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      County leaders discuss million dollar deficit

      Grand Traverse County Commissioners will sit down Thursday evening to talk more about how to make up a $1-million budget deficit for 2014.

      County Administrator Controller, David Benda, says that the meeting is centered around discussing proposals that he and other commissioners have brought to the table.

      "My original proposal was to bond for our pension liabilities, which would save us approximately $1-million a year in operating costs," said Benda. "It stretches it out over a longer period of time"

      Benda says that the commissioners weren't comfortable with the original proposal so he created a new one that included making cuts to the sheriff's office or Parks and Recreation.

      Benda proposed to cut eight positions from the sheriff's department, including five road patrol deputies. The cuts would save the county around $600-thousand.

      Sheriff Tom Bensley said that the cut could impact the entire community and would mean less deputies patrolling the roads during busy times of the year.

      "This is not a regional hub, but it's an attraction for 3.3 million visitors every year which is an average of over 9-thousand people per day in the county," said Bensley.

      Benda also proposed to eliminate caretaker positions at Twin Lakes Park and Power Island. A cut that would save close to $75-thousand.

      "I had to cut somewhere and I had a rationale for doing what I did in each place," said Benda. "Other people might have a different opinion about that but it's my job to create a recommended budget and it's there job to either approve it or change it."

      Individual commissioners proposed other ideas for where to make the cuts. Another proposal that will be discussed is shutting down the pool at the Civic Center, which would cut out nearly $75-thousand. Grand Traverse County Parks and Recreation Director Jason Jones said that the 300 people that use the pool each day would lose their swimming area until the YMCA opens up next year. Jones reports that the pool is also used for Coast Guard training and for high school swim teams.

      Eliminating the positions of office manager, and director of Parks and Recreation has also been proposed, and together would save the county around $150-thousand dollars.

      "If Grand Traverse County Parks and Recreation services are diminished or cut outright, the quality of life in Grand Traverse County would go down significantly for every citizen in Grand Traverse County," said Jones.

      "Change is hard," said Benda. "But it's necessary sometimes. We have to address a million dollar structural deficit and we had to address the increase to health costs that were facing us. And I think that one way or another we're going to get through this process and we're going to address those and Grand Traverse County will be better off for it."