At what’s likely to be their final meeting of the year on Dec. 2, the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners faces a heavy agenda – including items that generated some animated discussion at the board’s pre-meeting briefing on Nov. 24.
The agenda includes a final vote on the 2010-2011 budget, approval of two collective bargaining agreements, a presentation detailing how county funds are being awarded to local human services nonprofits, and a proposal by the sheriff to amend a police services contract with Scio Township.
Sheriff Jerry Clayton attended Tuesday’s administrative briefing for commissioners – held one day earlier than usual, due to the Thanksgiving holiday. He was there to answer questions about the Scio Township proposal, but the focus of commissioners’ questions related instead to the situation in Ypsilanti Township. Earlier this month, voters there rejected a public safety millage that would have paid for 10 of the 38 sheriff deputies that police the township, under contract with the county. Township officials have asked the county to amend the contract, reducing its number of deputies to 28.
“It’s a complicated issue,” Clayton told commissioners.
Public Safety in Ypsilanti Township, Washtenaw
During Tuesday’s briefing, county administrator Bob Guenzel gave commissioners an update on how staff are responding to a Nov. 19 letter from Ypsilanti Township supervisor Brenda Stumbo. In the letter, Stumbo requests a reduction in the number of contract deputies from 38 to 28, effective Jan. 1, 2010.
Guenzel said that Clayton, Greg Dill, director of administrative services for the Washtenaw Sheriff’s Department, and Verna McDaniel, Washtenaw County deputy administrator, would be meeting during the day on Monday (Nov. 30) to discuss the situation. They’d then be meeting Monday night with Ypsilanti Township officials. If the county doesn’t act, Guenzel said, the current contract specifying 38 deputies would stay in effect.
Curtis Hedger, the county’s corporation counsel, told commissioners that there are two options: 1) if all parties reach an agreement, then the contract can be amended, or 2) if there’s no agreement and the township doesn’t pay for the full 38 contract deputies, the township would be in breach of the contract.
Commissioner Barbara Bergman, who represents District 8 in Ann Arbor, said she’d talked with a township supervisor from the western part of the county – whom she didn’t name – saying that the supervisor is very upset about the situation. “I think you’re going to hear some stirring,” she said. One point of contention: That the county has spent nearly $1 million defending itself from a lawsuit brought by the townships of Ypsilanti, Salem and Augusta over the cost and pricing of its contract deputies. Bergman said she wouldn’t vote to amend the contract, and that she wanted Guenzel to ask the township if they can pay for the deputies out of their reserves until another millage can be put on the ballot next year.
Some commissioners mentioned the impact that a reduction in deputies dedicated to Ypsilanti Township would have on the rest of the county. [See related Chronicle coverage from the county’s Nov. 16 Police Services Steering Committee meeting.] The fear is that the 12 so-called “general fund deputies” – who are deployed throughout the county, and paid for out of the county’s general fund budget – will now be called on to respond to emergencies in Ypsilanti Township, located in eastern Washtenaw, leaving other parts of the county vulnerable.
Commissioner Mark Ouimet, representing District 1 in western Washtenaw, put it this way: “It’s important for us to understand what we’re getting into when they do drop down” to 28 deputies. Bergman said that if Ypsilanti Township got coverage from the county’s 12 general fund deputies, township residents might not have an incentive to vote for additional taxes to pay for their own contract deputies.
Board chair Rolland Sizemore Jr., whose district includes the eastern portion of Ypsilanti Township, pointed to the ongoing lawsuit between the county and three townships. He said that commissioners had been told by their legal counsel not to discuss the lawsuit, and he wondered if they were stepping into a hornet’s nest by getting involved in amending the contract. He asked Hedger whether the county had heard from the state Supreme Court about the status of the lawsuit.
“We have heard zero,” Hedger said. He added that any litigation about amending the contract would probably be handled in a separate lawsuit, “if it comes to that” – a remark that elicited groans from several commissioners.
The townships had appealed the case to the state Supreme Court, which in September of 2009 denied a request to hear the appeal. [See previous Chronicle coverage: "State Supreme Court Ruling Favors County"] However, later that month the townships filed a motion for reconsideration – basically, asking the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision to not hear the case.
Clayton urged commissioners to separate the discussion of the lawsuit from the issue of the current contract amendment being proposed by Ypsilanti Township. He said he was focused on two things: 1) public safety for the entire county, and 2) maintaining his staff. He’s trying to figure out how his department can absorb the 10 deputy positions from Ypsilanti Township – if a millage there eventually passes and they need those deputies back, the department needs to be ready. It’s much more difficult to hire and train new deputies, he said.
Clayton also told commissioners that his department would deploy the 12 general fund deputies wherever they were needed, “and I guarantee they’ll end up in Ypsilanti Township.” He also expects that having fewer deputies dedicated to Ypsilanti Township will impact the number of overtime hours served by deputies in the rest of the department. [After Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti Township has the second largest population of any municipality in the county – an estimated 53,000 people – but does not have its own police force.]
In general, he cautioned that commissioners shouldn’t get bogged down in thinking that the only solutions were modifying the existing contract or a lawsuit. There might be other ways that would be cost neutral or have only a minimal financial impact, he said.
Commissioner Ken Schwartz said he respected Clayton’s authority to deploy deputies as he saw fit. However, the board of commissioners has the authority to withdraw funding for the general fund deputies, he added.
Bergman challenged Clayton’s contention that there might be a cost-neutral way to handle the situation. She said that if he found ways to cut costs or add revenues, that extra money shouldn’t necessarily be used to pay for the 10 deputies from Ypsilanti Township. What if she wanted that money for children’s services or some other need, she asked.
Clayton said that if his department was given a budget and was able to find efficiencies, why wouldn’t that money be available for other public safety needs?
Ouimet agreed, saying that’s how it’s handled in other units as well. Turning to the upcoming talks with Ypsilanti Township, Ouimet said it’s important for Guenzel to know that the board supports him in the discussions, in concert with the sheriff, so that they’re speaking in one voice.
Other Agenda Items: Scio Township Police Services
Scio Township hopes to amend its contract with the county and increase the total number of contract deputies it pays for to eight – three more than it currently has. Because township voters approved a public safety millage in 2008 to pay for fire services, that freed up dollars in its general fund for additional contract deputies.
According to a cover memo accompanying a resolution that commissioners are being asked to approve, three deputies that have previously been deployed elsewhere will be available for work in Scio Township. Willow Run Community Schools eliminated a contract deputy because of budget cuts, and Augusta Township is eliminating its contract deputy position in January of 2010. Additionally, a state grant now funding three road patrol deputies will be reduced, and will provide funds for only two deputies in 2010. [See previous Chronicle coverage: "Sheriff Suggests Way to Add Deputies in Scio"]
The changes are expected to be cost neutral. The cover memo includes an additional rationale for the move:
With the Michigan State Police reducing the number of State Officers assigned to Washtenaw County and the recent failure of the Ypsilanti Township police services millage, the burden of law enforcement on all contracting local jurisdictions and the Washtenaw County general fund patrol have greatly increased. The ramifications go even broader to the Prosecuting Attorney, the Public Defender and the Courts. Expanding the Scio Township police services contract will help mitigate some of concerns of our citizens.
Energy Efficiency and Conservation Grant
The county is receiving a $766,900 three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. County staff is proposing that the funds be used for five projects: 1) retrofitting county facilities, 2) supporting a revolving loan fund, 3) creating a solar energy demonstration project, 4) starting a Southeast Michigan Regional Energy Office, and 5) developing energy policies for the county. The funds have been earmarked for the county, but county staff still need to submit an application by Dec. 18 outlining how they plan to use the money. Commissioners are expected to vote on the proposal at their Dec. 2 meeting.
The board had received background about the grant at their Nov. 19 working session, which included a presentation by Tony VanDerworp, head of the county’s strategic planning department, and Brett Lenart, a planning services supervisor. Lenart told commissioners that in addition to county funding, Ypsilanti Township received a similar grant for $484,400 and Ann Arbor had been awarded $1,243,400 – for a total of nearly $2.5 million coming into this area. It’s part of a $2.8 billion national program aimed at spurring economic development, helping local governments reduce energy use and dependency on fossil fuels, and creating energy programs that last beyond the grant-funded period, Lenart said.
For the county’s portion, here’s a breakdown of the proposed allocation:
- $242,500 to retrofit county facilities. Specific projects include installing LED lighting at 4125 Washtenaw (the juvenile detention building) and 705 N. Zeeb (the county’s western service center), as well as in the lower level of the 101 E. Huron parking structure. Also, five solar hot water systems will be installed at five locations: 101 E. Huron, 2201 Hogback, 4125 Washtenaw, 220 N. Main and 22 Center. Insulation would also be added to the building at 2140 Ellsworth, the Community Support and Treatment Services (CSTS) building. Over 10 years, the retrofits are estimated to save $400,000 in energy costs, Lenart said.
- $275,000 to seed a revolving loan fund. “This is a great opportunity to take this capital and infuse it into the community at large,” Lenart told commissioners at their Nov. 19 working session. The loans would be available for residential, commercial and institutional building retrofits. The fund would be operated in partnership with the city of Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti Township, the Ecology Center and Recycle Ann Arbor. Lenart said that proposed state legislation would allow the loans to be secured through property special assessments. [Chronicle coverage of the special assessment program: "Special District Might Fund Energy Program"]
- $115,000 for a solar energy demo project. The project would install a 12 kWH solar photovoltaic system on a county facility, yet to be identified. It would be used as a tool to educate the public about solar energy systems, Lenart said.
- $57,710 for staff to develop county energy policies. This amount is part of a total $70,000 from the grant that has already been calculated into the budget of the new county department of economic development and energy, to be led by VanDerworp.
- $76,690 to help create a Southeast Michigan Energy Office. The office would be funded by the county as well as others in the region, with the goal of creating a regional network and infrastructure for energy-related projects, Lenart said.
It was this last item that commissioners discussed at some length during their Nov. 24 administrative briefing. Barbara Bergman pointed out that the fiduciary for this grant is the Michigan Suburbs Alliance, a Ferndale-based nonprofit led by county commissioner Conan Smith. Smith had discussed that fact during the Nov. 19 working session – he did not attend the Nov. 24 briefing.
The alliance would also oversee the new energy office. Bergman asked what fee the alliance would be getting for its work, and whether Smith’s salary would be increased because of the grant. Commissioner Mark Ouimet said that even if his salary isn’t increased, the county should also know if any of Smith’s salary will be paid for out of the grant.
Commissioner Rolland Sizemore Jr. asked if this represented a conflict of interest for Smith. Curtis Hedger, the county’s corporation counsel, said that Smith had already come to him to discuss the conflict-of-interest issue, and was not planning to take part in the discussion or vote on the grant.
Commissoner Wes Prater said that given that the alliance was the fiduciary, would the contractors hired to do the retrofits have to conform with the county’s Construction Unity Board, known as CUB? Hedger said that at the least, they’d have to comply with the Davis Bacon Act, which requires that public works projects pay prevailing wages.
Sizemore asked whether they should postpone the vote, due to all of the unanswered questions that commissioners had. Guenzel said he believed that staff could have answers ready in time for the Dec. 2 meeting.
Toward the end of the briefing, Rolland Sizemore Jr., the board’s chair, asked if everyone was happy with the budget. When no one immediately responded, county administrator Bob Guenzel said “Yes!” – eliciting laughter from commissioners. Guenzel had hoped that the board would approve the 2010/2011 budget at its Nov. 18 meeting, despite some last-minute changes. Commissioners approved the budget during their Nov. 18 Ways & Means Committee meeting, but not during the regular board meeting. [See Chronicle coverage: "County Budget Moves Toward Final Vote"]
A major piece of the budget discussions over the past year – focused on eliminating a projected two-year, $30 million deficit – included talks with the 17 bargaining units representing about 80% of the county’s 1,350 employees. Many units, representing the majority of union workers, have already ratified concessions, which the board also has approved. At their Dec. 2 meeting, the board will be asked to approve new collective bargaining agreements with two additional units: AFSCME Local 3052, and non-union workers at the sheriff’s department.
Guenzel said the AFSCME agreement will be similar to deals struck with the five other AFSCME units earlier this year. [See previous Chronicle coverage: "AFSCME union concessions help, but other issues remain"] A few other units are still negotiating with the county, including local units of the Police Officers Association of Michigan (POAM), the Command Officers Association of Michigan (COAM), and the Teamsters.
Also related to the budget, commissioner Barbara Bergman asked when the board would learn how the Office of Community Development, a joint city/county department, would allocate funding for local human services agencies. The OCD is responsible for awarding grants funded by the city and county to local nonprofits. Deputy county administrator Verna McDaniel said that OCD director Mary Jo Callan would be making a report at the Dec. 2 meeting – the OCD staff had just finished making those decisions.