Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Nov. 20, 2013): After a final debate, commissioners adopted the 2014-2017 general fund budget, an unprecedented long-term document that some commissioners believe will improve strategic investments and organizational stability.
At their Nov. 20 meeting, commissioners made several amendments, but did not substantively change the originally proposed budget submitted by county administrator Verna McDaniel in early October. Initial approval had been given during a six-hour meeting on Nov. 6, 2013. The Nov. 20 meeting lasted about two-and-a-half hours.
The vote was 7-1, with dissent from Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) – though he cited three elements of the budget that he wanted to support: the community impact statements, outside agency funding, and position modifications. Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) was absent. Dan Smith (R-District 2), who had dissented in the initial vote on Nov. 6, stated that he still had several concerns with the budget, but he voted for it because the budget supported many important activities throughout the county. He noted that although it spanned four years, the board is required by state law to approve the budget each year, so “technically it’s a one-year budget.”
Several new amendments were made during deliberations on Nov. 20. An amendment proposed by Conan Smith (D-District 9) directs the administration to conduct a study of county staff “to assess the capabilities of the organization to meet the community outcomes and processes.” Another amendment directs the administration to conduct a “citizens experience study” that would help inform board priorities.
Alicia Ping (R-District 3) proposed an amendment to shift $500,000 from the facilities, operations & maintenance fund to a contingency fund for parking. That contingency fund will serve as a placeholder as the county renegotiates parking contracts with the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. The current contract, signed in 2004, runs through 2023.
As he has on previous occasions, Peterson argued against the four-year budget approach, preferring to maintain the current two-year budget process. He said that if he’s re-elected in 2014, he’ll fight to overturn the four-year budget and institute a one- or two-year budget instead. The board’s leadership – including Rabhi and Felicia Brabec (D-District 4), chair of the board’s ways & means committee – believe a four-year budget will improve long-term planning and stability, and could be transformational to the way that the county does business.
The board leadership also wants the board to be engaged in a continual process of monitoring the outcomes related to budget investments. To that end, on Nov. 20 the board also voted to adopt a set of “community outcomes” to guide that investment, as well as a framework for developing future budgets that reflect those desired outcomes. [.pdf of community outcomes resolution] Those outcomes are more detailed “impact statements” tied to budget priorities that the board approved on July 24, 2013.
A major discussion point at the Nov. 6 meeting – about the impact of budget cuts on the sheriff’s office – received much less attention on Nov. 20. However, after the meeting Rabhi told The Chronicle that discussions are underway with the sheriff, and that there will be a budget amendment brought forward soon that will address some of the concerns that have been raised by sheriff Jerry Clayton.
In addition to the budget, the board handled two items related to workforce development: (1) giving initial approval to accept $1,154,683 in funding from the Partnership Accountability Training Hope (PATH) program, which is part of Michigan’s welfare system; and (2) approving amended bylaws for the county’s workforce development board.
During public commentary, Christina Lirones advocated for the board to opt out of Pittsfield Township’s State Street corridor improvement authority (CIA). On Nov. 6, commissioners had voted to approve a tax-sharing agreement with Pittsfield Township and the CIA, which means that a portion of county taxes will be used to help fund the project. Lirones noted that there’s still time for the board to change its mind – as the board has one more meeting, on Dec. 4,
The board made one appointment on Nov. 20, adding York Township supervisor John Stanowski to an exploratory subcommittee for the future of the Washtenaw County road commission. Rabhi also indicated that nominations to other volunteer boards, committees and commissions would be brought forward for a board vote on Dec. 4. Though the deadline for submitting applications had passed, the deadlines have been extended until Dec. 1 for openings on three groups: the southeast Michigan’s Regional Transit Authority (RTA); the Washtenaw County historic district commission; and the Washtenaw County food policy council. More information about these positions is posted on the county’s website.
At the end of the meeting, Rabhi reminded commissioners that a holiday reception will be held prior to the board’s next meeting on Dec. 4, in the lobby of the county administration building at 220 N. Main from 4-6 p.m.
2014-17 County Budget
Initial approval for the four-year Washtenaw County general fund budget – from 2014-2017 – had been given on Nov. 6, 2013 after considerable debate. State law mandates that the budget for the following year must be approved by the end of the current year, on Dec. 31. Nov. 20 was the penultimate board meeting scheduled this year, with the final session falling on Dec. 4.
The $103,005,127 budget for 2014 – which represents a slight decrease from the 2013 expenditures of $103,218,903 – does not call for layoffs. However, the budget includes putting a net total of 8.47 full-time-equivalent jobs on “hold vacant” status, as well as the net reduction of a 0.3 FTE position. The recommended budgets for the following years are $103,977,306 in 2015, $105,052,579 in 2016, and $106,590,681 in 2017. The budgets are based on an estimated 1% annual increase in property tax revenues. [.pdf of original draft budget summary] [.pdf of draft budget summary revised as of Nov. 20, 2013]
Most of the 8.47 FTEs that are proposed to be kept unfilled are in the sheriff’s office. On Nov. 6, sheriff Jerry Clayton had addressed the board, telling commissioners that his office can’t continue to absorb budget cuts without affecting services. On Nov. 20 he did not formally speak to the board, though he was in the building.
In addition to the main budget resolution, also on the Nov. 20 agenda was a resolution adopting a set of “community outcomes” to guide budget investments, as well as a framework for developing future budgets that reflect those desired outcomes. [.pdf of community outcomes resolution] Those outcomes are more detailed “impact statements” tied to budget priorities that the board approved on July 24, 2013. The budget priorities are:
- Ensure a community safety net through health and human services, inclusive of public safety;
- Increase economic opportunity and workforce development;
- Ensure mobility and civic infrastructure for Washtenaw County residents;
- Reduce environmental impact;
- Internal labor force sustainability and effectiveness.
By way of example, the five community impact statements for the priority of “ensure a community safety net” are:
- Children in Washtenaw County will have access to care, support, and developmental tools they need to be ready to ensure success throughout graduation, college, or employment.
- Washtenaw County residents will have ready and affordable access to health care in order to achieve optimal health and increase life expectancy for all residents.
- Washtenaw County residents will have affordable and safe housing and transportation options.
- Washtenaw County residents will be food secure and have ample access to healthy foods that are locally sourced.
- Washtenaw County residents will be safe and secure at home and in their community.
The community outcomes resolution also set a timetable for 2014 to implement this new approach:
- Jan.-March 2014: Administration provides research on proven strategies that feed into identified community outcomes.
- April-June 2014: Departments identify current programs that feed into proven strategies.
- July-Sept. 2014: Administration identifies program investment levels, trends, and gaps, and maps these to strategies & outcomes.
- Oct.-Dec. 2014: Board reviews information to inform changes in 2015 budget re-affirmation.
One change between the budget document given initial approval on Nov. 6 and the version considered on Nov. 20 was the addition of a policy directive that summarizes the “community impact investing” approach. It directs the county administrator to bring a recommendation for implementation, including details on staffing and a budget, by Jan. 22, 2014 for board approval.
County administrator Verna McDaniel had initially presented the budget at the board’s Oct. 2, 2013 meeting. A public hearing was held on Oct. 15, 2013 but it was held after midnight and no one spoke. A second public hearing was held on Nov. 20, but no one spoke at that, either.
At the start of the meeting, Felicia Brabec (D-District 4) pointed out that the board had received a packet with answers to budget questions that various commissioners had asked. [.pdf of budget Q&A]
A budget amendment had been put forward on Nov. 6 by Dan Smith (R-District 2), with the board postponing action on it until Nov. 20. That amendment had proposed adjusting projections to increase revenues by $449,813 over the four-year period, and allocating $100,000 per year in additional funds to the sheriff’s office. At the beginning of the Nov. 20 discussion of the 2014-2017 budget, Smith withdrew the amendment.
2014-17 County Budget: Board Discussion – Community Outcomes
There were two separate resolutions that the board considered on Nov. 20 related to the budget: (1) approval of the community outcomes and a process for implementing this new “community impact investing” approach; and (2) final approval of the 2014-2017 general fund budget.
The first item that commissioners considered was the community outcomes resolution.
Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) asked a series of questions about the community outcomes and the revised budget document. Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) said changes had been made to the budget document based on the board’s discussion on Nov. 6. [There were two changes in the budget document in the section on policy and directives. An item on "community impact investing" was added, and an item on the fund balance was revised to give direction on handling any surplus or deficit in the general fund.]
Peterson indicated that approval of the budget was the board’s primary responsibility, and he called a four-year budget “unheard of in any other community around the state and in the nation.” He expressed concern that the revised budget document hadn’t been made available sooner.
Regarding the “community outcomes” document and the revised budget document that now included a section on “community impact investing,” Peterson wondered if there was any indication about the amount of staff time and resources that would be required to implement this approach. He said he didn’t have a problem with the budget priorities themselves, but it wasn’t clear how those priorities would be carried out, or what line item in the budget was designated for this purpose. He said he’d like to see a timeframe for how the board could start addressing these priorities during the remainder of their term, which runs through 2014. Was any of this information in the budget document? he asked.
Felicia Brabec (D-District 4) replied, saying that the revisions added to the budget document on community impact investing had stemmed from the community outcomes resolution that was also on the Nov. 20 agenda. Other commissioners have raised similar questions about how these outcomes will be implemented, she said. The county administrator, Verna McDaniel, will be taking the lead on that. Brabec pointed to text in the revised budget document that outlined this approach:
The County Administrator will bring a planned recommendation to implement the Community Impacts process with appropriate staffing and budget at the first business meeting in 2014, January 22, for BOC approval.
Where will the funding come from to implement this process? Peterson asked again. The county already has a lot of obligations, he noted.
Rabhi responded to Petersen, saying that in the previous two-year budget approach, the first year would be spent developing the budget, but the second year would be focused on other things. The intention of the proposed four-year budget and community outcomes approach is to help keep the board involved in the budget as a “living document,” Rabhi said, and to have an active role in managing the budget as circumstances change.
Peterson said he wanted to be a team player, but he was totally uncomfortable with a four-year budget. That comment wasn’t aimed at the administration, he added – it’s aimed at the board. He wondered where the money would come from to hire someone who would implement the community impacts process. Peterson said he was glad that Rabhi had pointed this out, “because we don’t have agenda meetings, so we don’t have the appropriate meeting to discuss this.” “Neither do we have working sessions to discuss these important matters.” [It's not clear what Peterson was referring to, because the board does have regularly scheduled working sessions. The agenda briefings, which Peterson rarely attended, were cancelled because they were deemed ineffective. They occurred at the start of the working sessions, nearly two weeks prior to the board meetings. Many agenda items weren't set at that point.]
Peterson spoke about his intent to bring back the two-year budget approach. “Now I’m going to do all I can, if the voters return me back here … to overturn this [four-year budget], let me assure you,” Peterson said. He hoped other commissioners would help him do that.
Conan Smith (D-District 9) said he wanted to have this conversation, and it’s something commissioners should discuss. However, he added, it was not actually germane to the topic that’s in front of the board. The topic isn’t the allocation of resources, he said, it’s about the budget priorities and community outcomes. He wanted to talk about that, and then discuss the allocation of resources.
Peterson wondered how the board could vote on priorities and outcomes without knowing how they’d pay for the implementation. To adopt something, then say that they’ll worry about how to pay for it later, isn’t responsible, he said, and it shouldn’t be “buried” in the budget document.
Conan Smith replied that the community outcomes resolution doesn’t require any funding. It changes the work plan of certain staff members, directing the administrator to lead a “structured and transparent process,” he said, at the bare minimum. There might be costs eventually associated with implementation, Smith added, but probably not until 2015. Those costs would require board approval in 2014, he noted.
Alicia Ping (R-District 3) said Peterson had made some good points. But she wanted clarification: Was funding currently available to pay for these priorities, and did the proposed 2014-2017 budget already reflect those priorities? Or would the administration be required to redo the budget in the future, after the board adopts these priorities?
After some additional back-and-forth between Ping and Rabhi, county administrator Verna McDaniel weighed in. She indicated that many of the programs and services that are funded in the 2014-2017 budget already fit the board’s priorities. In 2014, the staff and board will look at county programs and services in relation to the community outcomes to see where there are gaps, she explained, and then to adjust investments in 2015 based on that. That same process will be repeated in future years.
Rabhi said there needs to be a process of developing strategies to reach the outcomes that the board wants. It’s a multi-year process, he noted, and it will involve engaging future boards as well. [That is, the composition of the board could change after the November 2014 elections.]
Brabec explained that the previous board and former board chair [Conan Smith] had started down this path, to try to take a more strategic approach to allocating funds. It’s a big shift in the way that the county has funded programs and services, she said, and it can’t happen overnight.
Peterson expressed concern that the board would be micromanaging the administration. He described the process as “blossoming before my eyes.” He characterized the budget process as rushed, and again stated that it was the most important thing that the board was charged with undertaking.
Rabhi noted that the budget document simply directs the administrator to come to the board with an implementation process, with a recommendation for staffing and a budget. The board can decide what it wants to do at that time, he said.
Brabec replied by pointing out that it’s actually been a lengthy budget process, starting with retreats in early 2013 as well as presentations and discussions throughout the year at working sessions and board meetings. She noted that she’d also talked with commissioners individually, and had tried to be systematic, thorough and inclusive.
Peterson indicated that he was the one who suggested, years ago, that the board should hold retreats. He asked when commissioners had discussed this community outcomes proposal – for the board to micromanage the administration – at a retreat. That discussion might have occurred at an “inner circle” meeting, he said, but “I’ve never been privileged to that kind of information.” He thought the board would need to deal with some “major hurdles” in 2014 and 2015, and he didn’t think he could support the budget. He said he’d support the community outcomes, because it didn’t allocate any funding to the process.
Outcome on community outcomes resolution: The resolution passed on a 7-1 vote, over dissent by Alicia Ping (R-District 3). Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) was absent.
2014-17 County Budget: Board Discussion – Budget (Policy Amendment)
Conan Smith (D-District 9) said he wanted to build off the previous conversation on community outcomes, noting that Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) had made a critical point.
The county doesn’t know with certainty what its revenues will be from year to year, Smith said, so there needs to be a solid process in place to adjust to the reality of higher or lower revenues. The actual amount of revenues isn’t known until April or May, when the county’s equalization report is completed. In 2013, that report indicated that revenues would be about $2 million higher than projected, Smith noted.
He highlighted a section of the budget document related to policies, and stated that it didn’t quite accomplish what he wanted to see.
The section he referred to was as follows [strike-through was text deleted from the Nov. 6 version, and italics indicates text added after Nov. 6 and included in the Nov. 20 proposed document at the start of the meeting]:
11. The Board of Commissioners commits to long-term budget flexibility and sustainability, and an adequate level of cash flow with its attention to fund balance. A healthy fund balance is an essential ingredient and the following was considered to determine an appropriate level as a target: an appropriate level to fund at least 60 days of operations, to help offset negative cash flow (primarily from the seven month delay in property tax collections after incurred expenses), and to assist buffering any unexpected downturns. Therefore, the Board shall plan future budgets to meet the goal of a Reserve for Subsequent Years representing at least 20.0% of General Fund expenditures, net of indirect costs. To accomplish this any excess property tax revenue above projected budget (assumptions), but excluding the fiscal years that have structural salary increases tied to property tax revenue growth per labor agreements, as well as any year-end surplus of which 70% will be contributed to fund balance until the reserve goal is met and 30% to be determined by Board of Commissioner authorization. Any remaining excess surplus available will have options for use recommended by the County Administrator in alignment with the investment policy as outlined by the adopted Community Impact Resolution 13-TBD, presented to the Board of Commissioner for consideration and confirmed by Board action and authorization.
C. Smith advocated for a supplemental budget process so that the board can adjust the budget after the equalization report, depending on whether revenues are higher or lower than projected. After the equalization report is delivered, he thought that the administrator should take a month or two to develop a supplemental budget recommendation that aligns with the board’s priorities and community outcomes. The board can at that point debate the proposal, he said, and adopt it by June.
It was an important process, C. Smith said, and he wanted to pull it out as a separate policy within the document to reflect that process. Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) suggested changing the adoption date until July, and Dan Smith (R-District 2) proposed substituting “community outcomes and processes” in place of “investment policy.” Both suggestions were accepted by C. Smith as friendly amendments.
The final proposed amendment was as follows, with changes to the original item and the new separate item added to the list of policies:
11. The Board of Commissioners commits to long-term budget flexibility and sustainability, and an adequate level of cash flow with its attention to fund balance. A healthy fund balance is an essential ingredient and the following was considered to determine an appropriate level as a target: an appropriate level to fund at least 60 days of operations, to help offset negative cash flow (primarily from the seven month delay in property tax collections after incurred expenses), and to assist buffering any unexpected downturns. Therefore, the Board shall plan future budgets to meet the goal of a Reserve for Subsequent Years representing at least 20.0% of General Fund expenditures, net of indirect costs.
12. Any annual surplus or deficit will have options for use recommended by the County Administrator in alignment with the community outcomes and processes as outlined by the adopted Community Impact Resolution 13-TBD, presented to the Board of Commissioner for consideration and confirmed by Board action and authorization in July of each calendar year.
Outcome on policy amendment: Commissioners approved the amendment unanimously.
2014-17 County Budget: Board Discussion – Budget (Staff Survey Amendment)
Conan Smith then proposed another amendment related to an issue he’d addressed at the Nov. 6 meeting, regarding a staff occupational capabilities survey that the county previously did every two years. It “provides pretty substantive intelligence on how our team is functioning as a team,” he said. It’s a management tool that was recommended by a budget task force focused on workforce development, which he led. His understanding was that the survey used previously by the county cost between $35,000 to $50,000, but there might be other options for a more cost-effective tool, he said.
He offered the following item as an amendment to add to the list of budget policies and directives:
35. The administrator is directed to prepare and implement a staff study or survey to assess the capabilities of the organization to meet the community outcomes and processes.
Andy LaBarre (D-District 7) wondered how this would bind the administrator in terms of the survey’s cost. C. Smith replied that he had left it intentionally broad to allow for flexibility of options. If it exceeds the administrator’s discretionary spending authority, then she would come to the board for authorization. [The county administrator is authorized to make expenditures up to $100,000 for contracts without board approval.]
Dan Smith (R-District 2) proposed striking the words “or survey” – it was taken as a friendly amendment.
Felicia Brabec (D-District 4) thanked C. Smith for his proposal, but questioned whether they could find a cost-effective tool that would be useful to achieve their goal.
Alicia Ping (R-District 3) wondered how often C. Smith wanted to do this, since there was no time period indicated in his proposal. C. Smith said he’d like to do it at least once, and noted that the county in the past did a survey every two years.
Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) suggested keeping it open-ended, and allowing the administrator to settle on the frequency. Ping noted that if it’s in the four-year budget document without a time reference, it could be interpreted as something that should occur every year. She suggested adding a phrase stating it could be done a maximum of two times during the four years. C. Smith accepted that as a friendly amendment.
Ping also said it might make sense to survey constituents as well.
The final version of this amendment stated:
35. The administrator is directed to prepare and implement a staff study to assess the capabilities of the organization to meet the community outcomes and processes, to be conducted a maximum of two times during the four-year period.
Outcome: The amendment passed unanimously on a voice vote.
2014-17 County Budget: Board Discussion – Budget (Citizen Survey Amendment)
Following up on Alicia Ping’s comment regarding a survey of constituents, Conan Smith recalled that when Kristin Judge had served as a county commissioner representing Pittsfield Township, she had suggested surveying residents to see if the county’s programs and services reflected the priorities of the citizenry. At the time, he said, he wasn’t a big fan of the approach. But he also hadn’t been a big fan of the county’s OpenBook website, which Judge had championed. Yet OpenBook has been something that people really like, he noted, and it creates transparency and gives people confidence in what the county is doing.
C. Smith suggested conducting a survey to find out whether the county is tackling the issues that residents think are high priority. He offered the following amendment to add another directive to the budget document:
36. The county shall conduct a citizens experience study assessing customer interactions with county entities via our website and other means, to inform the development of community outcomes and board priorities.
Yousef Rabhi recalled talking with Judge about this idea in the past. He said he’s proud of the outreach that the county has done, including information on the county’s website and public meetings. This survey is a good way to continue that tradition, he said.
Outcome on citizen survey amendment: It passed unanimously on a voice vote.
2014-17 County Budget: Board Discussion – Budget (Parking Amendment)
Alicia Ping (R-District 3) proposed an amendment to remove $500,000 from Fund 6310 (facilities, operations & maintenance) and move it to a contingency fund for parking.
Ping explained that $500,000 is approximately what the county pays the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority for parking “and a few other miscellaneous things.” She had asked for the contract that authorized the county to do this. The contract was found, but there’s no indication that the board ever passed a resolution authorizing the contract, she said. Before a new deal is made, Ping said she either wanted to find the previous resolution of approval, or bring forward a resolution to approve a new contract.
Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) thanked Ping for bringing it forward, saying it’s been on his mind for quite some time, too. It’s a topic that deserves more discussion, as part of re-evaluating the county’s parking needs in downtown Ann Arbor, he said. Rabhi added that he’s talked to Greg Dill, the county’s director of infrastructure management, about doing a study of the county’s parking needs and assets, and then evaluating the parking expenditures based on that. The county would then need to look at any existing contracts, the length of those contracts and the legal issues that bear on moving forward with these discussions, Rabhi said.
Dill reported that the study is expected to be completed within the next 2-3 weeks.
Andy LaBarre (D-District 7) asked if anyone had been in touch with the DDA about this. County administrator Verna McDaniel indicated that the DDA is aware of this situation and she’s having ongoing discussions with DDA executive director Susan Pollay.
In response to a query from Conan Smith (D-District 9), Ping clarified that the intent is for no money to be expended for parking until the issue is sorted out.
Outcome: On a voice vote, the amendment was unanimously approved.
By way of additional background, the city of Ann Arbor contracts with the DDA to manage the city’s public parking system. The issue of parking payments to the DDA arose earlier this year, as the county administration worked to eliminate a projected $3.9 million budget deficit in 2014. County administrator Verna McDaniel and other senior staff met with DDA executive director Susan Pollay to propose the possibility of opening up a long-term parking agreement to renegotiate the amount that the county pays for monthly parking permits.
McDaniel told The Chronicle that instead, the DDA proposed offering a one-time $300,000 grant for renovations at the county Annex building at 110 N. Fourth Ave in downtown Ann Arbor. The county had already budgeted for those Annex renovations, as part of a broader strategic plan for its facilities.
The DDA board approved that $300,000 grant at its Sept. 4, 2013 meeting. Bob Guenzel, former Washtenaw County administrator, is a member of the DDA board. Guenzel was absent from the Sept. 4 meeting.
The current contract for parking took effect on Jan. 1, 2004 and runs through 2023. It updated a previous agreement from 1986 that had expired in November 2002. The original 1986 parking agreement between the city and the county had been signed by the mayor of Ann Arbor, Ed Pierce, and the chair of the county board, Meri Lou Murray. [.pdf of 1986 parking contract]
The 2004 parking deal was signed by mayor John Hieftje, but it was then-county administrator Bob Guenzel – not the chair of the county board – who signed on the county’s behalf. [.pdf of 2004 parking contract]
And although the Ann Arbor city council approved that parking deal with the county at its Jan. 5, 2004 meeting, it does not appear that the county board of commissioners directly approved the deal. The most recent county board resolution regarding the parking agreement dates back to 2000, when the board passed a resolution directing the county administrator to “negotiate and sign” a long-term parking agreement with the DDA. There was no resolution approving the subsequent contract. No current commissioners were on the board at that time. [.pdf of September 2000 board resolution]
The county board had passed a similar resolution in December 1998 that also directed the county administration to negotiate a new parking agreement with the DDA. [.pdf of December 1998 board resolution] Background provided in a staff memo that accompanied that December 1998 board resolution described the history of the county’s parking deal with the city:
On March 4, 1986, the City and the County executed an Agreement concerning the Ann-Ashley parking structure. Under the Agreement, the County donated a plot of land to the City, contributing to the parcel on which the parking structure was to be built. The Agreement also called for the City to reserve 250 parking spaces in the new structure for the County’s use. The County received a discount of $14.10 per space for these spaces in exchange for its donating the property to the City. The Agreement is for 15 years and commenced when the structure was opened on November 20, 1987. As such, this Agreement will expire on November 19, 2002.
On December 1, 1988, the City and County executed another parking Agreement. Under this Agreement, the County agreed to let the City use the County-owned property at the southwest corner of N. Main Street and Ann Street for a City-run parking lot. In exchange for the use of this land, the City provided the County another 49 parking spaces on the first or second floor of the Ann-Ashley parking structure at no cost. This Agreement was for 10 years and is now coming to an end.
The current deal, signed in the fall of 2004, gave the county a discounted rate for the first two years of the arrangement, but after that the county was required to pay the full market rate for 300 monthly permits in the Ann Ashley parking structure. An additional 15 permits are provided at no cost, for use by the Washtenaw Housing Alliance and employees of the Delonis Center homeless shelter.
2014-17 Budget: Board Discussion – Budget (Sheriff’s Office)
Ronnie Peterson asked about the sheriff’s budget. He noted that he represents two communities – Superior Township and Ypsilanti Township – who contract with the sheriff’s office for deputy patrols. It’s one of the few ways in which these townships directly ask for services from the county, he said. He wondered how those contractual arrangements would be handled within the context of the 2014-2017 budget. The contracts have an annual 1% increase in payments from the townships, he noted, but he wondered how the difference would be made up if expenses actually increase more than that. He wondered if there’d been any discussions with township leaders about the services that the county provides – such as deputy patrols, building inspections, animal control – and the possible impact of a four-year budget.
Yousef Rabhi said he’s attended meetings of various entities like the “CEO Group” (a regular meeting of township supervisors), the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study (WATS), and others, and has reached out to them about the four-year budget.
County administrator Verna McDaniel said that the police services steering committee, which is led by sheriff Jerry Clayton and includes representatives of the entities that contract for deputy patrols, continues to meet. The current contracts for the Police Officers Association of Michigan union (POAM) expire at the end of 2014. The contracts for the Command Officers Association of Michigan union (COAM) expire at the end of 2015. McDaniel said the steering committee and contracting entities had agreed to 1% increases in the contracts for 2014 and 2015, and will be working to resolve issues for new contracts in 2016 and 2017.
Peterson noted that no commissioner can guarantee that the budget will be modified in the next four years. He asked again whether the officials of townships that contract for services are aware of the impact of a four-year budget. McDaniel said that township officials are aware, and that she’s also on the agenda for the CEO Group to talk about the four-year budget. Peterson expressed skepticism that township officials had been adequately apprised of the impact, such as inflationary costs that might need to be absorbed in new contracts.
Outcome: There was no amendment proposed on this issue.
Sheriff Jerry Clayton had spoken to commissioners at their Nov. 6, 2013 meeting to express his concerns about proposed budget cuts to the sheriff’s department. He said his office can’t continue to absorb budget cuts without affecting services. On Nov. 20 he did not formally speak to the board, though he was in the building.
After the Nov. 20 meeting, board chair Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) told The Chronicle that discussions are underway with the sheriff, and that there will be a budget amendment brought forward – possibly on Dec. 4, but more likely in early 2014 – that will address some of the concerns raised by Clayton.
2014-17 Budget: Board Discussion – Budget (Final Comments)
Ronnie Peterson said he’d be voting no, based in part on the uncertainty of revenues each year. He was also very concerned about how the county will handle its pension and retiree health care obligations, and about the repeal of the state’s personal property tax, which takes effect next year. He cited several other concerns, including contractual arrangements with communities within the county, and the impact of labor negotiations with employees in the sheriff’s office.
Dan Smith described the board priorities as troubling, saying he wasn’t satisfied with them. At the same time, the budget funds numerous important activities throughout the county, he said. He said he shared many of Peterson’s concerns about a four-year budget. Having additional board involvement will be a cultural change from the “set it and forget it” culture of the previous two-year budget cycle, he noted. He’s interested in seeing how that involvement takes shape. “Words like ‘living document’ concern me,” he said, because it defeats the purpose of having a budget. However, technically this isn’t a four-year budget, he said: It’s really only a one -year budget, because state law mandates that the county pass a budget every year.
Smith also said he continues to be concerned about the “very questionable” tax levies totaling about $1.5 million annually. [The reference was to levies that the board made without voter approval for economic development/agriculture (Act 88) and indigent veteran services.]
Outcome on main budget resolution: The budget passed on a 7-1 vote, with dissent from Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) – though he cited three elements of the budget that he wanted to support: the community impact statements, outside agency funding, and position modifications. Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) was absent.
After the vote, Yousef Rabhi thanked the board for their work, and in particular Felicia Brabec, who took the lead in developing the community outcomes and priorities. He thanked Ronnie Peterson for his comments during deliberations. “Though we voted differently tonight, I want to say that I really respect the place that he’s coming from.” He also thanked Dan Smith, saying that they didn’t see eye-to-eye on everything, but he appreciated Smith’s work. Rabhi indicated that he looked forward to continuing the budget process. He also thanked the staff for their work, as well as members of the press for reporting on the process, and the public for their input.
Rabhi called the budget transformational, saying he hoped it set the stage for other communities. He said he’s talked to someone who works at another county in southeast Michigan, who told him that county officials were using Washtenaw County’s budget process and board priorities as a template for their board. “The idea is spreading – of doing community impact investing,” Rabhi said.
Two items related to workforce development were on the Nov. 20 agenda.
The board was asked to give initial approval to accept $1,154,683 in funding from the Partnership Accountability Training Hope (PATH) program, which is part of Michigan’s welfare system. The funding is for the period from Oct. 1, 2013 through Sept. 30, 2014.
The money, to be administered by the county’s office of community and economic development, is meant to help fund training and “job readiness” services to welfare applicants or recipients who are low-wage workers. [.pdf of staff memo describing PATH services] The funding is $5,520 less than the county received last year.
Commissioners also were asked to approve bylaws for the county’s workforce development board (WDB). [.pdf of adopted bylaws] The bylaws had already been adopted by the workforce development board at its meeting on Sept. 5, 2013.
A staff memo outlined reasons for the changes:
One major factor was a recent change in State policy that impacted the language in the bylaws, particularly with respect to WDB representation that altered the composition and the sectors represented on the WDB. Other changes to the WDB bylaws include changes to the committees and officers of the WDB; the minimum number of official meetings required during a calendar year; and the addition of language related to employer “demand driven” system.
Outcome: Without discussion, commissioners unanimously approved both workforce development items.
In an item added to the agenda during the meeting, the board was asked to approve the appointment of York Township supervisor John Stanowski to an exploratory subcommittee for the future of the Washtenaw County road commission.
At their Oct. 2, 2013 meeting, commissioners had created a new seven-member subcommittee to “explore partnerships and organizational interactions with the Washtenaw County Road Commission.” Members appointed at that time included four county commissioners – Alicia Ping (R-District 3), Conan Smith (D-District 9), Dan Smith (R-District 2) and Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) – and three township supervisors: Mandy Grewal of Pittsfield Township, Ken Schwartz of Superior Township and Pat Kelly of Dexter Township. The Oct. 2 resolution stated that the subcommittee would be chaired by the county board’s vice chair. That position is currently held by Ping.
Also on Oct. 2, the board had approved an amendment to that resolution – proposed by Conan Smith – to give the subcommittee a $10,000 budget for possible research or travel costs to bring in experts on the issue. The action came late in the evening, over objections from Andy LaBarre (D-District 7), who said it “doesn’t look good and isn’t needed.” The final vote on the overall resolution, as amended, passed over dissent from LaBarre and Kent Martinez-Kratz (D-District 1).
In the past, county commissioners have discussed the possibility of expanding the three-member road commission, in part because of how its small size causes potential for violating the state’s Open Meetings Act. And some commissioners would like to explore possibly consolidating the road commission with overall county operations.
Currently, the road commission is a semi-autonomous entity that oversees the maintenance of about 1,650 miles of roads in the county that are outside of cities and villages, including about 770 miles of gravel roads. Road commissioners are appointed by the county board of commissioners, but decisions made by the road commission do not require authorization by the elected county board of commissioners.
Current road commissioners are Doug Fuller, Barb Fuller – who was appointed on Oct. 16, 2013 – and Fred Veigel, who also is a member of the county’s parks & recreation commission. The salary for road commissioners, which is set by the county board, is $10,500 annually.
Outcome: Commissioners approved the appointment of John Stanowski to the road commission exploratory subcommittee, without discussion.
Also on Nov. 20, Ping reported to the board that the subcommittee has held its first meeting and is planning a second one on Dec. 4. That meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. in the administrative conference room at 220 N. Main St. in Ann Arbor. The initial discussion had gone well, Ping said, and she hopes the group will return with recommendations in March of 2014.
Communications & Commentary
During the evening there were multiple opportunities for communications from the administration and commissioners, as well as public commentary. In addition to issues reported earlier in this article, here are some other highlights.
Communications & Commentary: December Tax Bills
Alicia Ping (R-District 3) said she’d recently been contacted by the treasurer of Lodi Township [Michelle Foley], who had raised concerns about the timing of the county board’s approval of the Act 88 millage. [The board gave final approval to an increase in the levy of the economic development and agricultural tax, known as Act 88 of 1913, at its Nov. 6, 2013 meeting. The increase, which will be levied on the December 2013 tax bills, is from 0.06 mills to 0.07 mills. The county's position is that because Act 88 pre-dates the state's Headlee amendment, it can be levied without voter approval. The county also levies a tax for indigent veterans services in this same way.]
The board action took place more than 45 days after the treasurers of local municipalities must file with Washtenaw County to have their tax bills printed, Ping said, adding that she hadn’t been aware of this situation. If the board decides to levy the millage again next year, commissioners should consider acting on it earlier in the year so that there’s plenty of time to prepare the tax bills with that information.
Communications & Commentary: Pittsfield Twp. State Street CIA
Christina Lirones spoke during both opportunities for public commentary, and both times addressed the topic of Pittsfield Township’s State Street corridor improvement authority (CIA). She reminded commissioners that she’d spoken to them at their Nov. 6, 2013 meeting, and she again urged them to opt out of the CIA. There’s still time to make that decision, she noted, because the 60-day window to opt out ends on Dec. 9. The county board’s final meeting of the year is on Dec. 4.
[On Nov. 6, commissioners had voted to approve a tax-sharing agreement with Pittsfield Township and the CIA, which means they intend to participate in the project. Dan Smith (R-District 2) had proposed an opt-out resolution at the board's Oct. 16, 2013 meeting, but it failed on a 2-7 vote, with support only from D. Smith and Conan Smith (D-District 9).]
Lirones said that no residents who live on South State have been invited to serve on the CIA board. In fact, she said, those residents have been spurned. The township board recently appointed a resident at large – county commissioner Felicia Brabec (D-District 4). Although Brabec is a Pittsfield Township resident, she doesn’t live in the State Street corridor, Lirones said. The residents of that corridor are very opposed to the project, she added, but haven’t been invited to participate.
The project is unnecessary, Lirones said, because developers are willing to pay for improvements if there’s the political will to negotiate with them. She pointed out that the road is already three lanes in most places, and is five lanes in some areas. The intersection at Textile and State is still being paid for through a special assessment, she noted, with widened lanes and a traffic signal. There are also signals at the intersections of Morgan and Avis Drive, which were paid for by businesses.
The area is already being developed, Lirones said, so it makes no sense to capture taxes to encourage development – it’s already happening. She noted that the township is characterizing the residential property in that corridor as undeveloped. The taxes should be going into the coffers of the taxing authorities, including Washtenaw County. She noted that some other taxing authorities are opting out, and she said that Pittsfield Township residents that she’s talked with also don’t want it. She didn’t think county commissioners should commit $3.8 million from the general fund and $600,000 from the parks & recreation millage [over a 20-year period] to a project “that’s completely unnecessary.”
Later in the evening, Lirones spoke again during public commentary on the same topic. She noted that if the taxing authorities opt out, all of the land along the South State corridor will be developed and the taxing authorities will keep 100% of their taxes. If they don’t opt out, the corridor will still be developed, but taxing authorities will only get 50% of the incremental tax increases resulting from that development. “So there’s absolutely no advantage to … not opting out,” she concluded. She noted that it was the first TIF in Pittsfield Township, and she’d like it to be the last.
Lirones read aloud a section of a letter that John McCulloch, director of the Huron Clinton Metro Authority – which runs the metroparks – had sent to Pittsfield Township opting out of the CIA. [.pdf of McCulloch letter] It described the impact of various tax captures – from entities like downtown development authorities, among others – that results in about $1 million in tax revenues being diverted from the metroparks. Lirones concluded by saying that opting out can be done politely, for very credible reasons.
In addition to Washtenaw County and Pittsfield Township, the Ann Arbor District Library has also signed a tax-sharing agreement with the CIA. Opting out of the CIA are the Saline District Library, the Huron Clinton Metro Authority, and Washtenaw Community College. WCC trustees made that decision at their Nov. 26 meeting.
Communications & Commentary: Pittsfield Twp. State Street CIA – Board Response
Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) asked whether a policy would be developed to guide the review of TIF proposals when they come forward. The board had previously discussed that approach. He noted that the board’s vote on the Pittsfield Township CIA still stands, and he’s in support of that. But a lot of questions have been raised by other commissioners, he added, and any community could come forward with the same kind of TIF proposal.
Board chair Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) said he’s spoken to staff members who are working on a policy. The staff from the county’s equalization department, the office of community & economic development, and the brownfield authority board are collaborating to develop a TIF policy. He hoped that staff would have something for the board to review later this year or in early 2014. It’s important to have a good rationale for approving these agreements, Rabhi said.
Communications & Commentary: Platt Road Advisory Committee
Yousef Rabhi reported that the citizens advisory committee for the county’s Platt Road property – the site of the former juvenile center, at 2260 and 2270 Platt Road – met for the first time. He described the feedback from citizens who attended the meeting as very positive, and that they were grateful they had a voice in this process.
The board had voted to create the committee at its Sept. 18, 2013 meeting. Members are: county commissioners Rabhi and Andy LaBarre, who both represent districts in Ann Arbor; Ann Arbor city councilmember Christopher Taylor; three county senior managers – Bob Tetens, Mary Jo Callan and Greg Dill; Jennifer Hall, director of the Ann Arbor housing commission; and six residents – Jeannine Palms, Vickie Wellman, Amy Freundl, Ron Emaus, Peter Vincent and Robb Burroughs.
The idea of an advisory committee to help with the dispensation of this property was first discussed at the board’s July 10, 2013 meeting. It was included in an overall strategic space plan for county facilities, which proposed demolishing the former juvenile center and exploring redevelopment of the site for affordable housing, alternative energy solutions, and county offices. Details of how the advisory committee would be appointed, as well as the committee’s formal mission, was an item to be worked out for a board vote at a later date.
The resolution approved on Sept. 18 set a broader mission: to “provide recommendations to the Board of Commissioners relative to disposition, including an alternatives analysis; and preferred methods of community engagement for the Board of Commissioners to undertake during the disposition process.”
The resolution also set a deadline of Dec. 31, 2013 for the committee to deliver its analysis and recommendations to the board.
Communications & Commentary: Public Health
County administrator Verna McDaniel reported that the state has approved the appointment of Ellen Rabinowitz as interim health officer for Washtenaw County.
Rabinowitz currently serves as executive director of the Washtenaw Health Plan and will retain that position as well. She was appointed interim by the county board at its Nov. 6, 2013 meeting, pending approval from the state Dept. of Community Health.
The appointment is spurred by the retirement of current health officer Dick Fleece, effective Dec. 28.
Later in the meeting, Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) asked about the status of creating a public health board. Both Peterson and Conan Smith (D-District 9) have previously pressed to form such a board, which the county had dissolved several years ago.
Rabinowitz told commissioners that she’s working with the county administrator to develop a document that she plans to present to the board at its Dec. 4 meeting. The document will lay out all the issues that need to be explored in reestablishing the board of public health, including budget impacts, potential composition, and how it would relate to other existing boards.
Communications & Commentary: Appointments
Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) asked about the appointments process. Board chair Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) explained that commissioners had received a packet of applications to various boards, committees and commissions, and that an appointments caucus would be held the following night, Nov. 21, prior to the board’s working session. [That caucus, which The Chronicle attended, drew only two commissioners – Rabhi and Conan Smith (D-District 9), who both represent districts in Ann Arbor.]
Rabhi indicated that nominations would be brought forward for a board vote on Dec. 4.
Peterson asked how the openings had been publicized. Rabhi replied that they were posted on the county’s website. Pete Simms of the county clerk’s office, who manages this process, elaborated by describing various ways that the information had been advertised and publicized in print, online and on the radio.
In addition, the deadline had been extended until Dec. 1 for openings on three groups: the southeast Michigan’s Regional Transit Authority (RTA); the Washtenaw County historic district commission; and the Washtenaw County food policy council. More information about these positions is posted on the county’s website.
Peterson hoped the board could discuss how to generate more interest in the community for applying to the county’s various volunteer boards, commissions and committees.
Present: Felicia Brabec, Andy LaBarre, Kent Martinez-Kratz, Ronnie Peterson, Alicia Ping, Yousef Rabhi, Conan Smith, Dan Smith.
Absent: Rolland Sizemore Jr.
Next regular board meeting: Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013 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. [Check Chronicle event listings to 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 commentary is held at the beginning of each meeting, and no advance sign-up is required.
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