County Postpones Action on Road Millage

Also: Lansing lobbyist, Sylvan Township contract

Washenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Oct. 5, 2011): The main discussion at Wednesday’s board meeting focused on a proposal for countywide road repair – and the possible mechanism to fund it.

Steve Powers, Verna McDaniel

Ann Arbor city administrator Steve Powers talks with Washtenaw County administrator Verna McDaniel before the Oct. 5 meeting of the county board of commissioners. Powers, who started his job in mid-September and was formerly a Marquette County administrator, told the board he looked forward to building more collaborative efforts between the city and county. (Photos by the writer.)

The proposal debated by the board came from the Washtenaw County road commission. Rob Turner (R-District 1) recommended indefinite postponement. He objected to the idea of levying a millage without voter approval – an action that road commissioners believe is possible under a 1909 law. It’s still on the books but that hasn’t been used in decades.

Ultimately, the board voted to postpone action until their Dec. 7 meeting. The next evening – on Thursday, Oct. 6 – they held a working session on the issue.

In other business, the board gave initial approval to a contract with Sylvan Township, related to its bond repayment schedule, which the township is struggling to meet. The county will be tapping its reserves to help the township cover the bond payments, but the deal is contingent on township voters passing a 4.75 mill, 20-year tax that’s on the November 2011 ballot.

The board also took an initial vote to create a new management position and hire Greg Dill into that job – as county infrastructure management director. The job is part of a broader reorganization of county administration, which hasn’t yet been approved by the board.

Accolades were threaded throughout the meeting, as the county handed out its annual Environmental Excellence Awards to several local organizations. Praise was also served up to Lansing lobbyist Kirk Profit for his work on the county’s behalf. That praise included initial approval of a two-year contract renewal for Governmental Consultant Services Inc. – Profit is a director of the Lansing-based firm.

The board also said an official farewell to Kristin Judge, a Democrat from District 7 who resigned her seat, and was attending her last board meeting.

Introduction: Ann Arbor City Administrator

At the start of Wednesday’s meeting, county administrator Verna McDaniel introduced her counterpart at the city of Ann Arbor, Steve Powers, who started the job as city administrator on Sept. 15. Powers told commissioners that it felt good to be back at a county meeting – he’d spent most of his career in county government, including the past 15 years as county administrator in Marquette County.

Powers said that McDaniel, as county administrator, was one of the first people he had wanted to get to know when he came to town. He came from a place where cooperation was a necessity, and it’s clearly a necessity in Washtenaw County too, he said. Powers cited several examples of how cooperation is already taking place between the city of Ann Arbor and the county, including police dispatch operations, the joint office of community & economic development, and natural areas preservation. He said he looked forward to building on those efforts, to better serve citizens and manage the tax dollars entrusted to local government.

Road Repair Millage?

The item on Wednesday’s agenda that received the most discussion related to a county road repair plan – and the potential for a millage to fund it. The idea of a millage was put forward by the Washtenaw County road commission.

The board had initially discussed this issue at its Sept. 8 working session, and it was expected to be on the agenda for the Sept. 20 meeting. But it wasn’t until Sept. 23 that the road commission formally submitted its plan to the county clerk’s office outlining road improvements. The plan was then brought forward as an item of discussion on Oct. 5. However, no resolution related to the topic was proposed, and no member of the road commission attended Wednesday’s meeting.

At issue is how the board should respond to the road commission’s plan. One option would be to levy an 0.6 mill tax, which is now estimated to raise $8.7 million for a raft of road improvement projects countywide. [.pdf of projects list] [.pdf of map showing project locations] Road commissioners believe the millage could be levied under Public Act 283 of 1909. Because that act pre-dates the state’s Headlee Amendment, it could be levied by the board and would not require voter approval.

Wes Prater began the discussion by proposing that the board table the item. It’s important to communicate what’s happening with the road commission, he said, and that discussion needs to take place at a public meeting before the board takes action.

It’s ultimately the county’s responsibility to provide funding for roads, Prater said. Yet it’s been nearly two years since the board met with the road commission to talk about it. The road commission is getting the same amount of state funding as it did in 2000, Prater said. It’s struggling like everyone else, and many county roads and bridges are in bad shape. This needs to be discussed, he concluded.

Alicia Ping observed that the information given to the board was different than what some communities have received. At least one community had been told that all the millage proceeds collected from their community would be spent on projects there, but it turned out that no projects on the final list were located there, she said. [Ping did not specify which municipality she was referring to.]

There’s no question that some county roads need to be fixed, Ping said, but residents should be the ones voting on a millage.

Barbara Bergman said if she’s going to tax citizens and must choose between funding services for the homeless and children, for example, or filling potholes, then the choice was clear to her. She couldn’t support a millage for roads.

Ronnie Peterson separated out two issues: Communication with the road commission, and funding for county roads. The road commission has presented a plan, and now it’s up to the board to decide how to proceed, he said. They should have a dialogue in the public eye, he said. Finding a funding mechanism should come after a report on the condition of the roads, Peterson said.

Board chair Conan Smith said there’d been some back and forth about setting up a meeting with road commissioners, and he apologized for not following up on it. Regardless of the millage issue, the board needs to start working more closely with the road commissioners, he said.

Yousef Rabhi, Rob Turner

From left: Commissioners Yousef Rabhi (D-District 11) and Rob Turner (R-District 1).

Rob Turner, who serves as the board’s liaison to the road commission, thanked Smith for apologizing. There’s been some miscommunication and misunderstanding, he said. The board needs to make time to meet with the road commissioners, and road commissioners have expressed the desire to do that. The board needs to hear about the conditions of county roads and bridges, and future funding needs.

However, Turner said, since news about the possible millage has spread, he’s heard from people of all walks of life who are very concerned that a millage might be levied without voter approval. There are also split opinions among officials of local townships, he said.

Turner said he supports road repair, but doesn’t support this approach to funding it. He then moved to postpone the road commission’s proposal indefinitely, and to encourage the road commission to work toward funding the projects with a voter-approved millage or millages.

Prater responded by saying Turner was jumping the gun – the board hadn’t yet discussed the proposal with the road commission. Postponing action until a specific date was fine, Prater added, but he didn’t support getting rid of the proposal completely.

Dan Smith agreed that indefinite postponement was premature. He said he had planned to suggest postponing it until the board’s Nov. 2 meeting.

Conan Smith asked a procedural question: Didn’t the board have to vote the proposal up or down? Curtis Hedger, the county’s corporation counsel, replied that this is the first time a county has considered this particular law in roughly 40 years, so in some ways they’re winging it. Hedger’s reading of the law is that after the road improvement plan is presented to the board, commissioners can do whatever they want – approve it, reject it, pick only certain projects out of the list and levy a lower amount to cover the costs of those projects, or find another funding source.

Hedger noted that if the board delays action much longer, the county wouldn’t be able to include the levy on the December tax bills – assuming they wanted to levy the millage this year.

Kristin Judge said she disagreed with Turner. It’s important to address this now, she said. The board is an oversight body for the road commission – the board doesn’t control the road commission’s budget, but it does appoint the road commissioners, she noted. In her last newsletter, Judge said, she conducted a poll about the millage. Even constituents who are generally anti-tax seemed supportive of it, she said. Good roads are key to economic development, but the state isn’t providing sufficient funding. “To me, it’s an infrastructure question,” she said.

She felt the county could push the envelope on this issue. Judge also expressed frustration that the road commissioners hadn’t been scheduled for a meeting with the county board so far. She said she knew the road commissioners had wanted to come, but they hadn’t been put on an agenda – that’s an issue, she said. She would not support indefinite postponement.

Bergman said roads might be the county’s responsibility, but it’s yet another unfunded mandate from the state.

Turner said he appreciated Judge’s comments and he also wants the roads maintained. But this “ancient law” isn’t the way to do it. He felt it would be wrong to bring road commissioners to a meeting if he had no intention of supporting a millage. If the road commission comes with a more viable alternative – that he might vote for – then that’s fine.

Judge countered that it’s important to have this debate in public – and her board colleagues shouldn’t assume that they know the outcome of a vote. They shouldn’t stand in the way of a public debate on an issue of such importance to residents.

Dan Smith asked about procedure – is postponing indefinitely just another way of voting no? Hedger replied that there wasn’t a main motion to vote on. The agenda item had been a discussion point, not a resolution. The county administration didn’t want to presume to know what the board would want to do, he said, “so it’s now in your lap.” The motion to postpone indefinitely would have the effect of killing it, Hedger said. If commissioners vote to do that, the issue could be reconsidered in the future if it’s brought forward by someone on the prevailing side of the vote, he said.

After some additional commentary by Peterson, who supported having a public discussion with the road commission, Prater moved to “call the question” – a procedural move that forces a vote.

Outcome on Turner’s motion to postpone indefinitely: The motion was rejected on a 3-7 vote, with support only from Turner, Barbara Bergman (D-District 8) and Conan Smith (D-District 10). Leah Gunn (D-District 9) was absent.

At that point, Rolland Sizemore Jr. suspended discussion to handle other items on the agenda, including the Environmental Excellence Awards – several people were on hand to accept those awards, and had been waiting while the board conducted other business.

Later in the meeting, when the discussion resumed, Dan Smith moved to postpone the item until the board’s Dec. 7 meeting, and that it be scheduled as the topic of a working session at some point before that date.

Yousef Rabhi, who chairs the board’s working session, said he had tentatively scheduled the road commission for the Oct. 6 working session, pending the outcome of the board’s discussion on Wednesday. His only question about the Dec. 7 date is whether it’s too late for putting a millage on the December tax bill, if that’s what the board decides to do.

Dan Smith said they needed to think through the issue, indicating that they shouldn’t rush to make a decision based on the timing of the tax bill.

Peterson said he wished Dan Smith had made that proposal an hour ago – it would have saved the board some time. And if there’s an intent to kill the proposal on Dec. 7, that should be stated, he said. It’s just a report, he said, and the board needs to deal with it.

Sizemore expressed some reluctance to hold the working session so soon. He said he wanted to get some documents under the Freedom of Information Act before meeting with the road commission.

At that, Prater called the question.

Outcome: The motion to postpone the road commission proposal until Dec. 7 passed on a 9-1 vote, with dissent from Alicia Ping (R-District 3). Leah Gunn (D-District 9) was absent.

Later in the meeting, Sizemore urged anyone who was watching the meeting to contact the road commission and give them input. He provided the web address and phone number: and 734-761-1500.

The topic was on the agenda for the Oct. 6 working session, which was attended by road commissioner Ken Schwartz and Roy Townsend, the road commission’s director of engineering.

Sylvan Township Bond Repayment Contract

At Wednesday’s meeting, commissioners were asked to give initial approval to a contract with Sylvan Township related to the township’s bond repayment schedule. The township has been struggling to make payments on $12.5 million in bonds issued in 2001 to build a water and wastewater treatment plant intended to serve future development. The township expected that connection fees would cover payments for the bond, which is backed by the county’s full faith and credit. But the development never materialized. [More extensive background on the situation is provided in a staff memo that was part of the board's packet of material for the Oct. 3 meeting.]

Sylvan Township – located west of Ann Arbor, near Chelsea – is now facing default on its bond payment in May 2012, which the county will need to cover. The township board voted to put a proposal for a 4.75 mill, 20-year tax on the November 2011 ballot for township residents, with proceeds to pay a portion of the bond payments.

The millage proceeds alone would not be sufficient to cover the entire cost of the bond payments, and the county would need to tap its own capital reserves to cover the remaining amount. After the entire bond is repaid, the millage proceeds would continue to be used to repay the county to cover the amount used from its capital reserves, as well as interest. The millage proceeds would also be used to repay the county treasurer’s office, which advanced about $1.2 million to the township in 2007 and 2008 related to this project.

The contract between the county and township is contingent on voters passing the 4.75 mill tax. If the millage fails and the township defaults, the county could file suit against the township for breach of contract in failing to meet its debt repayment obligation, according to a staff memo. The county would also need to make the bond payments, to avoid having its bond rating negatively affected.

Sylvan Township Bond Repayment Contract: Commissioner Discussion

This issue has been discussed several times over the past year, most recently in a report by commissioner Rob Turner at the board’s Sept. 7, 2011 meeting. Turner represents District 1 on the county’s west side, which includes Sylvan Township.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Yousef Rabhi asked how much the county would be paying on an annual basis. Curtis Hedger, the county’s corporation counsel, pointed Rabhi to supplemental materials provided at the meeting, which laid out the repayment schedule. Sylvan Township’s portion of the bon payments – using millage proceeds – start at $853,860 in 2012, with the county contributing $118,498. The estimates for county payments vary, reaching a high $262,414 in 2023. The bond will be repaid in 2026. For five years after that, all millage proceeds will be paid directly to the county, to repay the county’s contribution from previous years.

Hedger said the estimates for millage proceeds were calculated for the worst-case scenario – that is, for zero percent growth in property value.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously gave initial approval to the contract with Sylvan Township, contingent on township residents passing a 20-year, 4.75 mill tax in November. A final vote on the resolution is expected at the board’s Oct. 19 meeting.

Contract Renewal for Lansing Lobbyist

Commissioners were asked to give initial approval to renew a two-year contract with Governmental Consultant Services Inc., a Lansing-based lobbying firm. The contract would run from  Nov. 1, 2011 through Oct. 31, 2013 at $54,250 per year. That’s the same rate that the county currently pays, and is already built into the proposed 2012-2013 budget. [.pdf of draft contract]

GCSI lobbyist Kirk Profit attended Wednesday’s meeting. He and his colleagues most recently gave a formal update to the board at their March 2, 2011 meeting. GCSI provides lobbying services at the state level for several local units of government, including the city of Ann Arbor.

County administrator Verna McDaniel noted that commissioners had been given a list of issues that GCSI had worked on for the county, and said that GCSI staff have been very helpful and responsive. From the staff memo recommending GCSI’s contract renewal:

GCSI has, on numerous occasions, been able to cut through the red tape and arrange for County officials to meet with various hard to reach members of State government. In addition, GCSI has on many occasions advocated the County’s position on pending legislation with key State lawmakers. GCSI also keeps the Board of Commissioners and key County Administrative personnel periodically apprised of developing legislation that could positively or adversely affect County government. This early notification permits the County to develop a strategy to either promote or oppose the proposed legislation.

Contract Renewal for Lansing Lobbyist: Commissioner Discussion

Several commissioners praised GCSI and Profit specifically. Conan Smith said Profit has done yeoman’s work over the last year, on issues ranging from state revenue-sharing to 80/20 legislation [requiring public employees to pay 20% of their health care costs, effective Jan. 1, 2012, or to cap the amount that local governments would pay as premiums for employees] to threats against Act 88, which allows the county to levy an economic development millage without voter approval. Smith hoped Profit would be able to bring even more benefits to the county in future years.

Kirk Profit

Kirk Profit, a director with Governmental Consultant Services Inc., a Lansing lobbying firm, attended the Oct. 3 county board meeting. Commissioners gave initial approval to renew GCSI's contract with the county.

Barbara Bergman recalled that when this contract first came up for consideration years ago, she questioned whether the county would get any value out of it. “That was not the smartest question I ever asked,” she said.

Kristin Judge also thanked Profit, and said she hoped someday the county would consider hiring a lobbyist at the federal level, too. She was especially grateful for his work in helping secure funding for an improvement project at Lakeside Park on Ford Lake, which included building a new boathouse.

Wes Prater quipped that with all the praise Profit was getting, he must not actually be on the payroll. Profit replied that GCSI appreciated the compensation provided by the county. Prater added that Profit has always been a hard worker, now and when Profit had been a state legislator.

Conan Smith noted that Profit also has worked on behalf of the county parks & recreation department. He asked for an update on pending state grants for parks-related projects.

Profit began by praising parks & rec staff and its director Bob Tetens, crediting them for pushing for collaborative efforts that have been funded in the past. That included the $500,000 in state funding received for the Ford Lake project, in partnership with Eastern Michigan University.

This year, Profit said, even though there’s not a lot of money coming out of the state, Washtenaw County is again well-positioned to receive funding from the state Dept. of Natural Resources trust fund. He said that state Sen. Rebekah Warren (D-District 18) – who is married to Conan Smith – and state Rep. David Rutledge (D-District 54) have been helpful, as have DNR staff. Profit noted that Gary Owen, DNR’s legislative liaison, grew up in this area.

He mentioned that the $300,000 requested from the DNR trust fund for the proposed Ann Arbor skatepark scored well, and now they’re working with the trust fund board to ensure that the full amount gets awarded. [The county parks & recreation commission approved $400,000 in matching funds for the skatepark, which is proposed for city-owned land at Veterans Memorial Park in Ann Arbor. The $300,000 state grant would be counted toward meeting that match.]

Profit also cited collaboration between the city of Ypsilanti and the county parks & rec department on a $300,000 DNR grant for Rutherford Pool, calling it a recreational opportunity in an urban setting that’s unmatched in this region. He praised the collaborative efforts of the county, and thanked commissioners for their support.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously gave initial approval to the GCSI contract renewal. A final vote is expected at their Oct. 19 meeting.

Infrastructure Manager

On the agenda was a resolution to authorize hiring Greg Dill to the new position of county infrastructure management director, with a salary of $116,758. The resolution also approved the creation of that post, with responsibility for information systems and technology, as well as management of the county’s buildings and other facilities. Some of those duties were previously assigned to the county’s information & technology manager, a position that was eliminated following the departure of James McFarlane earlier this year.

Dill has been director of administrative operations for the sheriff’s office, but previously worked for five years in facilities management for the county. Dill attended Wednesday’s meeting but was not asked to address the board formally.

The creation of this new job and Dill’s appointment to it were originally on the agenda for the board’s Sept. 21, 2011 meeting. However, that item and a proposed reorganization of county administration were pulled from the agenda at that meeting. The reorganization would have replaced the deputy administrator position by giving additional responsibilities to four managers, including Dill, paying them annual stipends of $15,000 each in addition to their salaries. Some commissioners had concerns over the stipend, and the proposed reorganization has not yet been reintroduced.

Infrastructure Manager: Commissioner Discussion

Wes Prater asked whether the job description could be altered after board approval. County administrator Verna McDaniel said it’s quite easy to do that and it can be handled administratively, as long as they’re not changing the salary rate.

Rolland Sizemore Jr. said he had a problem with the way salaries are presented for new positions. There’s often just a range given, he said, but it would be better to have the exact amount. He asked that staff provide information over the past two years indicating the salary ranges that the board has approved for new hires, and the actual salary that’s been set for those jobs. It might be time to tighten up what the county pays, he said.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously gave initial approval to create the position of infrastructure manager and hire Greg Dill for that job. A final vote is expected on Oct. 19.

Appointment to Natural Areas Advisory Group

On the agenda was a resolution appointing Catherine Riseng to the natural areas technical advisory committee (NATAC), which advises the county parks & recreation commission regarding its natural areas preservation program (NAPP). Her appointment was recommended by the county parks & recreation commission, to fill a seat previously held by Mike Wiley. She’ll serve the remainder of a two-year term, which expires on Dec. 31, 2012.

Riseng is an aquatic ecologist researcher at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment. She also is vice chair of the city of Ann Arbor’s greenbelt advisory commission. [.pdf of Riseng's cover letter and resume] Other NATAC members include: Rane Curl, Bob Grese, David Lutton, Tony Reznicek, John Russell, and Sylvia Taylor.

NAPP is funded by a 10-year countywide millage that was first approved by voters in 2000 and renewed in 2010 at 0.2409 mills.

Outcome: Without discussion, commissioners unanimously approved the appointment of Catherine Riseng to NATAC.

Environmental Excellence Awards

At Wednesday’s meeting, commissioners passed a resolution honoring winners of the county’s 2011 Environmental Excellence awards, now in its 14th year. The awards were handed out to representatives of the winning organizations by Steve Manville of the county’s environmental health department, and Janis Bobrin, water resources commissioner.

The overall Environmental Excellence Award went to the Chrysler Group LLC for the Chrysler Proving Grounds in Chelsea, in recognition of its waste reduction and recycling program, its model stormwater and erosion control system involving native plants, and its efforts to keep toxic materials out of the waste stream.

The Washtenaw County Parks & Recreation Commission was given the Excellence in Water Quality Protection Award for its innovative stormwater management, use of native plants in landscaping, and pollution prevention. An honorable mention in this category was awarded to Horiba Instruments Inc.

The Leslie Science and Nature Center of Ann Arbor received the Excellence in Waste Reduction and Recycling Award for its extensive recycling program, purchasing of recycled products, and educating the public in waste reduction and conservation ethics. And ITC Holdings Inc. of Ann Arbor received the Excellence in Pollution Prevention Award for reducing the use of toxic substances and preventing pollution before it is produced.

After the presentation, several commissioners praised the winners. Yousef Rabhi said environmental quality is important, and it’s important to have local institutions like these at the forefront of environmental protection. He noted that during the presentation he’d received a text message from his girlfriend, Christine Muscat, an environmental compliance analyst with Con-way Freight in Ann Arbor. She was teasing Rabhi about the fact that her employer’s environmental efforts hadn’t been mentioned. Rabhi gave Conway and his girlfriend a shout-out for their work.

Conan Smith said that places that take care of the environment attract the best talent. It’s part of Washtenaw County’s culture, he said, telling the organizations that “you’re really the models of the future of our economy.”

Smith and other commissioners also thanked Bobrin and her staff for their efforts in environmental protection, praising the innovative approach they took to the work.

Ann Arbor Drain Projects

Drain projects in Ann Arbor – including two related to the East Stadium bridge reconstruction project – were given initial approval by commissioners at Wednesday’s meeting.

The county water resources commissioner’s office was asked by the city of Ann Arbor to design and build stormwater control measures for the bridges along Stadium Boulevard between Kipke and South Industrial, according to a staff memo. The Allen Creek East Stadium bridges drain project and the Malletts Creek East Stadium bridges drain project will require in total no more than $415,000 for bonds issued with the county’s full faith and credit. The bonds will be repaid through special assessments on property in the drain district for this project.

Separately, county commissioners gave initial approval to an Allen Creek drain project in Ann Arbor. The project involves installing an underground infiltration system on the west side of the Veterans Park Ice Arena and putting in a rain garden near the entrance of the ice arena on the east side of the building. Rain gardens will also be installed next to Fire Station #3 at 2130 Jackson Ave., and trees will be planted in the city right-of-way throughout neighborhoods on the city’s west side.

The Allen Creek project had been previously approved by the board at its July 2011 meeting, as one of several drain projects authorized at that time. The overall cost of the projects approved then is now expected to be $1.45 million less than originally estimated. However, the $330,000 approved for the Allen Creek project turned out to be an underestimate – that project is now expected to cost up to an additional $65,000. That $65,000 – covered by bonds issued with the county’s full faith and credit – was the amount commissioners were asked to approve at Wednesday’s meeting.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously approved the drain projects on an initial vote. A final vote is expected on Oct. 19.

Farewell to Kristin Judge

It’s the board’s custom to award a resolution of appreciation to commissioners when they leave the board. On Wednesday, Kristin Judge, a Democrat who represents District 7, received such a resolution. It was her last regular board meeting before her resignation, which took effect on Oct. 9. She announced her decision to step down on Sept. 30, citing potential conflicts with a job she recently accepted with the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center (MS-ISAC).

After receiving a framed copy of the resolution, Judge got a standing ovation from her board colleagues and staff, and several commissioners praised her work on the board. Conan Smith (D-District 10) described her as a “force of nature,” while Rob Turner (R-District 1) cited her energy, passion, and compassion. Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) called Judge ”an outstanding public servant – and I have not said that about many people in my career.”

Ronnie Peterson, Conan Smith, Kristin Judge, Wes Prater

From left: Commissioners Ronnie Peterson, Conan Smith, Kristin Judge, Wes Prater.

Saying there were too many people to thank individually, Judge said she’s loved every minute of her time on the board. [She was first elected in 2008, then re-elected in 2010.] One of her goals, she said, has been to make people understand that government really works, and that most people in government are good. In her new job she’ll work with local and state governments nationwide, she said, helping address online security threats.

Much of Judge’s recent work has been related to cyber-security issues. She led the formation of the Washtenaw County Cyber Citizenship Coalition, and organized the Oct. 7 Michigan Cyber Summit, a day-long event that served as the kickoff for National Cyber Security Awareness Month. Keynote speakers included Janet Napolitano, secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. In conjunction with that event, at Wednesday’s meeting the board also passed a resolution declaring October as cyber security awareness month in Washtenaw County.

The county has announced the process for filling the vacant District 7 seat, which will be an appointment made by the board of commissioners. The deadline to apply is Wednesday, Oct. 12 at 5 p.m., and the board is expected to make a decision at its Oct. 19 meeting.

The board must make an appointment within 30 days of a resignation, for a commissioner to serve until special elections are held. There will be a Feb. 28, 2012 primary for that seat, followed by a May 2012 special general election. The winner of that election would serve a truncated term for the current District 7, through 2012. Redistricting of the county board that takes effect in 2013 will reduce the number of districts in the county from 11 to 9 – candidates for the new districts will compete in an Aug. 7 primary and November general election.

Upcoming Working Sessions

The topic of working sessions emerged at several points during Wednesday’s meeting.

After the discussion about a potential road repair millage, Rolland Sizemore Jr. told his fellow commissioners that he wanted to schedule a working session to discuss all possible millages that might be coming in the future. He said he’s heard rumors that some commissioners want to see a countywide millage to fund human services. There’s also the likelihood that a countywide transportation millage might be floated. Why not put them all on the table to get a better overall sense of what’s happening? he said.

Ronnie Peterson said he hoped that the road repair millage would be the topic of a working session, before other possible millages get discussed. Sizemore noted that a working session on the road millage was set for the following evening.

Later in the meeting, Yousef Rabhi – who as chair of the working sessions sets those agendas – reported that the Oct. 6 working session would include the possible road millage, as well as an update on bond ratings and the county’s fiscal scorecard. A special budget-related working session will be held on Thursday, Oct. 13, he said. Topics will include an update on the community’s food and housing needs, and a discussion of the proposed 2012-2013 budget for nonprofit and other outside agency funding.

Peterson questioned why commissioners needed an update on food and housing needs. They should focus on budget items, he said. Rabhi indicated that the update, which had been requested by Barbara Bergman, would be brief.

Conan Smith observed that the community’s food and housing needs provide a context for making budget decisions, particularly for funding nonprofits that provide food and housing services.

Peterson again expressed concern, saying he hoped the working sessions weren’t going to be stacked with non-budget items. If so, he wouldn’t attend. The budget for funding outside agencies is over $1 million, he noted. They had a lot to discuss, and commissioners shouldn’t be burnt out on other topics before they get the chance to address the budget. The budget is their biggest responsibility, he said. [Earlier in the meeting, the board had voted to postpone the agenda item on a discussion of the budget until their Oct. 19 meeting.]

Bergman said she certainly wanted a complete discussion about outside agency funding, but she agreed with Conan Smith – the update on food and housing would provide context.

Rabhi then highlighted topics for other upcoming working sessions, noting that topics reflect items that commissioners had previously expressed interest in. On Thursday, Oct. 20, the board will hear from Pat Horne McGee, director of Washtenaw Head Start. [The county administration has proposed relinquishing support for the program, and previously reviewed that option at a July 21, 2011 working session.] Other topics for Oct. 20 include professional services contracts and the county’s Voluntary Employee Benefits Association (VEBA) trust. A Nov. 3 working session will focus on the 2012-2013 budget.

Public Commentary: Salem Twp. Historic District

The only speaker during the four opportunities for public commentary was Terry Cwik, president of the Salem Area Historical Society. He said the topic he wanted to address – creation of an historic district for Jarvis Stone School, the Dickerson Barn and associated property – wasn’t on the agenda that night. It would likely come up at the board’s Oct. 19 meeting, but he couldn’t attend then. The school is owned by the historical society, he said, and a study committee has been working on a proposal for the board to review.

Cwik said the one-room schoolhouse on North Territorial was built in 1857 and in continuous use until 1967. The historical society now uses the school as its headquarters, he said. The site is a worthy candidate for designation as an historic district, he said, and would be the second one in Salem Township. [The current historical district is Conant Farm on Napier Road.]

Kristin Judge said she’d been to the school, and called it a gem in the community. Conan Smith expressed confidence that the historic district designation would eventually be approved, and noted that it was located just a couple of miles from where he’d grown up. He also joked that it was special because commissioners Barbara Bergman and Wes Prater had been part of the school’s first graduating class. Prater pointed out that Smith was incorrect: “It was the second,” Prater quipped.

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

Absent: Leah Gunn.

Next regular board meeting: Wednesday, Oct. 19, 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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