Grand Traverse County Pension Debate Rages

The Record Eagle has a new article that highlights pension deficits in county governments throughout Northern Michigan. It won’t surprise anyone to hear that Leelanau County is doing great with at least 80 percent of their pension liabilities covered. The best estimates for Grand Traverse say they have only 45 percent of their liabilities covered. And that’s after making extra payments that total millions of dollars. There were a lot of people in county leadership that didn’t even want to make those payments.

There’s a Michigan state law that says that a county government has to have at least 60 percent of its pension liabilities funded. So Grand Traverse is about 15 percent short. Nevermind that the 60 percent figure is just the bare minimum, catastrophe-avoidance, don’t-have-to-call-in-the-cavalry number. You can always go above and beyond the minimum payments, despite what the credit card companies would have you believe.

This Detroit News article says that the purpose of the 60 percent rule is to get local governments to face “financial reality.”

Grand Traverse County Administrator candidate and faux-acting-Administrator Nathan Alger doesn’t want to face that reality. In fact, in a recent memo, Alger says that County finances are in “good condition.” He says that the county should consider wage increases instead of paying the pension deficit. He says, “Otherwise, morale will continue to drop and employees will leave.”

How is there any option on the table except paying the pension, complying with the 60 percent law and keeping your promises to current and future employees?

See, the problem with always promoting the local guy from within is that you end up with so many self-interested and self-servicing people at the top that they’re incapable of making decisions that are good for the public at large. TCAPS is holding their hand out, too. We can’t pay more towards your pensions and health bennies in the form of more property taxes while TCAPS also wants their share and oh yeah, we have our own bills to pay. Alger’s comments show a lack of maturity and a lack of the leadership that the county needs to tackle the pension crisis and fully right the ship.

Cheryl Gore Follette joined the anti-fiscal responsibility smackdown and threw down the parade of horribles about all of the people who have left because their health-care subsidies were reduced. Employees not part of bargaining units or a court administrator had to begin paying as much as 20 percent of their health insurance costs. One county employee responded by leaving and the court administrator worked out her own special deal.

Voting in raises for yourselves while you shift the burden to taxpayers or recklessly fail to meet your pension obligations is financially irresponsible and immature at best. To people in the private sector who pay much more for their health care and wouldn’t know a pension if it hit them in the face, it all comes across as ungrateful and entitled. If people leave, you can get new people. It’ll be okay.

There’s a public meeting on June 7 with the county administrator finalists if you want to go.

And now, for a reflective reading, from Proverbs 3:28:

Do not say to your neighbor,
    “Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you”—
    when you already have it with you.

…in other words, pay your debts as best you can.

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