A Bloomberg Businessweek report about the impact of Detroit’s bankruptcy on bonding in Michigan quotes Erik Gordon, who teaches at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business: “Investors can’t price a bond in Saginaw or Genesee or Battle Creek if they don’t know what a general-obligation bond means. When somebody changes the rules of the game, there’s not much you can do about it, and you don’t want to play again.” [Source]
Washtenaw County board of commissioners special meeting (July 24, 2013): As the staff works on developing a budget to present on Oct. 2, county commissioners have set four broad priorities to guide that process.
Those priorities, listed in order of importance, are: (1) ensure a community safety net through health and human services; (2) increase economic opportunity and workforce development; (3) ensure mobility and civic infrastructure for Washtenaw County residents; and (4) reduce environmental impact. [.pdf of budget priorities resolution] [.pdf of budget priorities memo and supporting materials]
The vote on the budget priorities resolution was 6-1, with dissent from Dan Smith (R-District 2), who indicated that his No. 1 priority is long-term fiscal stability, followed by public safety and justice. Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) had left the meeting before the vote, and Alicia Ping (R-District 3) was absent. Although it was not part of the four priorities, a resolved clause was added during the meeting, stating that “the long-term fiscal stability of the county [will] continue to be of import throughout the budget development process.”
The resolution was brought forward by Felicia Brabec (D-District 4), who’s leading the budget process for the board. It also laid out a framework for developing strategies to measure the effectiveness of county investments in these priorities.
Brabec described this approach as “both a policy and a paradigm shift” that can’t happen overnight, but one that’s critical for the county’s future. The board is forming work groups focused on each of the four priorities, as well as on the topic of human resources. These work groups will be meeting to develop as many as five “community impact” goals in each category, in work that’s expected to continue into next year and beyond.
The July 24 meeting also included an update from county administrator Verna McDaniel about the county’s current financial condition and preliminary projections for 2014. At her last presentation, on May 15, 2013, McDaniel told commissioners that the county needed to identify $6.99 million in structural reductions for the 2014 budget. The approach to addressing this $6.99 million target depended on whether the county moved ahead with a major bond proposal to cover obligations to retirees, she said at the time. That bond proposal was put on hold earlier this month.
Now, the projected general fund shortfall is $3.93 million on a roughly $101 million budget. McDaniel indicated that the shortfall will be addressed primarily with operating cost reductions ($3.83 million) as well as $100,000 in cuts to funding of outside agencies, including support for nonprofits. The lower shortfall resulted from revised actuarial data that significantly lowered the contribution that the county is required to make toward its unfunded retiree obligations. Other factors include: (1) a decision not to make a $1 million contribution to the general fund’s fund balance; and (2) $2.4 million in higher-than-previously-anticipated revenue.
McDaniel noted that if the county had chosen to bond, then operational cuts would not be needed, and the fund balance contribution could be made. She also reported that the general fund budget doesn’t factor in serious state and federal cuts to non-general fund programs. “Revenue is needed,” she said. “We need to figure that out.”
Commissioners Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) and Conan Smith (D-District 9) both voiced interest in exploring possible new taxes. “I think it’s important that we strongly consider asking the voters of Washtenaw County if they’re willing to support some of the ongoing operations that we have,” said Rabhi, the board’s chair. “We need to pose that question at least to the voters in the form of a millage of some kind.”
Smith cited human services and public safety as areas that might gain voter support for a millage. During public commentary, representatives from SafeHouse Center urged commissioners to continue funding of that nonprofit, as well as for human service organizations in general.
The upcoming budget will be prepared without the major bonding initiative that until earlier this month was anticipated to occur later this year. The bonding was intended to cover unfunded pension and retiree healthcare obligations – for the Washtenaw County Employees’ Retirement System (WCERS) and Voluntary Employees Beneficiary Association (VEBA). The original maximum amount for the bonds had been estimated at up to $345 million, but updated actuarial data resulted in a lower estimate of about $295 million. During the July 24 meeting, commissioner Conan Smith said it’s unlikely that bonding could occur this year, although he’s still supportive in general of taking that approach.
McDaniel plans to present the 2014 budget to the board at its Oct. 2 meeting. Commissioners are required to adopt a balanced budget for 2014 by the end of 2013. At its May 1, 2013 meeting, the board had approved development of a four-year budget. However, commissioners have not yet decided whether to follow through by adopting a budget with that four-year horizon. And some commissioners – notably Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) – have expressed skepticism about this longer-term approach. For the past few years, budget plans have been developed for a two-year period, though the board must confirm the budget annually.
Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (April 17, 2013): Major budget issues were the focus of the April 17 county board meeting, including news that tax revenues in 2013 will be higher than anticipated.
After several years of reporting declining tax revenues, Raman Patel – the county’s equalization director – gave commissioners a report showing stronger signs of economic recovery, reflected in a 1.68% increase in taxable value. That translates into an estimated $2.327 million more in property tax revenues for county government than had been budgeted for 2013. [.pdf of Patel's presentation]
Also related to the budget, commissioners gave initial approval to a four-year budget planning cycle, a change from the current two-year cycle that’s been in place since 1994. Voting against the item was Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6). He and other commissioners expressed a range of concerns, including the fact that commissioners are elected every two years and therefore might not be able to contribute adequately to setting budget priorities. Although Peterson remained unconvinced, several commissioners observed that the annual budget affirmation process acted as a fail-safe, allowing the board to make adjustments based on changing priorities.
Another item that could have a dramatic impact on the county’s budget was only briefly mentioned: A proposal to issue up to $350 million in bonds to fully fund the county’s pension and retiree healthcare plans. It would be by far the largest bond issuance in the county’s history. County administrator Verna McDaniel plans to make a formal presentation about the proposal at the board’s May 2 working session. She distributed materials on April 17 to help commissioners prep for that meeting. [.pdf of bond proposal handout]
Commissioners also took a final vote officially to dissolve a countywide public transit authority known as the Washtenaw Ride. There was no discussion, but Conan Smith (D-District 9) – a vocal advocate for public transit – cast the sole vote against the resolution.
Other action handled by the board included a federal weatherization grant, a public hearing for the Urban County strategic plan, and resolutions honoring county employees and residents. Among them was Leila Bauer, the county’s chief deputy treasurer who is retiring after 41 years with the county. She received a standing ovation from the board.
Final approval to refinance debt for a sewer system on the county’s west side was given by Washtenaw County commissioners at their Feb. 20, 2013 meeting. The refinancing, which is intended to save about $110,000 in interest payment, got initial approval at the county board’s Feb. 6, 2013 meeting. [.pdf of bond resolution]
The resolution authorizes the sale of refunding bonds that would be used to pay the remaining principal on existing bonds that were sold in 2004. That year, the county sold $5.115 million in bonds to help Lyndon and Sylvan townships pay for the sewer. Of that amount, $2.25 million remains to be repaid. According to a staff memo, the project built sewers at Cavanaugh, Sugar Loaf, …
The Washtenaw County board of commissioners has given initial approval to refinance debt for a sewer system in Lyndon and Sylvan townships, on the county’s west side. The action was taken at the board’s Feb. 6, 2013 meeting and is intended to save about $110,000 in interest payments. A final vote is expected on Feb. 20. [.pdf of bond resolution]
The resolution authorizes the sale of refunding bonds that would be used to pay the remaining principal on existing bonds that were sold in 2004. That year, the county sold $5.115 million in bonds to help the townships pay for the sewer. Of that amount, $2.225 million remains to be repaid. According to a staff memo, the project built sewers …
At its March 5, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council authorized issuance of $120 million in bonds to finance renovations and improvements to the city’s wastewater treatment plant. The bonds are to be sold directly to the Michigan Finance Authority as part of the State of Michigan’s Water Pollution Control Revolving Fund Program.
The first series of bonds – for $37 million – is scheduled to be issued on April 10, 2012 to finance the first phase of the project. The remaining series will be issued in the first half of 2013.
This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow.
At its Dec. 7, 2011 meeting, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners gave final approval to issue up to $2.7 million in bonds – backed by the county’s full faith and credit – to help pay for a $3.2 million facility operated by the Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority (WWRA). The board had approved a contract for this project at its Sept. 21, 2011 meeting, and taken an initial vote on the bonds at its Nov. 16 meeting.
The WWRA plans to use $500,000 from its reserves to fund part of the project. The $2.7 million in bonds will be repaid through special assessments on households in participating WWRA communities: the city of Chelsea, Dexter Township, Lima Township, Lyndon Township, and Manchester Township. Bridgewater Township …
At its Nov. 16, 2011 meeting, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners gave initial approval to issue up to $2.7 million in bonds – backed by the county’s full faith and credit – to help pay for a $3.2 million facility operated by the Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority (WWRA). The board had approved a contract for this project at its Sept. 21, 2011 meeting. A final vote is expected at the board’s Dec. 7 meeting.
The WWRA plans to use $500,000 from its reserves to fund part of the project. The $2.7 million in bonds will be repaid through special assessments on households in participating WWRA communities: the city of Chelsea, Dexter Township, Lima Township, Lyndon Township, and Manchester Township. Bridgewater Township is participating …
At their Sept. 21, 2011 meeting, Washtenaw County commissioners gave final approval to a contract that would help pay for a $3.2 million facility operated by the Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority (WWRA). The contract is part of a deal that will include the county authorizing the issuance of $2.7 million in bonds, backed by the county’s full faith and credit.
The WWRA plans to use $500,000 from its reserves to fund part of the project. The $2.7 million in bonds would be repaid through special assessments on households in participating WWRA communities – the city of Chelsea, Dexter Township, Lima Township, Lyndon Township, and Manchester Township. Bridgewater Township is participating in the WWRA, but will not help fund the new facility. The …
At their Sept. 7, 2011 meeting, Washtenaw County commissioners gave initial approval to authorize issuance of $2.7 million in bonds, backed by the county’s full faith and credit, to help pay for a $3.2 million facility operated by the Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority (WWRA). A final vote is expected on Sept. 21.
The WWRA plans to use $500,000 from its reserves to fund part of the project. The $2.7 million in bonds would be repaid through special assessments on households in participating WWRA communities – the city of Chelsea, Dexter Township, Lima Township, Lyndon Township, and Manchester Township. Bridgewater Township is participating in the WWRA but will not help fund the new facility. The village of Manchester and Sylvan Township …
Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners meeting (Sept. 15, 2010): In a meeting remarkable mainly for its brevity – lasting less than 30 minutes – county commissioners on Wednesday passed several resolutions, ranging from approval of a millage that funds services for indigent veterans to new fees for remote-access online searching and copying of land records from the county register of deeds database.
No one spoke during any of the four opportunities for public commentary, nor did anyone speak at a public hearing for the indigent veterans millage. The board set another public hearing for Oct. 6 to seek input on an economic development millage it plans to levy.
Also during Wednesday’s meeting, the board passed the five-year master plan for Washtenaw County Parks & Recreation, and gave initial approval to backing a bond for a $2.8 million Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority project. The project will include a facility upgrade to handle single-stream recycling.
The board also approved a $6.5 million first-quarter budget and personnel changes for the Community Support & Treatment Services (CSTS) department, which operates under a fiscal year that’s aligned with the state and begins on Oct. 1. CSTS is in the process of merging with the Washtenaw Community Health Organization (WCHO), a partnership between the county and the University of Michigan Health System. The board got an update on that merger at its Sept. 16 working session.
Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners meeting (Sept. 1, 2010): During a meeting that lasted less than 90 minutes – including a break for a photo op – commissioners covered a lot of ground at their first meeting following a scaled-back summer schedule.
Two millage-related issues were dispatched without discussion: making minor changes to ballot language for renewing the natural areas preservation program millage, and setting a Sept. 15 public hearing for renewal of an indigent veterans relief millage.
Commissioners gave initial approval, again without discussion, to transfer the use of $10 million in federal Recovery Zone Economic Development Bonds from the county to the Washtenaw Community College. WCC plans to use the bonds to fund construction of a parking structure.
Also getting initial approval was a resolution to authorize the county to issue dog license renewals year-round, and to add the option of a three-year license. Currently, one-year dog licenses can be bought starting Dec. 1 for the upcoming year.
An agreement with St. Joseph Mercy Health System was terminated, related to the operation of the Delonis Center – the county’s homeless shelter. The agreement, put in place when the shelter was conceived, called for St. Joe’s to step in and operate the center if the entity created to do that work – the Washtenaw Housing Alliance – couldn’t perform that task. The WHA subsequently subcontracted operations to the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County and Food Gatherers, which have been operating the shelter for eight years. St. Joe’s asked that they be released from the agreement, but will keep their representatives on the WHA board.
And after months of discussion and debate, the board approved two resolutions that revived the county’s land bank, which commissioners had voted to dissolve in March 2010. Leah Gunn dissented, and three commissioners – Ken Schwartz, Jessica Ping and Barbara Bergman – were absent. County treasurer Catherine McClary, Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber and Sabra Briere, an Ann Arbor city councilmember, attended the meeting to support the land bank, a tool used to help the county deal with foreclosed and blighted properties, and after the vote they all thanked the board for its action.
Discussion at the Feb. 24 briefing for the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners covered a broad range of topics, including health screenings for the 50-100 refugees who settle in the county each year, federal funding for low-income families, a drug discount card for local residents, and a bond refunding for financially-strapped Sylvan Township. Some commissioners had questions and concerns about all these topics.
The briefing, which previewed items on the March 3 board agenda, drew more than just commissioners and administrative staff. In addition to The Chronicle, two others attended Wednesday’s meeting: A candidate for the 11th District county board seat, currently held by Jeff Irwin; and the county treasurer, Catherine McClary.
McClary was there to answer questions related to two resolutions she had proposed – only one of them made it onto the March 3 agenda. In discussing the resolution that will be considered on Wednesday, McClary noted that delinquent taxes are on the rise, expected to reach around $40 million this year – more than double the amount just five years ago.