Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

County hopes to resolve retirement fund issue


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Bessemer — In the county administrator’s report to the Gogebic County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday, Juliane Giackino said she is working with legislators to finally resolve a six-year-old pension fund issue.

As a member of the five county Western Upper Michigan Manpower Consortium with Houghton Keweena, Iron and Ontonagon counties, a $330,000 shortfall in 2013 has grown to $970,000 for the county owned pension program in 2019, Giackino said following the meeting.

In June 2013, the state mandated the counties to close out the retirement accounts to transition from Public Act 8 to Public Act 7, when standards with inter local public agency agreements changed. There was to be no cost to the county, she said.

The state declared an actuarial report was not completed in time and so did not pay the pension retirement program, she said. The program was funded from the federal government through the state and the county was a fiduciary agent that did not fund the program, she said.

Giackino said she is hopeful that legislators are now supporting the effort to make the funds an expenditure in the state budget. Schoolcraft, Luce and Mackinac counties in the easter Upper Peninsula had a similar situation while operating under the Municipal Employees’ Retirement System of Michigan that was not a county owned program but the state payed the account without issue, she said.

Gogebic County Probate Judge Anna Talaska and Chief Circuit Judge Michael Pope were present at the meeting to ask the commission for support in recognizing the need for additional mental health services for the most vulnerable individuals in the county. The Gogebic Community Mental Health Authority is well equipped to serve high risk individuals but access to public and private mental health falls short for people with low to moderate needs.

Because area mental health providers cannot manage the case loads in a timely manner people are having to go out of state to find help and may or may not be covered, Talaska said. This affects the criminal justice system in preventing recidivism as defendants with court ordered mental health or addiction treatment programs are unable to comply because of lack of access to help.

When these at-risk populations attempt to self-medicate with alcohol and other drugs it can cause further harm and legal problems, she said, referring to a letter to the commission from both judges.

“Aspirus is trying to expand the number of mental health providers but there is still a long waiting list,” Talaska said.

The commission approved receipt of a request to support a Marquette County resolution that opposes legislation that would prevent county commissioner candidates from disclosing a party affiliation on ballots.

Commissioner Joe Bonovetz said he spoke in opposition to any state legislation that would require all counties statewide to have candidates either disclose or deny them from disclosing party affiliation on a ballot. The matter speaks to local control and affects each county differently, he said.

Prior to the meeting, a public hearing was held for discussion on two proposed U.S. Department of Agriculture grants that would be used to purchase two patrol vehicles for the Gogebic County Sheriff’s Office. The grant for the first vehicle is $27,600 and $30,600 for the second vehicle.

The meeting opened with a moment of silence in memory the victims of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The moment was also to remember Paul Grbavcich, a Gogebic County Forestry and Parks Commission member who passed away from cancer on Aug. 30.

In other business, the commission approved:

—A Gogebic County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority and city of Bessemer application for a project at 508 S. Moore St., to ready the property for a potential developer to build town home housing.

—Advertising a vacancy in the Forestry and Parks Commission.

—Receipt of a Line Five resolution letter from the governor’s director of constituent services.

—Receipt of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s letter regarding the Fiscal Year 2020 state budget.

—A signature for the county Emergency Management and 911 coordinator to submit the Emergency Management Performance Grant agreement for reimbursement.

—Receipt of a $7,429 check from the Michigan Gaming Control Board for 2% of tribal casino revenue sharing.

—Scheduling a public hearing for the 2020 budget for 5 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 25.

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