Branch County will look at a freeze on hiring and capital expenditures because of expected revenue shortfalls from the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

County Administrator Bud Norman said he will discuss them with department heads and elected officials, but could request action at Tuesday’s regular commission meeting.

Norman said certain issues would be exempt. The county must provide water and sewer hook ups for the Teen Share Shelter house on the state prison grounds.

He also said essential employee positions such as 911 dispatchers would be excluded.

Norman said current projections will see the county’s share of state revenue sharing drop by $250,000 to $300,000 this fiscal year as the economy falters.

State Revenue Sharing funds account for 9 percent of the $13.6 million budget.

After the budget for 2020 was passed, the commission added two new road patrol deputies, reclassified some personnel and added capital expenditures. This, added to revenue sharing loss, would require the general fund be cut $540,000 or money taken from the fund balance saving.

That would reduce the emergency savings from 19 to 15 percent of the annual budget.

The last options for dealing with the county budget issues would be furloughs and lay offs. Norman noted Battle Creek has laid off 95 employees. In St. Joseph County, an emergency county commission meeting last week laid off 67.

Commissioners tabled requests from Sheriff John Pollack, the deputies union and 911 director for hazard pay for staff during the COVID-19 crisis.

Norman said his best estimates show the cost of the proposals would add $134,000 in expenses.

The POAM Union has proposed a $750 per two-week pay period increase for all road deputies and corrections officers.

This was based on Michigan State Police and state corrections officers receiving the $750 bi-weekly hazard pay in late March.

Norman said Branch County did not get any federal funds from the Phase 1, 2, or 3 CARE Acts to cover these costs.

“You had to be over 500,000 population,” he said.

Commissioner Terri Norris said “we don’t have the funds to pay for this.”

State Rep. Eric Leutheuser, attending the virtual meeting, said the state approved the federal funds were used for MSP and MDOC from the CARE Acts.

“They could not stay home. They are essential workers and did not have a choice. They were left out of the federal benefits program (for other employees),” he said.

Norman did show some legislation introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives that would cover those the Branch County employees if a Phase 4 CARE act is passed.

Commissioners tabled the request to future work meetings to see what funding might become availible.