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Higher fines eyed as way to save jobs

ADRIAN - Judge James Sheridan said he was given a week to pick what employee his Lenawee County District Court could do without.

Instead, Judge Sheridan proposed hiking ticket costs and adding employees to take care of the extra work that will be created.

As Lenawee County commissioners consider cutting 10 jobs to help reduce the budget deficit, department heads are thinking creatively to save positions in their offices.

“We've gone through the various tickets and misdemeanors, and we've come up with a number of areas that we can justify raising costs and still be within state averages,” said Judge Sheridan, speaking on behalf of the five judges in the county court system. “But it will cause more work because you'll get more phone calls, and somebody's got to be there to field them.”

The judge is suggesting raising ticket fees by about $10 and at the same time adding two positions to the District Court and one in the probation department.

With an average of 27,500 tickets written each year, the judge says the court system can raise an additional $495,000. Even with the additional three salaries, the county would have about $94,000 for its general fund if ticket fees were raised.

Last week the county commission's Ways and Means Committee approved the job cuts, which will be voted on today by the entire commission as part of the second quarter allocations, County Administrator Bill Bacon said. In addition to the three cuts in the courts, the layoffs include five in the sheriff's office, one employee from Michigan State University's Extension Office, and one from the Lenawee County Public Library.

The cutbacks would save the county $525,000.

Sheriff Larry Richardson has his own ideas to stave off cutbacks in his department. Commissioners are trying to save about $275,000 by cutting five jobs at the sheriff's office, the sheriff said.

Sheriff Richardson said cutting five people would devastate the county's road patrol. He said the other areas of the department - the jail and dispatch center - could not be touched because they are running on bare bones now.

“We had lost two people - one to the National Guard and one to the reserves - and they are overseas now. We're proposing to allow those people's salary to be rolled into the amount the commissioners want to cut from our budget. It would save a couple jobs until those people come back,” Sheriff Richardson said.

The cuts would help salvage the dwindling reserve fund. “We dipped into reserve last year and the year before,” said Commissioner Robert Hall. “We were planning on saving a half-million with these cuts. That would help with the deficit.”

Overall, “we're looking at a county deficit of $1.2 million as of the 2002 fiscal year,” Mr. Bacon said.

Mr. Hall said Judge Sheridan's idea is interesting and creative, but he isn't convinced adding jobs will save money in the long term.

In addition to the proposals by the sheriff and judge, a third job-saving suggestion is being looked into. Commissioners are considering combining the MSU Extension Office position with a job at Veterans Affairs. There is a vacancy at the VA office.

Mr. Hall said he is impressed with the plans to save jobs and help the budget deficit. He is one of three committee members who voted against the job cuts last week. The measure passed 6-3.

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