Commissioners in Macomb County, which encompasses part of the Detroit area, last week opted to dip into the county’s rainy-day fund to plug a $5.2 million deficit in the $470 million budget.

The move, coming after the board had already cut $7 million from the year’s $12 million deficit, was an effort to avoid laying off up to 60 county personnel, commissioners said. The county faces a $15 million shortfall next year.

The board’s 13-to-11 vote to withdraw $5 million from the $32 million rainy-day fund was criticized by several commissioners and the county finance director, who said the fund should be between $47 million and $94 million. Commissioners have withdrawn $26 million from the fund between 2004 and 2007.

Commissioners in part blamed pension costs, which have reached $17.5 million in fiscal 2007 from $7.6 million in 1997, under McComb’s pension plan that allows employees to retire at age 50.

The board has not contributed to the pension fund since 2003, according to reports. Supporters of the measure said it gave the county more time to negotiate with the union over rising health care costs. Commissioners yesterday announced they would form a committee to eliminate vacant county jobs.

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