Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners (April 1, 2009): A light agenda for the public part of Wednesday night’s board meeting was followed by nearly 90 minutes in executive session discussing labor relations related to budget talks. Before that, the meeting included the presentation of several awards for historic preservation and recognition of the University of Michigan chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, an African-American fraternity celebrating its 100th anniversary.
Budget & finance
Wednesday’s board meeting touched on budget and financial issues in several ways. Carla Sledge, Wayne County’s chief financial officer and past president of the Government Finance Officers Association, was on hand to present the county with a certificate of achievement for excellence in financial reporting for its fiscal year ending December 2007. The award is based on the county’s timely completion of its state-mandated comprehensive annual financial report, or CAFR. This is the 18th year that Washtenaw County has received a certificate of achievement. Sledge presented the award to commissioner Rolland Sizemore Jr., the board’s chair, who quipped, “Can I keep this in my drawer?” Commissioner Conan Smith said, “Sure – we’ve got 18 of ‘em.”
The board was also given a summary of the county’s CAFR for 2008, with a brief presentation by Mark Kettner from the accounting firm Rehmann Robson, which did the county’s audit. County administrator Bob Guenzel introduced the presentation by saying he expected 2008′s CAFR would result in the county’s 19th award. He said they’d had to make $10 million in adjustments to balance the budget, which had been difficult. But because they had higher-than-anticipated revenues and some funds that weren’t spent as budgeted, they ended the year with a roughly $500,000 general fund surplus, he said.
Guenzel and county finance director Peter Ballios both praised the finance staff’s ability to complete the report in the first fiscal quarter. Kettner picked up that theme by saying that it wasn’t so much the speed of their work that was important, but the fact that if they complete the report early in the year, they’ll have more time as the year progresses to pay attention to regular business on a daily basis. Kettner also noted that the audit doesn’t address things like internal controls or financial outlook, and that it shouldn’t be interpreted as a panacea. He described the $500,000 surplus as a little better than break-even, which he allowed was pretty good in this economic climate.
Commissioner Mark Ouimet asked Kettner what audit functions the county should be aware of as the organization restructures. He was concerned that in eliminating people, they might be eliminating important audit functions as well. Kettner advised that audit functions shouldn’t be the primary concern in setting budget priorities, but acknowledged that internal controls are important and should be considered.
Wes Prater asked Kettner how often the board should examine the county’s internal financial controls. Kettner said it wouldn’t make sense for the full board to take on that task, but perhaps an audit committee of the board could do it. He said all commissioners should know the policies that relate to internal controls, but not be involved in daily oversight.
Related to the budget, Kristin Judge gave an update on plans for an April 11 board retreat, to be held from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. at the county’s Rolling Hills Park Lodge. Budget priorities and labor issues will be among the topics of discussion, she said. The retreat, which is open to the public, will be facilitated by Scot Graden, superintendent of Saline Area Schools.
Three members of the the Epsilon chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha were on hand to accept a county proclamation honoring the group’s 100th anniversary: Greg Dill, director of administrative services for the Washtenaw Sheriff’s Department; Byron Roberts, senior director of communications and marketing for UM’s College of Engineering; and Gary DeGuzman, coordinator of transfer admissions & programs at the College of Engineering. They invited commissioners and the public to an open house celebrating the milestone on April 10 at 3 p.m. at UM’s Hatcher Graduate Library.
Paul Darling of the Washtenaw Historic District Commission presented a 2009 historic preservation award to the Nathan B. Devereaux Octagon House, a structure built in 1864 and located at 66425 Eight Mile Road in Northfield Township. Vivian Devereaux and her family were on hand to accept the award, and commissioner Conan Smith noted that she’ll be celebrating her 90th birthday later this month.
Darling gave another 2009 historic preservation award to the O’Brien family for their farm in Northfield Township, which has been in the family since 1837. Local attorney Tom O’Brien and Darlene O’Brien, a Washtenaw Trial Court judge, accepted the award, with Tom O’Brien noting that he hoped future generations of his family would be accepting a similar award in 50 years.
Darling said that a third award – to the Dixboro United Methodist Church – would be presented at the church this Sunday morning, April 5 between 10-11 a.m.
Peter Kelley, another member of the county’s HDC, presented the board with the book “Northfield Township Harvest,” which included references to the historic structures honored on Wednesday.
The Ways & Means Committee unanimously approved acceptance of $4.18 million in federal stimulus funds for a weatherization assistance program – a final vote will occur at the next board meeting. A couple of commissioners had questions about the program, which will be administered by the county’s Employment Training and Community Services (ETCS) department. Jeff Irwin wondered how it would be monitored and evaluated. He said he hoped the program could demonstrate the kind of savings that could be derived by residents if they weatherized. Ken Schwartz said he had technical questions about the program. Aaron Kraft, program manager will attend the next board meeting to address any questions from commissioners, according to Verna McDaniel, deputy county administrator.
Tom Partridge spoke at three of the four available public comment sessions on Wednesday. His message was consistent all three times: Commissioners need to push for an equitable, countywide transportation system. He also decried recent fare increases that AATA is implementing. After one of Partridge’s speaking turns, commissioner Wes Prater responded by saying that he’d heard Partridge talk about this issue multiple times at multiple meetings, but he’d never once heard a proposal for how to fund such an expanded transit system. Prater said he’d like Partridge to address that challenge.
The only other speaker during public comment on Wednesday was Gene DeRossett, a former state legislator who said he’d just started on Monday as chief administrative officer for the 14A District Court. He said he looked forward to working with the 19 different county agencies that work with the court.
Present: Leah Gunn, Jeff Irwin, Kristin Judge, Mark Ouimet, Ronnie Peterson, Jessica Ping, Wes Prater, Ken Schwartz, Rolland Sizemore Jr., Conan Smith
Absent: Barbara Levin Bergman
Next meeting: Wednesday, April 15 at 6:30 p.m. at the County Administration Building, 220 N. Main St. The Ways & Means Committee meets first, followed immediately by the regular board meeting. Public comment sessions are held at the beginning and end of each meeting. [confirm date]