KALAMAZOO, MI — The Board of Commissioners unanimously voted to approve Kalamazoo County’s $109 million budget for 2021 on Tuesday, Oct. 6.

Administrator Tracie Moored said this budget was one of the hardest to balance, given the unpredictability of the coronavirus pandemic. She thanked the board for their frank discussions and for voting in favor of the administration’s recommendations.

“This was probably one of the most difficult budgets to prepare,” Moored said. “And also one of the most impactful because of the participation that we were all able to have.”

Here are five key takeaways from the 2021 budget approved Tuesday:

Coronavirus Impact

In total, there was an estimated $3.2 million loss in 2020, deputy administrator Amanda Morse said in an interview with MLive.

The amended 2020 budget will be the status quo until the dust settles on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, Morse said. It is also likely the 2021 budget will be amended, she said.

The administration placed $750,000 in reserves from the delinquent property tax revenue as a safeguard. This was in response to state legislation reducing interest rates on delinquent property taxes which typically results in $1.5 million in revenue for the county.

The statewide shutdown started to affect revenues in April, which prompted the administration to ask each department to prioritize what could be cut in the short-term. In May, the board approved a $1.3 million budget cut to address revenue loss. This included staffing cuts that included three layoffs and two retirements.

Commissioners voted to freeze the cost of living increase and performance review increase. The step increase will be the first item recommended to be restored in 2021 when revenue levels off, Morse said. Commissioners also recommended the next boar increase salaries to meet a $15 hourly wage.

The state eliminated county revenue sharing payments for August, which amounted to a loss of $1.3 million. The administration is hopeful that funding can be replaced with an opportunity to utilize CARES Act funding.

The county usually receives an annual payment of $5.4 million from the state, which is spread out in payments every two months. The October and December payments are expected to come through, Morse said.

Funding reallocated to eviction diversion

During budget discussions, Commissioner Zac Bauer proposed commissioners sacrifice their training and travel dollars to be reallocated to eviction diversion and prevention.

Commissioners are budgeted $34,500 for training and membership with organizations such as The National Association of Counties. Given that many conferences are now on Zoom, Bauer suggested moving the training and travel money to housing, which is one of the county’s budget priorities.

In 2021, that money will instead be allocated to Housing Resources Inc., a nonprofit that provides housing assistance and works to prevent homelessness.

Sheriff’s budget adds body cameras

Commissioners from both parties agreed that body cameras were a top priority for the sheriff’s office budget in 2021.

Undersheriff Jim VanDyken presented a request for $825,133 for body cameras to the board ahead of the budget vote.

The $825,133 will be spread out over five years and fund 60 body cameras and 60 tasers. The request will come out of the sheriff’s office’s operational budget.

The sheriff’s office is pursuing a grant from Michigan Municipal Risk Management Authority to cover $65,000 of the cost over the five-year contract. Additionally, the sheriff eliminated a position and reduced operating costs to support the equipment investment.

The five-year plan also includes three upgrades and cloud storage that would be available through a Freedom of Information Act request

The sheriff’s 2021 budget was adjusted after it came to light that $444,000 was overspent during the last budget cycle. In May, Sheriff Richard Fuller told the board the expenses came from increased inmate medical bills and transitioning nurses. Moored added that uniform allowances and operational budgets also went over almost $200,000.

Public safety was the second largest category in the budget breakdown. Public safety spending amounts to $26,862,400, or 24.6% of the overall budget. In addition to the sheriff’s office, this category includes animal services, security, building and grounds and emergency management.

Judicial services was the largest at $29,341,700 or 26.8% of the budget. This category includes circuit court, district court, probate court and the prosecutor’s office.

Funding diversity and inclusion

After the board unanimously voted to approve the budget, Chairperson Tracy Hall said she was proud of the 2021 budget because it highlighted the board’s values. Budget priorities included the justice facility, affordable housing, consolidated dispatch and diversity and inclusion efforts.

The board approved the 2020 budget without proposed amendments to fund diversity and inclusion efforts. In the 2021 budget, money has been set aside to hire a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion officer.

In December 2018, the board hired deepSEE Consulting to assess the diversity and inclusion efforts in the county. Commissioners were confronted with some harsh truths including feedback from employees who called the elected officials “dysfunctional” and “toxic” in an anonymous survey.

The deepSee survey asked employees to self-evaluate their productivity and how miscommunications affect their ability to get work done.

Employees reported losing 15.4%, or 72 minutes per day, to miscommunication and misunderstandings. That lost productivity means the county suffers an annual loss of $6,703,361.43.

The consulting firm recommended the county hire a diversity and inclusion officer. The study also outlines responsibilities such as training employees, identifying key positions and promotional paths and developing diversity and inclusion performance reviews.

The board and administration began the work of outlining an Equity Advisory Committee, but that work was paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That work is expected to be picked back up in the third quarter, according to the budget.

Once the Equity Advisory Committee is established, work will begin to hire a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion position. Funding of $125,000 has been reserved within the 2021 budget for these efforts. This funding is a reallocation of the funding provided to support the LGBTQ+ housing project in the 2020 budget.

Continued support for mental health resources

The 2021 budget continued to allocate $67,600 of general fund support for Integrated Services of Kalamazoo to support homeless shelter activities. General Fund support began in 2010 and has contributed over $811,200 since that time.

Integrated Services of Kalamazoo works with youth, families and adults and provides mental illness support and services for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The budget also took over funding for Integrated Services in the jails. Previously, Integrated Service employees were funded through a grant to work in the jails. That grant is no longer available, so the county put forth $100,000 to continue inmate mental health services. The count will fund this position for the next two to three years.

More on MLive:

Kalamazoo County Sheriff requests $825K for body cameras

16 candidates square off for 8 seats on Kalamazoo County board

Former Kalamazoo police captain challenges three-term sheriff in Kalamazoo County

Coronavirus executive orders remain in effect in Kalamazoo County, health officer warns

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