A discussion that at times grew heated during a Nov. 8 administrative briefing for the Washtenaw County board of commissioners reflected different views on the issue of how much it costs to put a sheriff’s deputy on patrol.
The briefing, held the week prior to the regular board meeting, is designed to review the upcoming agenda, and is typically attended by a majority of the 11 commissioners. This week, in addition to items already slated for the agenda, two commissioners proposed additional resolutions to be considered at the Nov. 17 meeting: 1) a resolution regarding a cost recommendation recently made by the county’s police services steering committee, and 2) a resolution to eliminate commissioner per diems and reimbursements for travel, conferences and other meetings.
Six commissioners attended the briefing, and debate on each of those proposed resolutions was vigorous during the hour-long meeting. However, commissioners seemed in agreement on another item brought up for discussion on Monday: discontent with the Washtenaw County Road Commission.
Cost of Police Services
At the board’s Nov. 4 working session, sheriff Jerry Clayton presented a recommendation from the county’s police services steering committee (PSSC), which set the cost of a police services unit at $176,108. The goal, he told commissioners, is first to agree on the cost of delivering police services, before moving on to the question of price – that is, what the county will charge for that service.
There are 74 county deputies paid through contracts with local municipalities, including Ypsilanti Township, Ann Arbor Township and Superior Township, among others. The current price is $144,802 per police services unit (PSU) – a term that includes direct costs like salary and fringe benefits, as well as indirect costs and overhead. Current contracts call for a 4% increase next year, bringing the price to $150,594.
During Monday’s administrative briefing, commissioners discussed a draft resolution that would accept the PSSC recommendation on setting the cost per PSU at $176,108. Rolland Sizemore Jr., the board’s chair, reported that commissioner Conan Smith had suggested treating the recommendation as an item of information, which would not require a vote. [Smith, who chairs the board's Ways & Means Committee, did not attend Monday's briefing. All resolutions are first voted on at Ways & Means, before being given a final vote at the board's regular meeting.]
Wes Prater noted that he’s part of the PSSC subcommittee that’s been wrangling with this issue for about 18 months. This is about the third time that these numbers have been scrutinized, he said, and the effort has included members of the county’s finance department as well. He indicated that the cost figure has been thoroughly vetted.
Barbara Bergman and Leah Gunn vigorously opposed accepting the recommendation at this point. Bergman said there are many outstanding questions: How are charges for the county’s detective bureau being handled? What about cost-of-living increases, or building in raises for sheriff’s deputies? How often will this cost figure be reviewed? In addition, the resolution doesn’t address policy issues that the board must consider, she said.
Gunn said she didn’t agree with all the items that were not included in the cost calculation, and she noted that Jeff Irwin didn’t agree with them, either. It should be part of the budget discussion, she said. The doesn’t need to act immediately, especially since new contracts for police services aren’t needed until 2012. Last week was the first time she’d seen the cost recommendation, she said, and the figure doesn’t reflect the entire cost of providing police services. The detective bureau isn’t factored in, for example, nor are the 12 deputies that the county pays for out of its general fund.
Gunn, whose represents District 9 in Ann Arbor, said that her constituents have expressed concern because they’re paying twice – once for the Ann Arbor police force, and again for the county sheriff’s department. These issues need to be addressed, she said, and she wouldn’t support accepting the recommendation. “This is too fast.”
Judge countered that the PSSC has been working for a year and a half on this issue, at regular meetings that any of the commissioners could have attended. They could have asked questions or raised concerns at any time, she said. She noted that the resolution won’t affect the budget – it’s recommending a cost, not the price to be charged. It’s the price that will have a direct impact on budget calculations.
Judge noted that the PSSC – a group appointed by the board and consisting of leaders from contracting jurisdictions, law enforcement and the county board – made the recommendation unanimously, with the support of the sheriff and the county’s finance staff.
Sizemore said he’d attended some of the PSSC meetings, and that the members did an excellent job of evaluating the issue. He praised sheriff Jerry Clayton and Greg Dill, director of administrative operations at the sheriff’s department, for their leadership. If all the board is doing is adopting the cost, Sizemore said, he had no problem with that.
Bergman again disagreed, saying that policy questions needed to be addressed first. “Without that, I will vocally say no.”
Sizemore responded by saying that they could adjust the figure in the future. He asked Bill Reynolds, the county’s deputy administrator, to work with commissioners on the wording of the resolution “to make all the commissioners happy.”
“All commissioners happy?” Reynolds replied, causing nearly everyone in the room to laugh.
“It only takes six,” Judge said, referring to the number of votes needed to pass the resolution.
Both Judge and Prater then pointed out that there were detailed formulas backing up the final cost recommendation. [.pdf of chart with details of itemized costs Additional backup documentation: cost analysis formulas; overview of fringe benefit rates; overview of cost allocation plan (CAP)]
Gunn again cited the issue of the detective bureau, which isn’t included in the cost calculation. In total, there are $10 million in costs not included in this recommendation, she said, and that amounts to 12% of the county’s general fund budget. The county is “in a pickle” regarding the budget, she said, and these are non-mandated services.
Bergman said that the courts have backed up the assessment that police services are non-mandated. The sheriff “doesn’t even need a telephone or a horse,” she quipped. “I may not win on this, but nobody’s going to shut my mouth about it.”
Judge pointed out that by approving the resolution on cost, the board isn’t tying itself to a specific amount, but rather they’re agreeing to the formula that’s used to calculate the cost. Bergman and Gunn replied that they didn’t support the formula.
Sizemore wrapped up the discussion by asking whether it would be helpful for the commissioners to meet in small groups with the Clayton and Dill, prior to the Nov. 17 meeting. There was agreement on that suggestion.
Eliminating Commissioner Per Diems, Expenses
Commissioners then discussed another resolution – introduced by Leah Gunn – that would eliminate commissioner per diems and reimbursements for travel, conferences and other meetings. Some commissioners took issue with the proposal, saying that reimbursement to some extent is necessary.
By way of background, commissioners earn $15,500 annually, plus fringe benefits. Officers receive higher pay: $18,500 for the board chair (Rolland Sizemore Jr.), $16,000 for the board vice chair (Mark Ouimet), $16,500 for the Ways & Means Committee chair (Conan Smith) and the working session chair (Jessica Ping). In addition, each commissioner has a “flex account” capped at $3,550, to cover previous line items for per diem, travel, and convention/conference expenses. A commissioner can only receive additional funds if another commissioner agrees to transfer unused funds from his/her account. [.pdf file of flex account rules]
In total, the budget line item for all county commissioner expenses in 2010, including salaries and other compensation and expenses, is $512,473. The county’s total 2010 general fund budget is $98.43 million.
At Monday’s meeting, Wes Prater observed that the last time commissioners had seen an increase in their salaries was January of 2001, and that it’s unlikely they’ll give themselves a raise anytime soon. If you calculated cost-of-living increases, by not taking raises over that period, the board has saved the county about $350,000, he said.
He said if they were going to remove per diems and other expenses, then he wanted to look at fringe benefits, too.
Gunn argued that travel to meetings and other expenses currently reimbursed from the flex accounts are part of their public service, and shouldn’t be paid for by the county.
Prater countered that the per diem issue had been addressed a year ago, when the flex accounts were created and capped spending at $3,550 per commissioner. He said the Ann Arbor News editorial on the issue was way off base, in that it didn’t factor in that these spending controls had been put in place earlier this year. [Prater was referring to a Nov. 7, 2010 AnnArbor.com editorial criticizing "loose" controls over per diem spending. It had been a campaign issue for Republican Mark Ouimet, a commissioner who was accused of being reimbursed for items that were not eligible for reimbursement under board rules. Ouimet, who was elected on Nov. 2 as a representative to the state House for District 52, did not attend Monday's briefing.]
Gunn said she disagreed with Prater, but that he was free to vote against her resolution.
Kristin Judge noted that the proposed changes would mean the four newly elected commissioners would have to pay $150 for their “Commissioner 101″ training, which could be a hardship. She said they should look at getting rid of things like lifetime health insurance for commissioners.
Discontent over Road Commission
Commissioners typically holds a caucus in the fall to consider appointments to the county’s commissions, boards and committees. The appointments are officially made by the chair, and voted on by the entire board. This year, board chair Rolland Sizemore Jr. has pushed back the appointments caucus, asking deputy administrator Bill Reynolds to review the existing group of appointed bodies and to identify those that might be eliminated or consolidated.
At Monday’s briefing, Jason Brooks – the county’s deputy clerk, who manages the appointments process for the board – brought copies of resumes from candidates who have applied for positions on these county bodies. Though the 321-page packet was distributed to commissioners for review, Sizemore said that Reynolds hadn’t yet completed his work. That would likely be done by the next administrative briefing, on Nov. 23 – Sizemore proposed holding the appointments caucus then.
One vacancy they’ll consider is on the Washtenaw County Road Commission, which oversees road and bridge construction in the county. Oversight for the WCRC is handled by three road commissioners, who are appointed by the county board to six-year terms. One of them – David Rutledge – was recently elected as representative to the state House for District 54. His position will need to be filled.
Sizemore said he’s become increasingly frustrated by the road commission, and wants to revisit the possibility of expanding the commission from three members to five. The road commission’s staff isn’t responsive, he said, and their decisions don’t reflect the will of the people.
This proposal has been championed in the past by Jeff Irwin, who previously has failed to gain support from a majority of board members. From Chronicle coverage of the board’s Aug. 4, 2010 meeting:
At the board’s July 7 meeting, commissioners held a public hearing on the possibility of expanding the Washtenaw County Road Commission board from three members to five – the county board appoints those positions. After the hearing and some discussion, commissioner Wes Prater made a motion to terminate the process of expanding the road commission. The motion passed, with dissent from Conan Smith and Jeff Irwin, who argued that it wasn’t something the board could stop in that way.
At the July meeting, Irwin said he planned to bring a resolution on the expansion to the board’s Aug. 4 meeting. However, no such resolution was on the agenda, and the issue wasn’t discussed at Wednesday’s meeting.
In a follow-up phone interview this week with The Chronicle, Irwin said he still might bring a resolution about the expansion to a board meeting later this year. Prater’s resolution had been symbolic, he said. There’s a specific legal process for the expansion, which includes a vote on the issue. Politically, he said, based on the board’s discussion in July and the outcome of Prater’s resolution, it seems unlikely that a vote on the expansion would be successful. However, Irwin said plans to talk with his board colleagues about it in the coming weeks, to see if he can gain support.
To date, Irwin has not resurrected this issue. He did not attend Monday’s briefing.
Responding to Sizemore’s proposal during the briefing, both Barbara Bergman and Leah Gunn pointed out that these issues are not new. Bergman and Gunn both have previously supported Irwin’s efforts to expand the road commission.
Wes Prater, a former road commissioner who now serves as the county board’s liaison to that group, said that he and Rutledge had pushed the staff to get certified as an ISO 9000 and ISO 9001 organization. The process aims to put in place best practices for managing a business or organization.
The framework is there, Prater said, but the staff isn’t yet using the recommended procedures. The goal to create a culture of continuous improvement regarding customer satisfaction, he said, adding that “implementation is a bit difficult.” He praised the clerk who takes calls from residents, but said that after that, the requests get “swallowed up” and never get a response.
Prater said that he no longer calls the staff when he needs help for his district. Instead, he’ll call one of the three road commissioners, and they follow up on the issue.
Sizemore said he’s tired of his phone ringing from constituents who have problems with the road commission. He said the staff never return his calls, and that he shouldn’t have to call a road commissioner to get things done. He gave the example of a project on Ford Boulevard, between Ecorse Road and Holmes Road in Ypsilanti Township. The road commission plans to alter the boulevard from four lanes to three lanes of traffic.
Sizemore said that local businesses in that area collected hundreds of signatures for a petition opposing the change, but the road commission didn’t listen. Prater said that the road commission’s staff made the recommendation, but he contends they provided no data to support that decision.
On Nov. 5, the road commission’s decision mentioned by Sizemore was reported this way on the Michigan Complete Streets Coalition website, based on a posting by Bob Krzewinski to the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition’s Google Group:
This week the Washtenaw County Road Commission approved road diets (turning a four lane road into two traffic lanes, a center turn lane and bike lanes) for Golfside Road in Pittsfield Township and Ford Boulevard in Ypsilanti Township.
At the meeting opponents of the Ford Boulevard road diet argued that such a configuration would put them out of business, and that the number of crashes on Ford Boulevard were not all that many. Road Commission staff, however, pointed out that Ford Boulevard’s crash rate is much higher than it should be and that study after study has shown that road diets reduce crash rates.
Supporters of the road diets included League of Michigan Bicyclists, Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition, Bike Ypsi and Friends of the Border To Border Trail, all Michigan Complete Streets Coalition partners.
At the board’s administrative briefing on Wednesday, there was no concrete proposal for a timeline to address possible expansion of the number of road commissioners. In addition to Rutledge, current road commissioners are Doug Fuller, who was appointed in 2008, and Fred Veigel, who has served as road commissioner since 1991.