL. According to Boysen, 25% of a mill is worth $415,000, so one full mill is worth $1,660,000, or $660,000 more than I thought it was worth. How times change. It seems to me that fleecing the taxpayers for an extra $660,000 a year should be enough to fund both Charlton Park and Green Gables without either one having to be accountable, plus enough to pay Charlie’s lawyer, and would still leave the 911 Board with a huge SURPLUS of $334,000 to misappropriate.

Way back on Page 8, beyond Fred’s claim that adding millages to regular taxation doesn’t cost us any money, there is the continuation of the front page article about the County Board meeting. Yeah, that’s it under the “Lake Odessa News”. Jon reports that the County Board decided to buy some MORE REAL ESTATE!
How is it possible that a Board that can’t find money for domestic abuse victims is able to buy property on a whim? How is it possible for a Board that is going to shut down Charlton Park for lack of support can suddenly find more cash for the Rutland Township Airport? Do you suppose some political shenanigans may be involved? Back to our lesson.

Turn to the Generous Fund on Page 24, and find the account “#999-895 Airport Appropriation”. Commissioner Ferris (from Rutland Township) gets to spend about $22,000 - $31,000 a year as the County part of the Airport costs, right? Well, perhaps.

Turn back to Page 32 in the County Savings Account and find account “#295 Airport”. Commissioner Ferris also gets almost $120,000 extra dollars to spend out of the Savings Account that the paper would not notice because it isn’t part of the Generous Fund Budget. Where did the money come from to buy more land?

Oh, dear! Look at the traditional SURPLUS “fund balance” of almost $32,000 that has been sitting there burning a hole in our pockets for years. We certainly need more real estate. Why spend our precious surpluses on domestic violence victims if we can swing a sweet real estate deal once in a while?

Of course, if we scraped together a bunch of these over-funded accounts and used their surpluses to operate a county park, we couldn’t justify asking the taxpayers to dip deeper into their pockets, could we? Oh, I forgot. Since we are being sheared every spring anyway, we don’t actually lose any hair. Baaah!

el grillo said...

ts,

According to the darkside the Barry County 911/Central Dispatch "department" is run by the FCC and the federal government, which mandates that we spend $1,000,000 to be the best-dressed tiger in the jungle. I might actually fall for this bull if the comment said "all the other counties in the nation have a system at least as good as ours and can't wait to drop another million dollars for this upgrade". I'm no electronics expert, but being forced to narrow our bandwidth sounds like we bought such a powerful system that we are drowning out the televangelists in the area.

The actual fact is that we already are one of the best-dressed tigers in the jungle. The City of Battle Creek bitches because our system isn't strong enough to do their job for them, for nothing. They have a worse fire hazard problem than our entire county. 911 has had no need for fiscal discipline since the freebie millage was given to the 911 Board with no strings attached. It is this surplus of funding that was more temptation than could be endured that lead to the waste and overpayments we are soon going to pay for.

Specifically, no, the 911 Board does not have to answer to the County Board and does not have to submit a budget to anybody. They keep excellent records, etc. but have no legal requirement of accountability to the County Board. They, and only they, control the amount they can "levy" on the taxpayers and how they spend this blank check is entirely discretionary. If they want to buy an FCC upgrade for a million dollars, they have the right to do it or not do it with no County oversight.
The remark about "Maybe we all should run governemt on a credit card mentallity like El Grillo suggests" is the sort of weak attempt at being insulting that I find boring from most of the people who are too lazy to do their homework.
Credit cards, for those who don't know how they work, don't carry SURPLUS "fund balances" like the 911 Board, and other "departments" and for that reason I do favor accounting that doesn't leave little piles of unaccounted for millions to be spent whimsically. On the other hand, even if a County Board elected to surround itself with irresponsible autonomous spenders, leaving a lot of DEBIT Cards laying around with million dollar balances on them still amounts to blank welfare checks.

The County government is not an "office". It is potentially a system of checks and balances. It is true that letting a fire department "office", for example, run 911 would be even worse, if anybody had suggested such silliness, which nobody has.
This may have been part of the nonsensical conversation that brought about this separation of 911 from responsible government, but that was before my time, and of little interest to me. It was a mistake and as soon as it is changed back we will be better off.

As far as the Headley issue is concerned there are few people who fully understand it and fewer still who can explain it properly. I'm not one of them.
I stick to simple math and the fact that the County is sitting on millions of dollars they don't like to talk about isn't complex.

There are few people who can even keep up with the simple math, as you can see.

el grillo said...

If you missed the Friday article in the BC Enquirer (an excellent source of news) regarding the financing of the Calhoun County 911/Central Dispatch Center, and lots of really good stuff on 911 financing, you owe it to yourself to read a copy, soon.

The HASTINGS banner would lead us to believe that our frugal system is a bare-bones operation and we are required by the FCC to spend another million dollars from the Special Revenue Surplus Savings Account to enhance our municipal fire departments. According to the 2007 County Budget, we can barely make ends meet with a budget of $1,800,000 a year.

The BC Enquirer reporter did some homework, and most of what we are being told by our 911 advocates is pure hogwash. Calhoun County has at least three times as many people and more than three times the problems of Barry County, and yet their 911 system only costs between $500,000 and $600,000 a year. They don’t get annual blank welfare checks from the county taxpayers. All of their funding comes from a tax on telephone calls.

No place in the article was it even suggested that Calhoun County was going to be required by the FCC to put up another million dollars for fire enhancements. In fact, if the tale had any truth in it, Calhoun would logically have to come up with $3,000,000. That is pork-barrel politics at its most blatant disregard for the welfare of the taxpaying public. Giving out a million dollars as a gift to the municipal fire stations throws domestic violence victims out in the street, puts the “jewel of Barry County” in mothballs, and takes advantage of every eligible voter who fails to get the whole truth before reaching for his billfold.

Those who feel threatened that they may be challenged over this waste of tax money will say,”Yeah, but, Calhoun is worried that they may not get the full amount from the State and may have to ask the taxpayers to make up the difference”. If Calhoun has as much slush in their Savings Accounts as there is in Barry, this will be chump change.

truthseeker said...

grillo,

Where is our Chair and his blog?

Calhoun county I believe still does not have a full county central dispatch system.

It is broken up in to several, they I believe have never been able to get a full county wide dispatch approved.

ts

el grillo said...

ts,

http://www.mikcal.blogspot.com

It is easy to get sidetracked away from my real issue, without a textbook and some limited study.

The point is that the current Central Dispatch has been overfunded for years, and now is sitting on a million dollars of slush. Regardless of what current project appears to be important to the 911 Board, that million dollars is MINE AND YOURS and NOT THEIRS!
We elected people from our districts to represent our best interests and the best interests of the entire County and not just a few municipalities or offices of special interest.

I am advocating for the County Commission to take charge of all these little million dollar pots of gold and to use them to fund things for all of us.

Charging us higher taxes (in the form of specialized operating millages) while sitting on a pot of hidden treasure is flat out wrongful abuse of power, or wanton ignorance!

el grillo said...

ts,

I am not at all critical of the operation of the 911 Center. If you want me to pour some warm gravy on it I can do that. Lacking this function, we would step back centuries into long delays in rescuing people from disasters, etc. Only an extremely stupid person would advocate reducing this essential service.

You must be missing the many comments where I have burdensomely listed the other hogs at the trough of unsupervised expenditures.

I repeat, endlessly, that there is no justification for the four spoiled departments to receive special treatment over the legitimate efforts of the other departments.

I have my copy of the 2008 County Budget. It includes all the departments of our County government. Only three are listed currently lined up at the trough. We will find out on November 6 if there is still room at the slop tank for the fourth.

When you get your copy, there is a list of all the work being done at the Jail and Sheriff's Department (which would seem to be more appropriate for a millage than operating a bus service or an old folks rec center). This listing is a substitute for the "business plan" that the taxpayers might have enjoyed looking at. Obviously the case wasn't strong enough to present to the people for a vote. There are not many tear-jerking nostalgic remembrances of stays in the lock-up.

Believe me, I have proposed solutions to this upside-down financing to every ear available (willing, or unwilling). I am relieved that the 911 Board, at least, recognizes that unlimited financing leads to unlimited spending, and has slowed down the accumulation of wealth.

el grillo said...

Oh, by the way, between packing, I intend to upgrade this site to fit the 2008 Budget. I won't be around for it to get back from the printer, so I will be cautious about the final numbers.

It would help if I knew if there were more than two or three of us interested. I'm going to be very busy.

el grillo said...

The bare minimum prerequisite for joining the discussion of County Government on this blog is having your own copy of the 2008 Barry County Budget (Free - third floor).

Another helpful, but not required, tool is the latest Standing Committee list from the County Clerk.



Since the turn of the century, the County Board has approved the collection and spending of nearly $7,000,000 more per year than was ever spent before.

This doesn’t take into account the millions of dollars of the Special Revenue Funds.

From a logical and well-informed perspective there is a huge pool of potential operating cash that a half million dollars could be dipped from without making a noticeable ripple.

el grillo said...

To communicate, we have to agree on definitions of some terms. I refer to the General Fund as the County Checking Account, or the Generous Fund, because the word “general” implies that it is the “whole thing”, which it isn’t.
Page 16 is called a “Budget Summary”, which it isn’t. It is only a summary of our County Checking Account. It should have been called the Generous Fund Summary.

The number ($14,729,672) shows up five (5) times in the “Budget”. It is the amount of money we expect to put in the checking account in one year and also to spend out from the checking account in the same year. The number shows up twice on Page 16, as Revenue, and Expenditure.

Notice at the bottom of Page 16 a tiny note that shows we proposed spending $1,360,495 more from our checking account in 2008 than we will take in. How would that be possible? I’ll get to that, later. Most Commissioners don’t see this number because it has no explanation. For us, it is an important clue . O.K. Now turn to Page 22. There it is again, as the GENERAL FUND TOTAL. Notice the word “general”. Resist the temptation to look at Pages 18-22. Those are deposit slips, and we will come back to these, later.

Turn to Page 25. Think of this as your “Check Register”. That is the fourth (4th) time.

Now we are ready to learn something. Turn to Page 33. This is yourSavings Account! The number is in Account #101, GENERAL FUND.

But, what HO! What is that other number ($2,145,917)? Lo, and behold, just like the checking account at home, we have a beginning and ending balance! You might say, “But I don’t keep a $2,000,000 minimum balance in my household checking account!” Michael II would try to tell you that that is merely a couple of little worms we are keeping around for a slow day. 2 million worms would weigh a Ton!

You might get distracted and worry about the $1,360,495 that we wanted to overspend, but I think somebody else must have wondered about it from reading this blog. The bank wouldn’t notice if you were $1,360,495 overdrawn, would it?

The main point is that on Page 33 we begin to look at the County ‘Savings Account’.

The next thing we see is the #201 Road Commission account. These big numbers are in here to confuse you. Like Michael II says, nothing is hidden. However, lots of stuff is here that doesn’t belong here so the typical reader can’t see the trees….

Suppose your next door neighbor came over and told you he didn’t have a savings account, so would you mind if he put $13,000,000 or $14,000,000 in your account for safekeeping. How would you keep track of the transaction? That is what this represents. The Road Commission collects its own money, and has its own checking account. You might wonder what “(est)” stands for, but let’s move on.

Here’s what you have been waiting for! Account #205, 911/Central Dispatch! Let’s all have a seizure and get it over with!

Since not all the money that comes in is from the millage, as some would like to simplify it, you see revenue for 2008 as $1,508,623. If a “mil” is about a million dollars ($1,000,000) then where did the other $508,623 come from? How could we spend more than that? If you thought spending $1,843,500 in 2007 was a bit irresponsible, wait till you see what they have planned for you. Quick, spend $2,243,900 before the public figures out that it is $400,400 more than last year.

Oh! Look at the balances in the “Savings Account”! What shall we call the $288,276 that we expect to have left over in Acct.#205 at the end of the year, other than a ”surplus”? How would you like to run your family savings account down to the point where you only had a $288,276 “surplus”?

O.K. That’s enough 911 for me. Let’s just glance on down the “surplus” column on this page. If you worked for the HASTINGS banner, you would fixate on the nearly 4 million dollar Thornapple Manor Depreciation Account and miss the point. The account doesn’t even belong in this list.

Let’s focus instead, for understanding, on the BCRN account #233. Why does it have $1,285 left in its surplus? Didn’t they want the money? Did they run out of people to help? Is there some kind of a plan to have this money saved up for next year? No, in fact, there is probably not any good reason for this balance. The County Board has no intention of giving the BCRN one penny more than the $4,000 in the “Budgeted Expenses”.

So, how come the beginning balance in 2006 was $7,285? Well, as far back as I go in the Savings Accounts is the year 2000. The least amount that this account has been storing is $3,253, until this last year. Does this tiny account raise any red flags for you? Personally, it seems like there may be a lot of questions I would like to ask, and then I would want to ask those same questions about the rest of the accounts that are grouped in this category. Certainly, the BCRN isn’t like the Road Commission, because they don’t earn revenue. They do have their own checking account. Neither are they like 911, with a millage to account for or a revenue stream from a State Tax.

Doesn’t it seem like the money for BCRN should be coming from the “Generous Fund”? Doesn’t it seem like the donation should be monitored by the committee in charge of social programs? Who provides oversight and advocacy for this issue? Is it possible that the answer is that nobody provides oversight for these accounts except the County Administrator?

That’s enough for one lesson. In the next lesson we will look more deeply into our Savings Accounts and try to figure out if some changes might help us to see some of the trees in the forest.

el grillo said...

O.K. We are looking at our Savings Account. When we looked at the Checking Account we had a page that listed all the places that money came from, and then we had a total, and then we had pages of all the places we wrote checks to. We had beginning and ending balances. Just like at home.

Now, we would expect to see the ending balance from the prior year, a list of where money came from to deposit in savings, the list of withdrawals and why, and finally a total of what we expect to have in savings at the end of the year.

Michael II tells us that Michael I told him to tell us that there are no secrets, here, and nothing is hidden. Let’s see if this is true. First let’s see if we can find out how much money was in our Savings Account at the end of last year.

Remember that Acct#101 at the top of Page 33 still has a beginning balance, and a projected ending balance of $2,145,917. That line is the Checking Account, so all the rest must be the Savings Account(s). Perhaps there are more than just one.

There are five (5) groups of “Funds” and the first is the “Special Revenue Funds”. This group has forty-three (43) accounts grouped together. So, since it hasn’t been done for us, we should be able to add all the “Beginning Balances” together, right? Wrong! What we have is forty-three (43) separate Savings Accounts! Do they have anything in common? Do some of them have anything in common with some others? You have just hit the wall as far as my knowledge goes. I can only guess. For sure the neighborly Road Commission can be taken out and set aside. That helps. Now we have only 42 accounts left to look at.

We know that we pay part of our taxes as special dedicated millages we voted for. Maybe we can isolate those accounts to begin with. Here’s my list of guesses: 205, 244, 247, and 275. That helps. Now we have only 38 accounts left to look at. Did you put a little mark next to those? Remember 208 and 243, Charlton Park, from last year? How come the millage committee claims the Park will earn $100,000, but the Budget only expects a measly $18,600? Mysterious! The Park will still have a surplus of $6,538 next year.

Maybe what makes some accounts special is that the money comes from grants. Most grants say you can’t spend the money on anything else. Let’s look at a little account in the Savings Account. Flip the page to Page 34. On this page, we looked at Account #276 – CDBG Housing. This money is a Community Development Block Grant from the State. This is what would be called a “Reserved Fund Balance”. The money comes from a State Grant, and has a State Law behind it that won’t let us spend it in any way except for the purpose of the grant. Who provides the oversight? I know the answer, because I belonged to the club, but how could you know? The answer isn’t hidden, it just doesn’t seem important enough to explain to the public. The Checking Account groups things in order of oversight, but the Savings Account doesn’t. Here’s my list of guesses: 215, 236, 260, 263, 267, 276, and 279. Notice that Acct #236 doesn’t have a surplus. That helps. Now we have only 31 accounts left to look at. Are there more grants? I’m just guessing.

Could we add up the remaining 31 surpluses and call that a projected ending balance for our Savings Account? Probably not. I’m only guessing. There may be some things hidden. Oops! Bad word.

Let’s go back to Page 33. In Acct #233 – BCRN we began 2006 with a balance of $7,285. Where did that money come from? Well, in 2006 and 2007 it shows “Budgeted Revenue” of $1000 each year. Let’s “follow the money” and see where that came from. Go back to Page 18, where the Budget is “summarized”. If nothing is hidden or secret, the answer must be here somewhere. Well, we don’t see anything that helps on this page, so let’s turn to Page 22. With this much manure there has to be a baby bull in here somewhere. Maybe it is in Acct #645-000 – Sale of Meals. No, I’m teasing. You won’t find it in this list, because if you remember, this list only totals the “Generous Fund Revenue” Checking Account money at $14,729,672.

Well, which Standing Committee advocates for this important issue? Maybe they wrote a check! Let’s look in the bright yellow Committee folder. Maybe, the “Personnel and Human Services Committee”, right? Wrong! The BCRN isn’t listed anywhere, there. O.K., then let’s look at Page 24, in the “Generous Fund Expenditures” and see if the Personnel Committee writes the BCRN a check every year. No, Commissioner Adams doesn’t have any account that would be a BCRN Account. I’m teasing, again. This isn’t “Generous Fund” checking account money. This is Savings Account money.

To find this revenue we need to look on the page where Savings Account Revenue is listed. That will show us how much special millage money we took in, and all the grants and other money we collected. Still teasing. There is no such page. Maybe nobody knows how much money we actually take in. ya think? Well, I guess we could just total the “Budgeted Revenue” column, right? Wrong, again! Remember that the Road Commission money isn’t really ours! Hmmm! Perhaps there are no secrets, and perhaps nothing is hidden, but we seem to be struggling, here. The source of this extra money isn’t very obvious. Maybe we collect more than $14,729,672!
Well, how much more? Michael II says we spend at least $30,000,000. Where does all this extra money come from? Maybe we need to ask one of the Michaels.

Next, look at Account #294 – Veterans Trust, on Page 34. Last year, this was an example of how things should be handled. There was no surplus. What was spent equaled what was set aside for it. It was nice and clean and easily understood. Grouping it with other social programs would have been even better. Where did the $2,700 surplus suddenly come from? Last year the historical records said there was no slop in the account.Let’s ask Commissioner Adams. The yellow folder says that Personnel keeps an eye on Veterans Affairs, so the Trust Fund may also be in that area. Yippee! In 2005, the Personnel folks donated $2,115 out of Acct #999-294 to the Veterans Trust. Oh, now I’m confused, again.

I like Account #279 – MSHDA HOME Program. Suddenly, we got some money again to fund this program, and the account reminds us that it is an important issue. You might not think this is important, but which committee would you visit to ask about it? I know. It is my secret.

You have to admit that I’ve been doing a lot of guessing. For extra credit you can browse the back pages of the Budget booklet, when it gets published, for some interesting accounts. The Museum Building Fund is easy to follow. Look for the MSHDA HOME Program. You will notice that each department seems to have its own format. Some must prefer smoke over mirrors. It seems like a lot of information, but out of all the accounts we only have some of them explained, and there are a lot of accounts we haven’t come to yet.


Go back to Acct #257 – Budget Stabilization, on Page 33. What does that mean? It means that if we have a cash flow problem, we can borrow some cash from this slush fund. You have $129,908 stashed away in your pillowcase, right? So where did that money come from? Well, in 2000 it was only $103,000 and it just seems to grow all by itself.

That must be the “rainy day” fund, right? Well, no, actually the “rainy day fund” is called the “Tax Umbrella- Acct #516”, on Page 35, and last year it was supposed to end up with about $200,000 in it. Suddenly we found $7,200,000 more. Perhaps we won the Lottery! Funny that none of this year’s numbers match any of the ones in the 2007 Budget. Is this a shell game? Better ask Commissioner Nevins about this. Seems like a Finance issue to me. While we have his attention, maybe we should ask about the $129,908 surplus in the “Budget Stabilization” Acct #257, and the $3,843,985 surplus in the “Revenue Sharing Reserve Fund” Acct #284. Why do we have so many funds for a “rainy day”? Have you noticed a lot of rain these last few years? We should ask Michael II about how much surplus funds we need to keep on hand, again. It seems like he said two or three million would be a nice soft cushion. We’ll get into that later.

Before we get into the next grouping, let’s go back a page and look at millage-funded programs. How about Account #244 – Commission on Aging Building. Do we have some plans for the $11,426 surplus? I heard that we don’t even own the building anymore. Did we sell it for $11,000? What is the significance of the $179 revenue in 2005? If we sell property, where does the money go? If we buy real estate from our grocery money account, then shouldn’t we buy groceries when we sell real estate? Obviously, both concepts are not wise. Looking back, this account has had money in it way back since before 2000, so it must not be money from the sale of the building. Where did it come from? Why can’t we use it for something? Does it belong to a friendly neighbor, or was it part of a dedicated millage, or was it given with grant strings attached?

The Personnel Committee is in charge of the CoA, so we can ask Commissioner Adams about this issue. It looks like this millage-supported operation is doing pretty well. In addition to the building slush fund, they collected $1,310,227, but they only needed $1,130,016, so what did they do with the money they couldn’t spend? Turn to Page 34, and look at Account #275. Fat City! To me, it looks like the millage-funded folks have accumulated a bit of a rainy day fund of their own. Try to take back the $655,921 tax surplus from the old folks, and suffer the wrath of political disapproval that will make the witch-hunt of Charlie look like a mild whisper. Could Charlton Park use an extra half a million dollars? Do millage-supported departments scrimp on a limited amount of money? It looks to me like the old folks have run out of things to buy. Of course, the new building requires a lot of lawn-mowing and snowplowing that we didn’t have to pay for before, but that comes from a different account. Maintaining the vast real estate holdings of the County is a different issue.

When our governments talk about “trimming the fat”, what does fat look like? Is there an account called “Fat”? No, it isn’t even referred to as a “Surplus”. It is called a “Balance” and instead of being clearly separated from grants and restricted funding, it is stirred and swirled and mixed with smoke and mirrors. Don’t say “hidden” or “secret”, because those are naughty words. Let’s just say, “Perhaps not as obvious as they might be”. Do the Commissioners have time to spend on witch-hunts and lunch money investigations, or are there perhaps some bigger fish that need to get some attention? Do you ever wonder if witch-hunts may be designed to prevent us from thinking about important issues? I do.

el grillo said...

I talked with the current owner of the old Commission on Aging Building, today. You remember reading about that sale in the HASTINGS banner, right? Where did that cash go, again?

Which Savings Account "fund balance" was enriched by the sale? Do you suppose that it might have gone into the secret savings account of the COA? That may explain why they can't seem to spend all of the tax money that they get from their special operating millage welfare check, ya think?

el grillo said...

Doing homework for other people is too time-consuming for me to focus on while I'm building the new house, and there has been too little interest for me to devote the energy to it that it deserves. The above numbers are no longer current, so you will have to get your own data from Michael I's Office. The conclusions are probably still valid and are incorrect as a matter of degree, not of substance.