Project gets continued support

ESCANABA – A topic of much discussion, members of the Delta County Board of Commissioners have agreed to continue allowing additional hours per week for two employees working on a backloading project in the register of deeds office. The decision was made during Tuesday night’s county board meeting.

The board authorized continuing the additional five hours per week for two 35-hour employees in the register of deeds office for backloading older records into the computer system with funds from the office’s automation fund through Sept. 30 – the end of the fiscal year.

As explained during public comment by Rob Buchler, chief deputy register of deeds, the automation fund allows register of deed offices throughout the state to update their facilities to meet present technology levels available.

“We have been doing that by purchasing of equipment, through maintaining the equipment, but primarily, like all the other 82 counties, we have been backloading our old records into the computer system so that we have ease of access to the public,” said Buchler.

He noted this also helps the office become more efficient as they have gone from two employees to approximately 1.5 since one person works in the building and zoning department in the afternoons.

“The more we can get in there, the better our office operates,” he added. “We get people in and out of the research area faster. We can do searches for customers much faster and it makes our office a lot faster. The more we can do, the better it is for everybody.”

County Clerk and Register of Deeds Nancy Kolich also explained the automation fund is essentially a funded mandate completely separate from other departments and used only by the register of deeds office. The fund has been used to pay for software, scanning and microfilming equipment, and new computers in the register of deeds office and takes in an average of $40,000 a year based on customer fees.

Peter Strom, an attorney from Escanaba, also voiced his support of the backloading project during public comment. Strom noted the office’s services are very important and convenient to the community and to attorneys representing parties involved in land transactions, highlighting that part of the fees he pays the office on behalf of his clients go into this automation fund.

Board Chairman Tom Elegeert explained one of the big concerns commissioners had was the potential impact of the program on retirement funds.

According to Elegeert, one part-time county employee is working on the project in addition to the two 35-hour employees.

“The worry there was that … she may claim this part-time as part of her retirement and no money is being put into the MERS (Municipal Employees’ Retirement System) program based on her part-time position, which would then fall upon the county to fulfill the void,” he said.

Commissioner Dave Rivard said the program will likely experience some savings down the road, but also had concerns about the impact it may have on retirement funds.

“One of the big concerns of ours is down the line, years from now, it could have ramification on the retirement funds, which this board is going to have to pay. We don’t know what that looks like at this point,” he said.

Board Vice-Chair Mary Harrington said one of her main concerns was protecting current retirees and making sure their financial future is solid.

“Yes, this money can only be used for one thing, but how many things has this county board and every county board across the state get rammed down their throats for unmandated things that we have to do and it all breaks the bank?” she said.

The board ultimately voted 3-2 in favor of continuing to allow the additional five hours per week for the two 35-hour employees with funds from the automation fund through Sept. 30. Elegeert and commissioners Rivard and Dave Moyle voted in support of the measure, with Harrington and Commissioner Ryan Holm opposed. The item will be reviewed by the board at the end of the budget year.

The board also voted to refer the part-time position in the register of deeds office backload project to the personnel committee for further review.

In other business, the board:

– approved providing up to $8,000 in additional funding for the prosecuting attorney’s office due to upcoming court cases that require additional expenses for expert witnesses.