It isn’t often that a member of the public attends the administrative briefing for the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners, but on Tuesday, Mohammad Jama – a Washtenaw Technical Middle College student – showed up to fulfill a requirement for one of his classes.
Three of the 11 commissioners also showed up for the briefing, which is held the week before a regular board meeting. It’s a venue for the county’s administration to review informally the upcoming agenda. The agenda will be full for the Nov. 18 meeting, one that includes an update on the 2009 budget – it’s now showing a surplus – and a likely vote on the 2010/2011 budget, which had been pulled from the Nov. 4 agenda.
The briefing also touched on a potentially controversial agenda item: A request from Sheriff Jerry Clayton to change the policy related to police services contracts with local municipalities. Other items on the agenda for Nov. 18 include funding to support the homeless, a change in allocation of the accommodation tax, and appointments to more than a dozen county committees and commissions. Details after the break.
Funding for Homeless Services
Earlier this month, both the Ann Arbor city council and the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority approved funding for the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County and Interfaith Hospitality Network. The $20,000 from the DDA and $159,500 from the city will help pay for beds and case management plus staff support for 25 additional beds at the Delonis Center, 25 additional beds in the rotating shelter program, and housing vouchers for eight families. [See Chronicle coverage: "Support for the Homeless Shelter" and "DDA Buys Shelter Beds"]
Other agencies – including the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, Washtenaw United Way, and the Washtenaw Community Health Organization – are contributing as well.
County commissioners will be asked to appropriate $250,000 from funding already set aside in the 2009 budget for supportive housing services. Of that, $175,000 will be used for an emergency response to increasing demand for service for the homeless during the winter months. At Tuesday’s briefing, county administrator Bob Guenzel said that the money would provide 10 additional housing vouchers for families.
A cover memo accompanying the resolution gave a breakdown of the number of people that were provided with shelter and housing over the past year, categorized by location (based on the zipcode from which they were coming). Countywide, 64% of the people who were provided shelter came from Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township.
- 48197 = 574 (35% of total served)
- 48198 = 458 (29%)
- 48103 = 247 (15%)
- 48108 = 114 (7%)
- 48104 = 101 (6%)
- 48105 = 44 (3%)
- 48111 = 24 (1%)
- 48176 = 18 (1%)
- 48189 = 17 (1%)
- 48130 = 15 (1%)
- 48190 = 9 (1%)
- 48118 = 7 (less than 1%)
- 48191 = 7 (less than 1%)
- 48137 = 3 (less than 1%)
- 48169 = 2 (less than 1%)
- 48170 = 2 (less than 1%)
At the board’s Nov. 18 meeting, county administrator Bob Guenzel plans to give an update on the 2009 budget, which now looks to be coming in with a $300,000 surplus, he said at Tuesday’s briefing. He credited the surplus to budget cuts that commissioners had approved earlier this year.
Guenzel also asked that commissioners give serious consideration to passing the 2010/2011 budget at both their Ways & Means Committee and their regular board meeting on Nov. 18. [All commissioners serve on the Ways & Means Committee, with that meeting immediately preceding the regular board meeting. Typically, resolutions are voted on at Ways & Means, then are considered at the regular board meeting two weeks later. Most of the discussion occurs at Ways & Means.]
The 2010/2011 budget was on the agenda for the Nov. 4 Ways & Means meeting. However, Conan Smith, who chairs that committee, pulled it from the agenda, saying that they needed to address a handful of issues. He did not elaborate. [See Chronicle coverage of the Nov. 4 meeting: "But First, What About the Budget?"]
On Tuesday, Guenzel said that he anticipated some amendments would be forthcoming. [.PDF file of 2010/2011 budget resolution]
The board will be asked to approve a new five-year agreement with the Ann Arbor Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Ypsilanti Convention & Visitors Bureau, from 2010 through 2014. The agreement would increase the county’s share of the accommodation tax revenues from 5% to 10%.
Last year, the board approved increasing the amount of the tax that’s collected from local hotels, from 2% to 5%. That increase took effect in March of 2009.
At Tuesday’s briefing, commissioner Leah Gunn wanted clarification about how those additional revenues coming to the county’s coffers would be used. Curtis Hedger, the county’s corporation counsel, explained that those funds are used by the county treasurer, Catherine McClary, and that his understanding was that McClary wanted to use the increase to fund a part-time employee who would help administer and enforce the accommodations tax ordinance. But the board can indicate how it wants those funds to be used, he said.
Reponding to an email query from The Chronicle, McClary provided additional information:
The County has absorbed the tax collection and administration functions at the 5% rate for 35 years and are now recommending an increase to 10%. In the past the County’s portion has provided approximately $50,000 to $75,000 in revenue, depending on hotel occupancy and the economy. This year the County expects to receive somewhat more than $100,000 because of the increase in the excise tax promoted by the hotel association earlier this year.
While the Treasurer’s Office has sufficient staff to receipt voluntary collections, there is not sufficient staff to enforce collections when taxes are not paid timely or to conduct financial record inspections of establishments to ensure accurate reporting and proper compliance. Poor economic times have made it much more difficult to collect from establishments and has created a much larger delinquency problem than in the past. Enforcement of collections has proven to be time consuming and expensive and there are fewer remedies relative to collecting delinquent real property taxes.
It is anticipated that this increase for administration of the excise tax would be spent on staffing costs (that have not been compensated in the past as costs rose) to continue current collection, accounting, and administration functions and on additional accounting and legal services for enforcement. Should the resolution pass, there are plans to begin routine and periodic inspections of the books and records of establishments and to be more proactive by making collections calls in person, by withholding marketing support, or by filing lawsuits if unable to collect.
Appointments Caucus Canceled
At their Nov. 18 meeting, commissioners will be asked to vote on appointments to 17 different boards, committees and commissions. A caucus had been scheduled to immediately follow Tuesday’s administrative briefing, to discuss candidates for these appointments. However, Rolland Sizemore Jr. – who chairs the board of commissioners – was not able to attend Tuesday’s meeting. Guenzel reported that Sizemore would be contacting commissioners individually, to discuss their views of the candidates before next week’s board meeting and vote.
Police Services: Policy Change
Sheriff Jerry Clayton will be making a recommendation for a policy change related to how police services are provided to local municipalities by the sheriff’s department. Details about the proposal were not available at Tuesday’s briefing, but Guenzel said that Clayton would be contacting commissioners individually, to provide them with information about the proposal before the Nov. 18 meeting.
Guenzel also said that the topic would be discussed at a Nov. 13 meeting of the Police Services Steering Committee. That meeting was subsequently rescheduled for Monday, Nov. 16, from 2-4 p.m. at the county’s Western Service Center on Zeeb Road.
When told that the cover memo for Clayton’s recommendation wouldn’t be included in the board packet – the written material that commissioners receive on agenda items prior to their meeting – Leah Gunn responded, “I find that unacceptable.”
Rather than have their own police departments, several local municipalities contract with the sheriff’s department for patrols. The amount charged for those patrols has been a controversial issue for many years, resulting in a lawsuit that was appealed all the way to the state supreme court. [See Chronicle coverage: "State Supreme Court Ruling Favors County"]