Proposed County Budget Brings Cuts

Head Start supporters urge board not to sever ties with program

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Sept. 21, 2011): County administrator Verna McDaniel and the county’s finance staff formally presented the two-year general fund budget on Sept. 21, showing how the administration proposes to balance the 2012-2013 budget with a mix of labor concessions, fee increases and funding cuts. Previously, an estimated $17.5 million deficit had been projected for that two-year period.

Ronnie Peterson and supporters of Washtenaw HeadStart program

County commissioner Ronnie Peterson, right, talks with supporters of the Washtenaw Head Start program. (Photos by the writer.)

Although the budget calls for a net loss of 32.22 full-time-equivalent jobs, most of those positions are either already vacant or will be handled through retirements, McDaniel said. One significant retirement was recognized during the meeting: Donna Sabourin, executive director of the county’s community support & treatment services (CSTS) department, who’s worked for the county for 20 years. Commissioners awarded her a resolution of appreciation, and also gave final approval to the CSTS budget for the coming year.

But the meeting’s main focus was the proposed general fund budget, which was discussed at length and will be the topic of most board meetings and working sessions at least through November. The county budget is based on a calendar year, from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31, and is developed in two-year cycles.

Among the recommended cuts is a reduction of $1.2 million to local nonprofits and other agencies. For example, funding for the Humane Society of Huron Valley’s contract is proposed to drop from $500,000 in 2011 to $250,000 in 2012 and 2013. The Delonis Center homeless shelter’s funding could decline from $160,000 to $25,000.

The budget also calls for the county to relinquish its status as the federal “grantee” for the Head Start program in Washtenaw County, which would trigger a process to find a replacement entity. The county has administered the program for 46 years. About a dozen Head Start supporters showed up to Wednesday’s meeting, and urged commissioners to continue support for the program.

Though commissioners had several questions and comments about the 2012-2013 budget, several of them expressed even more concern for what’s on the horizon: Projected deficits of $11.6 million in 2014 and $14.7 million in 2015.

Board chair Conan Smith characterized the 2012-2013 budget as a recommendation that’s “ripe for public discussion at this point.” Everything is still on the table, he said. The board is expected to take up the topic again at its Oct. 5 meeting, and a public hearing on the budget is set for Oct. 19. The target date for approving the budget is Nov. 16.

There was no vote taken on the 2012-2013 budget directly, but the board took action on several other budget-related items. Among them, commissioners gave final approval to levy two taxes: for (1) services for indigent veterans; and (2) economic development and agriculture.

The board also passed a resolution in support of developing a regional transportation authority, after a failed attempt to postpone the vote. The resolution is a prelude to a Sept. 30 summit with Detroit and the counties of Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and St. Clair, which will focus on region transit issues.

Two issues of note did not come before the board as expected. A proposed reorganization of county administration was pulled from the agenda at the start of the meeting. It would have replaced the deputy administrator position by giving additional responsibilities to four managers, paying them annual stipends of $15,000 each. The stipends were a sticking point – during public commentary, AFSCME Local 2733 president Caryette Fenner objected to the timing of that pay, in light of recent labor concessions made by employees.

And not on the agenda was an anticipated proposal by the Washtenaw County Road Commission, which was discussed by the board at its Sept. 8 working session. The road commission is presenting a request for a countywide millage to help pay for road repair. It’s a tax that the county board could impose without seeking voter approval. The plan was subsequently submitted to the county clerk on Friday, and could be addressed at the board’s Oct. 5 meeting.

Admin Reorganization Postponed

One of the first actions of the meeting was to pull off the agenda a resolution regarding the reorganization of administrative positions proposed by Washtenaw County administrator Verna McDaniel. Details of the restructuring had been part of the board’s packet of meeting materials, including a proposal to pay annual stipends of $15,000 to each of four managers who would be taking on additional responsibilities.

The proposed changes, which could be introduced at a later date, were expected to save $120,962 and were part of a broader 2012-2013 budget proposal. The reorganization would have put the deputy county administrator’s position – which has been unfilled since the departure of Bill Reynolds earlier this year – on hold/vacant status. A new “cross lateral” team was proposed with four members: Kelly Belknap, director of finance; Greg Dill, infrastructure management director (a new position); Curtis Hedger, corporation counsel; and Diane Heidt, director of human resources and labor relations.

Greg Dill

Greg Dill, director of administrative operations for the sheriff’s office, is likely to be appointed as the county’s infrastructure management director. He was working on his iPad before the meeting.

Dill is currently director of administrative operations for the sheriff’s office. A resolution for his new appointment – to the newly created job of infrastructure management director, with a salary of $116,75 – was also pulled from the agenda of Wednesday’s meeting. His new responsibilities would include those previously assigned to the county’s information & technology manager, a position that’s been eliminated following the departure of James McFarlane earlier this year.

According to a staff memo, the cross lateral team was intended to split the duties formerly handled by the deputy administrator. Department heads would be assigned to a team leader and report to that person for non-critical issues.

The proposal called for each team member to receive a $15,000 stipend in addition to their salaries, which would be capped at $125,000 unless a higher salary is authorized by the county board. If the combination of salary and stipend exceeded $125,000, the excess would be paid as a contribution into the employee’s deferred compensation retirement plan.

Other changes in the proposal included eliminating an administrative coordinator position, and creating a new management analyst job.

Admin Reorganization: Public Commentary

There was no discussion on the topic among commissioners, but during public commentary later in the meeting, AFSCME Local 2733 president Caryette Fenner objected to the $15,000 stipend that had been proposed. She noted that her membership and most employees had made concessions to address the projected two-year budget deficit. It wasn’t that these team leaders didn’t deserve the stipend, she said, but it wasn’t the right time for it.

2012-2013 Washtenaw County Budget

After discussing budget priorities and challenges for over a year, commissioners formally received a recommended budget for 2012-2013 at Wednesday’s meeting, which calls for a total net loss of 32.22 full-time-equivalent jobs and cuts to a range of programs and services. [.pdf of draft 2012-2013 budget]

County administrator Verna McDaniel and the county’s finance staff gave a presentation during the meeting, showing how the administration proposes to balance the budget. Previously, an estimated $17.5 million deficit had been projected for that two-year period.

The board is expected to take up the topic again at its Oct. 5 meeting, and a public hearing on the budget is set for the board’s Oct. 19 meeting.

Commissioners asked questions both at Wednesday’s meeting and during a working session the following day, on Sept. 22.

2012-2013 Washtenaw County Budget: Presentation

The proposed budget is based on a forecast in general fund revenues of $97,714,410 in 2012 and $96,937,530 in 2013 – down from $101,250,268 this year. The budget includes cutting 28.36 full-time-equivalent jobs, creating 5.5 FTEs, putting 11 FTE positions on hold/vacant status, and removing 1.64 FTEs out of hold/vacant. In addition to the 25.36 jobs that are already vacant, another 14 of the job cuts are expected to be handled mostly through retirements. Currently the county employs 1,369 people.

Andy Cluley, Verna McDaniel

WEMU’s Andy Cluley interviews Washtenaw County administrator Verna McDaniel after the Sept. 21 board of commissioners meeting.

The biggest cuts are proposed to come from the sheriff’s office in positions represented by the Police Officers Association of Michigan (POAM), with a net loss of 12 jobs, and in positions represented by AFSCME 2733 Unit B, with a net loss of 10 positions.

Earlier this year, McDaniel told commissioners that she hoped to gain $8 million in labor concessions from employees. New labor contracts have now been finalized with 90% of the county’s employees, for a total of $4 million in savings both budget years from changes to compensation and benefits. The board had approved a new contract with its largest labor union – AFSCME Local 2733 – at a special meeting on Sept. 13.

The budget also reflects $4.1 million more in additional revenues from property taxes. Those tax revenues are now projected to be higher than previously estimated. The budget also identifies $8.2 million from organizational and structural changes.

The budget includes a total of $1,239,859 in cuts to funding for local nonprofits and other agencies. Examples of the most dramatic changes include funding for Humane Society of Huron Valley’s contract (from $500,000 in fiscal 2011 to $250,000 in fiscal 2012 and 2013), the Delonis Center homeless shelter (from $160,000 to $25,000), and the Safe House domestic violence shelter (from $96,000 to $48,000). [.pdf of six-page response to the proposed cuts by Tanya Hilgendorf, executive director of the Humane Society of Huron Valley. ]

Items proposed to be cut completely include $125,000 to the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG), $200,000 for the county’s reserve for housing, and $110,000 for a housing contingency fund. Money for the county’s coordinated funding of human services will drop by $128,538 (from $1,015,000 to $886,462). [.pdf chart of nonprofit/agency allocations]

Looking beyond this two-year budget cycle, the report also projects deficits of $11.6 million in 2014 and $14.7 million in 2015.

During the presentation to commissioners at their Sept. 21 meeting, McDaniel, finance director Kelly Belknap and finance analyst Tina Gavalier summarized the proposed reductions and revenue sources for the coming two years. [.pdf of budget presentation highlights]

In addition to a working session on Sept. 22, other budget-related dates include:

  • Oct. 6: Working session on a county building/space plan.
  • Oct. 19: Public hearing on the 2012-2013 budget.
  • Nov. 2: Budget update for the third quarter of 2011.
  • Nov. 16: Target date for board vote on 2012-2013 budget.

2012-2013 Washtenaw County Budget:  Commissioner Discussion

Yousef Rabhi began by thanking county staff for their work in developing the budget, and thanking employees for the contract concessions they made. “People have given, and given a lot,” he said.

Leah Gunn described this budget as “the hardest budget I’ve ever worked on” during her 15-year tenure on the board, but noted that even more challenges are in the wings. If the state legislature eliminates the personal property tax, that will be another major hit to the revenues of local governments, she said. Gunn urged people to contact their legislators in Lansing and beg them not to repeal the tax, “or we lose government services.”

Wes Prater first asked for more details on the 80% in budget reductions that McDaniel had categorized as structural – she said she’d get that information to the board.

Prater then turned to the projections for 2014-2015, when deficits of $11.6 million and $14.7 million, respectively, are expected. Why are expenditures projected to increase? Revenue estimates are much lower, he noted – falling 8.21% in 2014 to $88.975 million, and staying flat the following year. Why aren’t expenditures in line with that? The staff needs to look at revenue realistically, he said, then prepare a budget that’s based on those realistic revenue estimates.

McDaniel said that as they get closer to those years, they’ll have a better handle on projections and will make revisions. She acknowledged that it was disheartening to see additional projected deficits, but said the staff would be remiss if they didn’t point it out. The county will work to bring expenditures in line with revenues for those years, she said – they are required to present a balanced budget.

Prater complained that originally, the administration had projected a $20 million deficit for 2012-2013. Then in the spring, that deficit had been revised to $17.5 million. But revenues are only down $1.7 million from 2011, he said.

Kelly Belknap, the county’s finance director, explained that the projected deficit was based on anticipated expenses and revenues. It wasn’t comparing 2012 to 2011, she said. McDaniel added that the county would “be in a pickle” if they made rosy projections. She assured Prater that the staff wasn’t playing games to make things look worse. It’s difficult to make projections, she said, and she acknowledged that revenues for the current year showed less of a decline than anticipated. But she indicated that it’s better to be prepared for a steeper decline than to suddenly be faced with a crisis, if projections turn out to be overly optimistic.

Prater replied that in the past couple of years, projections have missed the mark so much, that some people think county officials don’t know what they’re doing.

Rob Turner, Yousef Rabhi, Dan Smith

From left: Commissioners Rob Turner, Yousef Rabhi and Dan Smith.

Dan Smith observed that it seemed the county was jumping from one emergency now to another in 2014-2015. He asked the staff to explain why revenues are expected to decline, and where some of the expenditure increases are coming from. Expenses are projected to rise from $96.93 million in 2013 to $103.72 million in 2015.

Tina Gavalier, the county’s finance analyst, confirmed for Smith that most of the revenue declines reflect an anticipated drop in property tax revenues and a loss of state revenue sharing. Current union contracts run through 2013, she noted, so the projected expenses assume that concessions made for the coming two years will end. That means step increases, longevity pay and other aspects of the previous contract will resume, unless labor unions agree to additional concessions. Gavalier also noted that health care costs are projected to increase 12%.

Gavalier also pointed out that earlier this year, the staff had projected deficits of $27.7 million in 2014 and $34.3 million in 2015. Since then, based in part on updated estimates of property tax revenues, those deficits are now projected to be lower.

Conan Smith took issue with Prater’s characterization that previous revenue projections had been way off. In fact, Smith said, the projections were fairly accurate – off by less than 1% in 2010 and by about 1.5% this year. On the revenue side, the board needs to project worst-case scenarios, he said. For expenses, they assume the status quo from the previous budget cycle as a starting point. Of course expenditures will be adjusted, he said – the county is legally obligated to present a balanced budget.

Alicia Ping asked a series of questions also related to how the projections are made, wondering why the previously projected $17.5 million deficit was no longer reflected in the 2012-2013 budget. Belknap clarified for Ping that the deficits are based on projected expenses if the county takes no action. Conan Smith added that the budget that’s now presented to the board reflects adjustments they’ve made – including labor concessions, for example – that helped them overcome that deficit and align expenses with revenues. You don’t see the $17.5 million deficit because the county has taken action to address it, he said.

Barbara Bergman thanked the unions and other employees for their sacrifices, and said that at a later date the board needs to talk about making a sacrifice, too. She didn’t want to make commissioners’ salaries so low that people couldn’t afford to serve, she said, but they needed to talk about adjustments.

Rob Turner noted that the daunting task before them is the 2014-2015 budget, with a two-year $26 million deficit. Given that they’ve just made serious cuts in the current budget cycle, cutting another $26 million “is just a scary thought,” he said. Turner agreed with Bergman that they needed to look at the line items for commissioners too. They can’t just sit back and hope that property taxes will increase – they need to look ahead.

Ronnie Peterson observed that public employees are “taking it in the neck,” and that people often point to those employees as being responsible for the deficit. But employees are responsible for coming to work and doing their jobs, he said – it’s the responsibility of the board to manage the budget and protect the future of local government, so that employees can feel secure. He clarified with McDaniel that additional board meetings and working sessions will focus on specific aspects of the 2012-2013 budget.

Peterson said it felt like the county was just putting a finger in the dike. Some commissioners had courage, while others didn’t, he said. Commissioners should lead the way, but everyone needed to sacrifice – and he didn’t see that that was happening.

Rolland Sizemore Jr. said he wanted to look at the issue of part-time employees. He also noted that not all of the departments led by other elected officials were getting budget cuts. [Those elected officials are the prosecuting attorney Brian Mackie; water resources commissioner Janis Bobrin; county treasurer Catherine McClary; clerk/register of deeds Larry Kestenbaum; and sheriff Jerry Clayton.]

McDaniel replied that in developing the budget, finance and administrative staff looked at a variety of factors, including cuts taken by departments in previous years, and budgets in comparable departments. The budget didn’t make broad, across-the-board cuts, she said, but rather reflected strategic decisions.

Proposed general fund budgets for departments led by other elected officials are:

Office       2011      2012     2013
Pros Atty   $5.44M    $5.88M   $5.94M
Water Res   $2.59M    $2.46M   $2.54M
Treas       $1.31M    $1.51M   $1.55M
Clerk       $2.36M    $2.64M   $2.53M
Sheriff    $40.89M   $43.41M  $44.92M


The sheriff also oversees the budget for emergency services, which is budgeted for $2.77 million in 2011, $2.53 million in 2012, and $2.63 million in 2013.

Returning to the overall budget, Conan Smith elicited from McDaniel that budget increases for certain departments reflect higher cost allocation plan (CAP) payments that these departments are being asked to make. The CAP is an amount charged to each department for items like the county attorney and administration.

Yousef Rabhi clarified with McDaniel that nearly all of the positions being eliminated were already vacant or were planned retirements. McDaniel said there may be one “bump,” but that doesn’t mean the person will hit the streets. The administration is working hard to find another assignment for that person, she said.

Rob Turner noted that the county’s “rainy day” fund – its general fund reserves – would be decreasing in the coming years. It’s important to remember to maintain it in case the state does something drastic that would affect the budget, he said. At the same time, it’s important to note that the county isn’t keeping a fat balance, he said.

Mention of the state prompted Ping to comment on the personal property tax (PPT) issue. She noted that Gunn had mentioned it earlier in the meeting, adding that everyone is shocked that the proposal seems to have legs. Although it seems like the momentum is now behind reducing the tax, not eliminating it, there’s no revenue replacement plan being put forward, Ping said, and that’s wrong. “Again, Lansing needs to be minding their own business,” she said. Ping asked staff to provide information about how eliminating the PPT would affect the county’s revenues.

Prater returned to the issue of revenue projections, and noted that the county’s equalization staff “really missed the mark” in projecting the decline of property tax revenue for 2011. The 2011 budget had been built on the assumption of an 8.5% drop in property tax revenues, but in fact revenues fell only 2.85%. [See Chronicle coverage: "Washtenaw County's Taxable Value Falls"]

Gunn commented that for decades, property tax revenues did nothing but increase. Then revenues plunged, and the county has had to deal with it, she said. Predicting it is almost impossible, she added, and the equalization report for the year doesn’t get completed until April – four months into the fiscal year. Given those constraints, it’s always better to be conservative in projecting revenues, she concluded.

McDaniel noted that the board had agreed to build the budget based on worst-case scenarios. Otherwise, they might be faced with sudden, unanticipated cuts, she said.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to move the budget agenda item to its Oct. 5 meeting. No initial vote was taken on the 2012-2013 budget itself .

After the vote, Peterson asked about a building space plan that McDaniel is preparing, which will be presented at the Oct. 6 working session and is likely to include recommendations about what to do with certain county facilities that might be sold. Was that plan factored into the budget? McDaniel responded that it’s not part of the budget, because commissioners would need to provide direction to staff about how to proceed. It’s more related to future planning than to the 2012-2013 budget, she said.

2012-2013 Washtenaw County Budget: Public Commentary – General

Caryette Fenner, president of AFSCME Local 2733, expressed concern that information about retirements had been made public before the union leadership was informed. She hadn’t heard about it previously.

Following up to her commentary, Yousef Rabhi said he’d like to see better communication between the unions and county administration. He hoped that the proposed cross lateral managers would help facilitate communication with union leaders and employees.

2012-2013 Washtenaw County Budget: Head Start

During public commentary after the budget discussion, Shirley Beckley told commissioners she is the parent and grandparent of children who had benefited from Washtenaw Head Start. She wondered what the status of the program was, in layman’s terms – had it been cut from the budget, or had the board reconsidered that decision?

Public commentary is typically a formal process, with speakers alloted a set amount of time – three minutes at Ways & Means Committee meetings, or five minutes at regular board meetings. After all public commenters have spoken, commissioners have the opportunity to respond, if they choose.

However, during this public commentary on Head Start there was considerable – and uncharacteristic – back-and-forth.

By way of additional background, the board held a working session on July 21, 2011 devoted to the future of Washtenaw Head Start. From that report:

The presentation stressed that Head Start – which serves over 500 preschool children of low-income families in the county – would not be eliminated. Rather, the county would relinquish its status as the program’s federal “grantee,” triggering a process to find a replacement entity. Federal Head Start officials would be responsible for selecting another agency to take over from the county.

The county currently spends about $900,000 each year in support of Head Start, which has a local budget of $4.8 million – the bulk of its funding comes from federal sources. In addition, the county owes $2.68 million in bond payments related to an Ypsilanti facility it built for Head Start in 2002-03.

Seven of the board’s 11 commissioners attended the working session, and several expressed support for exploring the transition. They praised the program, which has been recognized nationally for its performance, but noted that education isn’t part of the county’s core mission. Some suggested that an organization like the Washtenaw Intermediate School District would be a better fit to administer the program.

At Wednesday’s meeting, county administrator Verna McDaniel told Beckley that there’s still time to discuss budget decisions, and that meetings of the board are open to the public, with opportunities for public commentary. Beckley replied that she didn’t think the county understood the impact of its decision to cut funding for the program. She hoped that they could come to some kind of understanding with Head Start, rather than cutting it. She wondered if Head Start were cut from the county, would it get a new name?

McDaniel said she couldn’t answer that question. The federal government would take responsibility for finding a new agency to sponsor it, if the county decided not to host the program.

Beckley indicated that she was confused about the process. Commissioner Rolland Sizemore Jr. replied “sometimes we are, too.”

The next speaker was Caryette Fenner, president of AFSCME Local 2733. Among her budget-related concerns, Fenner said she thought that the executive director of Washtenaw Head Start – Pat Horne McGee – would be returning to the board to propose budget cuts that would still allow the county to retain the program. She hoped the board would take another look at Head Start and see if there was any way to help.

Sizemore characterized Head Start as a great program – a comment that elicited applause from supporters in the audience. He said the county has to look at all its options, and that there’s the possibility of another provider taking over the program.

Conan Smith noted that the board will hold a public hearing on the 2012-2013 budget at its Oct. 19 meeting. That’s a great opportunity to talk about it, he said. Public commentary also could be made at any of the board’s other meetings, he said, including upcoming working sessions devoted to the budget. Or people could talk to commissioners directly, he noted.

Everything is still on the table, Conan Smith said. The board has a budget that’s recommended by the county administration, he added, and ”that is ripe for public discussion at this point.”

Ronnie Peterson, who had spoken at length during the July working session about his support of Head Start, reiterated his support for the program. It seems to the public that the county has already decided to cut ties with Head Start, he said, but he hoped that commissioners hadn’t made up their minds. There are a lot of other things that the county subsidizes, he said, and he wanted to talk about those, too.

Peterson said he planned to work on the issue of Head Start, as well as funding for outside agencies. The board didn’t have to adopt the budget until the end of the year, he said, and commissioners need to have a proper discussion about it. He indicated his belief that Head Start should stay with the county – and received applause from the audience.

Act 88, Veterans Relief Millages

Several other items on the agenda also related to the 2012-2013 budget. Commissioners were asked to take a final vote to approve levying two taxes in December 2011: (1) 0.05 mills for support of economic development and agriculture; and (2) 0.025 mills to pay for services for indigent veterans. Because the Michigan statutes that authorize these millages predate the state’s Headlee Amendment, they can be approved by the board without a voter referendum. Initial approval and public hearings on these millages occurred at the board’s Sept. 7 meeting.

The indigent veterans millage will cost homeowners about $2.50 for every $100,000 of a home’s taxable value. It’s expected to raise $344,486 – about $11,000 less than in 2010, due to projected decreases of property values. The county first began levying this millage in 2008. Services are administered through the county’s department of veterans affairs.

Outcome: Commissioners approved the resolution to levy the millage for indigent veterans services, with dissent from Alicia Ping (R-District 3). Kristin Judge (D-District 7) was absent.

The millage for economic development and agriculture – authorized under the state’s Act 88 – will cost homeowners $5 for each $100,000 of their home’s taxable value. It was also given initial approval at the board’s Sept. 7 meeting, with dissent from Alicia Ping, Wes Prater and Dan Smith. Nine people spoke during public commentary at that meeting, all supportive of the tax – including several people from organizations that will be funded from it.

The anticipated $688,913 in millage proceeds will be allocated to several local entities: Ann Arbor SPARK ($230,000), SPARK East ($50,000), the county’s dept. of community & economic development ($131,149), Eastern Leaders Group ($100,000), promotion of heritage tourism ($65,264), Food System Economic Partnership (FSEP – $15,000), Washtenaw 4-H ($82,500) and Washtenaw County 4-H Youth Show ($15,000).

On Sept. 21, Dan Smith said he would again be voting against the Act 88 millage, as he had on the initial Sept. 7 vote. He read from the 1978 Headlee Amendment ballot language, which was passed by voters and amended the state constitution. The ballot language stated, in part, that the amendment would “prohibit local government from adding new or increasing existing taxes without voter approval.”

Act 88: Public Commentary

As she had at the board’s Sept. 7 meeting, on Sept. 21 Jennifer Fike – executive director of the Food System Economic Partnership (FSEP) – thanked commissioners for their past support of FSEP, and encouraged them to approve the millage again. FSEP leverages the funds it receives from the millage to attract and support food businesses in this region, she said, and she provided several examples of that.

After her commentary, board chair Conan Smith noted that Fike is also a member of the Michigan Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Outcome: The Act 88 millage was approved on a 7-to-3 vote, with dissent from Alicia Ping (R-District 3), Wes Prater (D-District 4), and Dan Smith (R-District 2). Kristin Judge (D-District 7) was absent.

Support of Regional Transit

At the Sept. 7 meeting, board chair Conan Smith had indicated he would be bringing forward a resolution in support of a regional transportation authority for southeast Michigan. That resolution was on the Sept. 21 agenda.

The context for the resolution is a Sept. 30 southeast Michigan regional summit that Washtenaw County has been invited to participate in for the first time. In past years, the summit included Detroit and the counties of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb. This year, Washtenaw and St. Clair counties will be included, and the topics will focus on regional cooperation and transportation. Smith and Kristin Judge have been participating in the planning stages on Washtenaw County’s behalf.

The resolution cites the benefits and goals of regional transportation, including transit options along the Ann Arbor to Detroit corridor, and connections to Detroit Metro and Willow Run airports. It notes that state Sen. Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor) – who is married to Conan Smith – has introduced legislation as part of a bipartisan package to create a regional transportation authority.

The main resolved clause of the Washtenaw County resolution states:

Be It Therefore Resolved that the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners supports the creation of a new Regional Transportation Authority to enhance interconnectivity among the communities of the southeast Michigan region and urges the participants in the 2011 Southeast Michigan Regional Summit to aggressively pursue work that meets the above outlined goals.

Support of Regional Transit: Commissioner Discussion

Leah Gunn moved to table a vote on the resolution, saying she had a lot of questions about it and it needed a complete discussion. For one, she wanted to know what the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority thought about it. [AATA is leading an effort to develop a countywide transit authority.]

Outcome on motion to table: The motion failed on a 5-5 vote, with support from Leah Gunn (D-District 9), Barbara Bergman (D-District 8), Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6), Alicia Ping (R-District 3) and Wes Prater (D-District 4). Kristin Judge (D-District 7) was absent.

Ronnie Peterson asked Conan Smith to provide more details about the resolution. Smith reviewed that for the past decade, leaders of the counties of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb, and the city of Detroit had been meeting to discuss issues common to that region. This year, Washtenaw and St. Clair counties were also invited, he said, and the focus will be on regional transportation. Each county was asked to bring a resolution of support on that issue. This resolution acknowledges that Washtenaw County supports having a conversation about creating a regional transportation authority, he said.

Barbara Bergman noted that there wasn’t mention of a budget for this in the resolution. In the past, she said, some issues have ended up consuming considerable staff time, and she didn’t want that to be the case. Bergman said she’d consider supporting the resolution if it were amended to indicate there would be no money budgeted for the effort at this point.

C. Smith said he had no intention of spending money on it. He asked if anyone objected to adding Bergman’s suggestion as a friendly amendment – there were no objections.

Peterson clarified with C. Smith that they weren’t joining a consortium at this point, but rather simply supporting the idea of discussing it.

Rolland Sizemore Jr. said he was tired of reading articles in the Detroit papers that don’t mention Washtenaw County. He viewed this as an opportunity to advertise the county while working with other communities, something he said he keeps “harping about.”

Outcome: As part of the consent agenda, the resolution was approved unanimously.

Bonds for Western Washtenaw Recycling

Commissioners were asked to give final approval to authorize issuance of $2.7 million in bonds, backed by the county’s full faith and credit, to help pay for a $3.2 million facility operated by the Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority (WWRA).

The WWRA plans to use $500,000 from its reserves to fund part of the project. The $2.7 million in bonds would be repaid through special assessments on households in participating WWRA communities – the city of Chelsea, Dexter Township, Lima Township, Lyndon Township, and Manchester Township. Bridgewater Township is participating in the WWRA, but will not help fund the new facility. The village of Manchester and Sylvan Township have withdrawn from the WWRA.

County commissioners had been briefed on the proposal at their July 7, 2011 working session. Since then, the WWRA board has approved adding a county commissioner to their board. Rob Turner – a Republican representing District 1, which covers large portions of western Washtenaw – will serve in that role.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously gave final approval to authorize bonds for the WWRA facility.

Accommodation Tax Contract Amended

A contract amendment regarding the distribution of the county’s accommodations tax was on the agenda for final approval by the board.

The county collects a 5% excise tax from hotels, motels, and bed & breakfasts, which is then distributed to the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti convention & visitors bureaus and used to promote tourism and convention business. The contract calls for the county to retain 10% of that tax to defray the cost of collection and enforcement. (Until 2009, the county had only retained 5% for this purpose.) The remaining funds are split, with 75% going to the Ann Arbor Convention & Visitors Bureau, and 25% going to the Ypsilanti Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The contract amendment addresses the process for distributing excess funds that might accumulate from the county’s 10%, if that amount exceeds the expenses required to administer and enforce compliance with the tax. Beginning in May 2013, the county will continue to retain 10% of the tax proceeds, plus 10% of any remaining fund balance. If additional funds accumulate in the fund balance, they are to be returned proportionally to the two convention & visitors bureaus – 75% to Ann Arbor, and 25% to Ypsilanti.

Outcome: The board unanimously gave final approval to the accommodation tax contract amendment.

CUB Contracts Suspended

At their Sept. 21 meeting, commissioners were asked to give final approval to suspend the county’s use of Construction Unity Board (CUB) agreements, pending the outcome of litigation that’s challenging the validity of the state’s Public Act 98.

CUB agreements are negotiated between local trade unions and contractors, and require that contractors who sign the agreement abide by terms of collective bargaining agreements for the duration of the construction project. In return, the trade unions agree that they will not strike, engage in work slow-downs, set up separate work entrances at the job site or take any other adverse action against the contractor.

However, Act 98 of 2011 – which became effective July 19, 2011 – prohibits municipalities from including as a requirement in a construction contract anything that would either require or prohibit contractors from entering into agreements with collective bargaining organizations. The act also prohibits discrimination against contractors based on willingness or non-willingness to enter into such agreements.

The law is being challenged in federal court by the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO and the Genesee, Lapeer, Shiawassee Building and Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO. They are seeking to rule the law invalid, alleging that it is pre-empted by the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution and the National Labor Relations Act.

At the board’s Sept. 7 meeting, when commissioners took initial action on this issue, Yousef Rabhi had proposed two amendments to the resolution: (1) to assert the effectiveness of CUB agreements in ensuring a fair and cooperative workplace; and (2) to affirm that the county would reinstate CUB agreements when it becomes possible to do so. Those amendments had been approved on an 8-2 vote, with dissent from Dan Smith and Alicia Ping.

On Sept. 21, Dan Smith said he still opposed the way that the resolution had been modified – he had objected to the second amendment, which he believed inappropriately commented on the value of CUB agreements. However, he said the No. 1 priority is to look out for taxpayer dollars and to prevent the county from being sued, so he would be supporting the resolution.

Outcome: Commissioners voted unanimously to suspend the county’s use of CUB agreements.

Public Health Budget

On the agenda was a resolution giving final approval to the county’s 2011-2012 public health budget, which includes elimination of a net of nearly seven full-time positions.

The $11,839,496 budget includes a $3,553,575 allocation from the county’s general fund – a net decrease of $583,597 from the previous year. Unlike the county’s general fund budget, which is aligned to the calendar year, the public health budget runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, in sync with the state’s fiscal year.

Though a total of nearly 12 full-time-equivalent positions (a combination of part-time and full-time jobs) will be eliminated in the proposed budget, five positions will be created or reclassified, for a net loss of nearly seven FTEs.

The budget also calls for a raft of new fees and fee increases. Effective Jan. 1, 2012, new fees will be required for a change of restaurant ownership ($250), a temporary food license late fee ($60), a time-of-sale authorization extension fee ($50), and a pollution prevention late reporting fee ($25).

A sampling of the fee increases includes a septic tank only permit (from $52 to $100), a new-build well permit (from $187 to $250), and a swimming pool inspection (from $56 to $150). Cremation permit fees will be increased from $40 to $50.

Outcome: Without discussion, commissioners voted unanimously to give final approval to the county’s public health budget.

CSTS Budget, Director Retires

A resolution for final approval of the 2011-2012 budget for Washtenaw County’s community support & treatment services (CSTS) department was on the Sept. 21 agenda. The budget includes a net loss of five full-time-equivalent (FTE) positions.

The proposed $26,838,557 CSTS budget calls for eliminating seven FTEs and putting one position on hold/vacant status, but creating three new FTE positions, for a net loss of five FTEs. In addition, 19 FTE positions will be reclassified. Though CSTS is a county department employing about 300 people, it receives 98.8% of its funding from the Washtenaw Community Health Organization, a partnership between the county and the University of Michigan Health System. Commissioners were briefed on a reorganization of the WCHO at a July 7, 2011 working session. The changes are aimed at limiting the county’s financial liabilities.

The WCHO is an entity that receives state and federal funding to provide services for people with serious mental illness, developmental disabilities and substance abuse disorders. At this point, WCHO “leases” its employees from the county, and contracts for services through CSTS.

The CSTS budget runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, in sync with the state’s fiscal year. The county operates on a calendar year cycle.

Outcome: Without discussion, commissioners unanimously supported the resolution giving final approval to the CTST budget.

Donna Sabourin

Donna Sabourin, executive director of the county’s community support & treatment services (CSTS) department, who’s retiring after working for the county for 20 years.

CSTS executive director Donna Sabourin, who is retiring after working for the county for 20 years, was acknowledged at the Sept. 21 meeting. She’s been executive director of CSTS since 2002. The board approved a resolution of appreciation in her honor. [.pdf of resolution of appreciation] Commissioner Barbara Bergman said it was a sad pleasure to present the resolution, noting that she and Sabourin had worked closely together for many years.

Sabourin spoke briefly, saying there’s never been a day when she hasn’t felt proud to be a county employee. She thanked the board for their continued commitment to the services provided by CSTS. Even the hardest decisions that commissioners had made were done with compassion and concern, she said. Sabourin also thanked CSTS employees, and wished them well as they meet the challenges of the coming years. She said she felt tremendous gratitude for her time with the county.

Sabourin told The Chronicle that after her retirement, she plans to work managing vendors at the Town Peddler Craft & Antique Mall in Livonia.

Insurance Providers Selected

Commissioners were asked to accept proposed quotes for insurance coverage in seven areas, totaling $1,021,275 in premiums.

The Arthur J. Gallagher Insurance Agency has proposed obtaining coverage from several providers for the areas of: (1) property coverage, including boiler and machinery – Chubb Insurance Co.; (2) general liability, law enforcement liability, public officials liability, and auto liability – Genesis Insurance Co.; (3) crime – Great American Insurance Co.; (4) fiduciary liability – Chubb Insurance Co.; (5) lawyers professional liability – Underwriters at Lloyd’s London; (6) judicial liability – Underwriters at Lloyd’s London; and (7) medical professional – Hudson Insurance Co.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to accept the proposed insurance quotes.


In an item added late to the agenda, board chair Conan Smith moved two sets of appointments:

  • Republican Melody Gable and Democrat Ulla Roth to the county board of canvassers, both for four-year terms starting Nov. 1, 2011.
  • Republican Barbara Johnson and Democrats Rachel Bendit and Rose Toth to the county jury board. Johnson’s term expires April 30, 2017. Terms for Bendit and Toth also expire April 30, but in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

Outcome: Without discussion, commissioners unanimously approved the appointments.

Misc. Public Commentary

In addition to the speakers reported above, Thomas Partridge spoke at three of the four opportunities for public commentary during the evening. Saying he advocated for those who were affected by decreased services, Partridge urged commissioners to develop a plan to raise revenues by seeking grants, working to expand the number of entertainment venues in the county, and asking the wealthiest individuals and businesses in the county – including football and basketball fans – to contribute. Eight of the board’s 11 commissioners are Democrats, he noted, but no one had put forward a plan to raise revenues. He called on the board to pass a resolution asking employers locally, in the state and nationwide to hire more workers here, rather than expanding in places like China and India.

Partridge also urged commissioners to fund co-ops that would providing living spaces and employment for people in need, and he argued that a countywide drug policy is needed to combat increased property crimes and robberies caused by people using illegal drugs, including marijuana. None of the law enforcement agencies are handling this, he said, not even the sheriff’s office.

Partridge also criticized Barbara Bergman and Leah Gunn – two of the four commissioners who represent Ann Arbor district – calling them puppets of mayor John Hieftje.

Both of the other two Ann Arbor commissioners responded, somewhat indirectly, to Partridge’s final comments. Yousef Rabhi said he’d recently been interviewed by the Ann Arbor Observer for an article that the publication is doing on Bergman and Gunn. Both have announced plans not to seek re-election in 2012. He said he’d been skeptical when he came on the board – Rabhi was first elected in November 2010 – but they are phenomenal commissioners and strong supporters of human services.

Conan Smith joked that Bergman and Gunn are more like the mayor’s marionettes.

Present: Barbara Levin Bergman, Leah Gunn, Ronnie Peterson, Alicia Ping, Wes Prater, Yousef Rabhi, Rolland Sizemore Jr., Dan Smith, Conan Smith, and Rob Turner.

Absent: Kristin Judge.

Next regular board meeting: Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011 at 6:30 p.m. at the county administration building, 220 N. Main St. in Ann Arbor. The Ways & Means Committee meets first, followed immediately by the regular board meeting. [confirm date] (Though the agenda states that the regular board meeting begins at 6:45 p.m., it usually starts much later – times vary depending on what’s on the agenda.) Public comment sessions are held at the beginning and end of each meeting.

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  1. September 26, 2011 at 3:56 pm | permalink

    For the people who will not read the linked PDF’s to this article, I encourage you to please read more about the contract the Humane Society of Huron Valley has with the county.

    The contract with the County is exactly that, a contract. It is not “funding,”– not a gift, nor a grant. It is a service agreement to provide state-mandated County services for animals that are:
    - stray and abandoned
    - victims of cruelty whose owners are being prosecuted
    - bite/rabies quarantined
    - dogs in the process of being deemed dangerous by the courts
    - animals otherwise brought to HSHV for legal reasons

    In most counties (including, Jackson, Monroe, Livingston, Oakland and Macomb) there are county-run animal control facilities and completely separate humane societies because the humane societies don’t typically care for the types of animals mentioned above. Rather, the humane societies focus on prevention, education, and animals relinquished by their owners.

    In Washtenaw County, HSHV serves both functions. Instead of Washtenaw County government running its own animal control facility, they contract with HSHV, saving them immense expense and not a small amount of headaches.

    Last year, stray and abandoned animals made up over 4,500 of the 6,700 total cared for at HSHV.

    Please go to and read more.

  2. September 26, 2011 at 6:06 pm | permalink

    A previous story from March 2010 in the Chronicle is instructive: [link] with reference to the county’s obligations under the Dog Law of 1919:

    Washtenaw County meets that obligation through its contract with the Humane Society of Huron Valley. The value of that contract in 2007 was $200,000, which has increased by $100,000 each year to its current level of $500,000. No further increases of this kind are planned, because the amount is now in alignment with what HSHV estimated to be its actual cost of providing the service to the county [.pdf of HSHV analysis from 2006]. At the Dec. 2, 2009 meeting of the board of commissioners, Tanya Hilgendorf, HSHV’s executive director, had extended her thanks to the county for the funding. She also told commissioners that if the county were to provide that service independently, it would cost an estimated $1.6 million.

  3. By Crazymad711
    September 27, 2011 at 4:22 pm | permalink

    The proposal was pulled but not dead yet. “McDaniel said she hopes to bring the reorganization proposal back to the board for consideration after commissioners are more comfortable with it” So in other words you plan on pushing it through when no one is looking. I am willing to bet that this money gets put under the $500,000 misc item in the budget, lots of hidden cost there. Why should anybody in a NON Union position get paid more money for doing more work when UNION staff has been doing that for years. I have constantly worked more than my position, often taking on 50% or more of other duties when staff was laid off. There was never a mention of extra pay for that work, we were expected to do it or GET FIRED. So 4 people are covering the job of ONE, and they need to be paid more at the same time UNION employees have agreed to give up a large percentage of their check to help with the county shortfall. All of these employees already make over $100,000 and if their pay is over $125,000 the money will go into their retirement.
    I have worked for the County for over 20 years, the cuts to take place in 2012 will take my income from a huge $1,640 take home a month to approximately $1,200 a month (the same pay as I made in 2002) and that money is now to be given to people who take home approximately $5000 a month.
    Every county job as the statement “other duties as assigned” written into its description. Why in the world should these people get paid more for doing more work, when non-union staff have been covering 2 or 3 positions that have been cut and merged into their job description over and over. Local 2733 have lost over half of its members due to cuts, the union has given more and more while those in higher positions continue to get more money. How insulting to the working class. . If you want to spend $75,000 dollars, use that money to increase the beds in the shelter since I am sure some county employees will be living there come 2012. I forgot, the county just cut that money out too so now their will be no warming shelters for homeless people. Maybe they can stay inside the admistration building, Verna can pay for the coffee.