Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (July 6, 2011): Much of the discussion at this month’s county board meeting focused on the proposed merger of three departments, creating a new office of community & economic development.
Mary Jo Callan talks with Tony Van Derworp before the start of the July 6, 2011 Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting. Callan is overseeing the consolidation of three county departments, including the economic development and energy department, which Van Derworp leads.
In the works for over a year, the consolidation would combine the office of community development, the economic development & energy department, and the employment training and community services (ETCS) department. The goal, according to county managers, is to cut costs by eliminating duplicated services in the face of declining revenues, while finding ways to deliver those services more efficiently to residents in need. The number of full-time employees in the merged departments would drop from 40 to 32, though most of those displaced workers will likely be moved to other county jobs. In total, about $500,000 in annual savings is expected from the merger.
While generally supportive of the change, several commissioners asked for additional details, and expressed frustration that they were provided new information – including a business plan – just hours before the meeting began. The proposal was originally on the agendas for initial approval at the Ways & Means committee meeting and final approval at the regular board meeting that same night, but commissioners decided to remove it from the board meeting agenda. They’ll likely consider it for a final vote at their Aug. 3 meeting. The consolidation will also be one of the topics at the July 11 Ann Arbor city council working session – the office of community development is a joint city/county unit.
Two other items that have received considerable – often contentious – discussion at previous meetings were passed with virtually no comment. Both relate to police services that are provided under contract to local municipalities by the sheriff’s office. On the first item, the county board approved the recommendation of a court-ordered facilitator in a lawsuit filed against the county in 2006 over the cost of police services. The recommendation states that Ypsilanti Township and Augusta Township should pay the county $749,427 for police services provided in 2006. The boards of those townships are expected to vote on the recommendation this week. If approved, it could lead to the closure of that legal battle.
On the second related item, the county board gave final approval to the price that municipalities will pay for a contract sheriff’s deputy through 2015. The price in 2012 – $150,594 – is unchanged from this year, but will rise in subsequent years by about 1% annually. The complex, politically-charged process of arriving at those figures involved more than a year of discussion between the sheriff’s office, other county officials and leaders of local municipalities that contract for these services.
Several other budget-related issues were addressed during the July 6 meeting, including initial approval to an agreement with the Michigan Nurses Association – Unit I, the union that represents 13 public health nurses and nurse coordinators in the county’s health services department. It’s the first of 15 union agreements being negotiated as part of the 2012 and 2013 budget cycle, and is expected to achieve an annual savings of $132,000. In total, the county hopes to see about $8 million in labor concessions for the two-year budget cycle, to help address a projected $17.5 million deficit.
Commissioners also voted to raise the fee for waiving the statutory three-day marriage license waiting period, increasing it from $5 to $50. County clerk Larry Kestenbaum, whose office processes marriage licenses, assured the board that the vast majority of applications are willing to wait the three days, and won’t incur this additional cost for expediting the process. Conan Smith joked that he had hoped Kestenbaum would come forward with a package discount deal – for marriage licenses and concealed weapons permits. [Full Story]