Erbisch: Marquette County vets counselor position would need millage funding

MARQUETTE – If a military veterans affairs counselor position is to be funded for Marquette County, the money will likely need to be funded through new millage.

Marquette County has more than 6,400 military veterans – the highest for any county in the Upper Peninsula – but is the only county in the region without a county veterans affairs department.

The Marquette County Veterans Alliance recently asked the Marquette County Board to establish a veterans affairs department and fund a full-time veterans affairs counselor for the department, either through the county’s current budget or by a approving a millage proposal seeking one-tenth of a mill for 10 years. The measure would be placed before voters on the Nov. 4 general election ballot.

“Upon review of the existing county budget, it would be necessary to either reduce current staff or modify programs in order to facilitate the development of a Veterans Affairs Department,” Marquette County Administrator Scott Erbisch said in a recommendation memo to the county board. “The county has been in a compression mode over the past several years due (to) other financial impacts such as the uncertainty of the tax base, unfunded liability increases and health insurance increases. There is not a secure revenue source for the establishment of this program.”

Erbisch said if the county board wants to continue to pursue developing the veterans affairs department, he recommends a special millage of up to one-tenth of a mill be sought to fund the program.

The county board is scheduled to consider the issue at its meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Room 231 of the Henry Skewis Annex to the Marquette County Courthouse, located at 234 W. Baraga Ave. in Marquette.

A one-tenth of a mill levy would be expected to generate about $218,000.

Erbisch said a projected annual budget for the veterans affairs department was estimated at $130,000, assuming the veterans counselor hired was a county employee.

“The budget also takes into account the potential of traveling throughout the county to meet with various veterans organizations and members,” Erbisch said.

Not knowing where the veterans affairs department office would be located, Erbisch included an estimated space cost of $10,000 in the cost analysis.

That accounting of the $130,000 included $45,000 for the full-time veterans counselor and $16,000 for part-time clerical support. Contributions for employee Social Security and Medicare deductions were estimated at $3,100; retirement at $7,400; worker’s compensation at $1,000 and hospitalization at $27,000.

Additional line items in the projected annual budget included per diem and mileage at $5,200; estimated travel of 5,000 miles at $2,800; office supplies at $1,600; telephone, $2,400; advertising, $500; training, $2,500; computer use charges at $2,000, Internet, $1,000 and miscellaneous costs estimated at $500 each year.

George LaBlonde III, interim chairman of the Marquette County Veterans Alliance, told the county board the veterans affairs counselor would be an advocate for veterans, their dependents and spouses helping them in understanding and applying for benefits they are entitled to, including veterans programs and county benefits.

“They need to know where to get medical and psychological assistance, how to file claims and appeals, and how to apply for employment,” LaBlonde said. “A veteran counselor is the liaison between the Veterans Administration and the veteran, with the ability to schedule interviews, meetings and appointments to assist the veteran.”

The counselor would also be able to address veterans groups, disseminate information and travel to outlying areas of the county to meet with veterans.

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.