Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (July 7, 2010): Commissioners spent most of their July meeting on two contentious issues: re-establishing a land bank, and a possible expansion of the county road commission.
After more than an hour of discussion, a majority of commissioners approved a step toward bringing back the land bank, which they’d voted to dissolve in March. Several commissioners raised concerns over funding for the land bank and the expense of property maintenance and rehab, though most said they supported the entity in concept.
A land bank allows the government – through a separate land bank authority – to take temporary ownership of tax- or mortgage-foreclosed land while the county works to put it back into productive use. Commissioner Ronnie Peterson, whose district in Ypsilanti and parts of Ypsilanti Township has been hit hard by foreclosures, has been an advocate for the land bank for several months, and expressed his impatience and frustration during the meeting. A motion to rescind the dissolution of the land bank was not considered at the July 7 meeting, but might be brought forward next month.
The board also held a public hearing on expanding the road commission from three members to five – three residents spoke at the hearing, all opposing the expansion. An animated discussion with a somewhat unclear outcome followed the hearing – with Wes Prater moving to stop the process of expansion, and getting support from the majority of the board. Calling that move “symbolic,” Jeff Irwin said he plans to bring a resolution to the Aug. 4 board meeting that will officially propose the expansion.
Several other items related to financial matters. The board approved an initiative to put more government information online, especially regarding budget and finance. They discussed and authorized re-funding bonds requested by Dexter Township, and noted with some concern that Dexter Township isn’t alone in its struggle to meet bond payments. And county administrator Verna McDaniel signaled her intent to hire Kelly Belknap as the county’s new finance director, replacing Peter Ballios, a 38-year veteran of the county who retired at the end of 2009.
The board also approved a brownfield plan for a project in downtown Ypsilanti, and set public hearings for Aug. 4 regarding two additional brownfield plans – the Near North housing project and Zingerman’s Deli expansion, both in Ann Arbor. The board is also expected to vote on those plans at the Aug. 4 meeting.