Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (May 1, 2013): The location and accessibility of a planned May 16 budget retreat drew some heated rhetoric from commissioner Ronnie Peterson, who argued strongly for all budget-related meetings to be held in the main county boardroom and to be televised, as the board’s regular meetings are.
Washtenaw County commissioner Dan Smith (R-District 2) talks with residents who attended the county board’s May 1 meeting to highlight the deteriorating condition of North Territorial Road, which runs through Smith’s district. (Photos by the writer.)
The May 16 retreat is set for the county’s Learning Resource Center at 4135 Washtenaw Ave. – near the county jail complex – starting at 6 p.m. The meeting is open to the public and will be videotaped.
Peterson also questioned the content of the retreat. “If it’s a hug fest,” he said, “I don’t have to be there.” Board chair Yousef Rabhi told commissioners that the goal will be to set priorities for the upcoming budget. “It’s going to be work,” Rabhi said. “There aren’t going to be any hugs, unless somebody wants to give me a hug.”
Also at the May 1 meeting, the board gave final approval to authorize the development of a four-year budget planning cycle, a change from the current two-year cycle that’s been in place since 1994. The vote was 7-2 vote, with dissent from Peterson and Rolland Sizemore Jr. Peterson argued that developing a budget is the main job for commissioners. “So we owe the taxpayers a rebate. I hope we cut our salaries in half … because there’s really a lot less work to do.” Though the planning cycle would be longer, the board is still required by state law to approve its budget annually – so that process wouldn’t change.
The board will get a better sense of the county’s financial status at its May 15 meeting, when county administrator Verna McDaniel will give a first-quarter update and a “state-of-the-county” presentation. One major factor is a pending decision for the board on whether to issue a $345 million bond to cover the county’s pension and retiree healthcare obligations. The board discussed that topic at a May 2 working session. [See Chronicle coverage: "County Board Debates $350M Bond Proposal."]
One item not on the May 1 agenda was raised during public commentary: The deteriorating condition of North Territorial Road, specifically a section running through Northfield and Salem townships. Residents have collected about 600 signatures on a petition urging the road commission to repair that stretch, and asked the county board to help address the problem “before somebody gets hurt or comes in here shouting or raving.”
County commissioner Dan Smith, who represents the district that includes Northfield and Salem townships, pointed out that there are possible funding mechanisms available to the county, including the possibility of levying a tax under Act 283 of 1909. A 1 mill levy in Washtenaw County would bring in about $13.8 million, based on 2012 property values, he said. He also noted that there’s a similar law on the books that appears to allow townships in Michigan to levy up to 3 mills for roads. That could bring in another $24.9 million throughout the county, he said. In total, about $38 million could be raised in Washtenaw County to fix the roads.
In other action during the May 1 meeting, commissioners gave initial approval to the Washtenaw Urban County‘s five-year strategic plan through 2018 and its 2013-14 annual plan.
The board also declared May 12-18, 2013 as Police and Correction Officers Week, and May 15 as Peace Officers Memorial Day. Dieter Heren, police services commander with the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office, was on hand to accept the resolution on behalf of sheriff Jerry Clayton and all law enforcement agencies in the county. He reminded the board that on May 15 at 10 a.m. there will be a memorial service in the Washtenaw 100 Park in Ypsilanti to “honor the law enforcement officers who have fallen here in Washtenaw County while serving the community,” he said. The park is located at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Ballard Street. [Full Story]