The Detroit Free Press reports that Paul Dobrowolski has filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Ann Arbor and police chief John Seto, alleging that his Constitutional rights have been violated. Dobrowolski, an anti-abortion activist, has been ticketed for violating city code that prohibits parking a vehicle on a street with the purpose of displaying advertising. Dobrowolski was ticketed for parking outside of Planned Parenthood in Ann Arbor with a sign in his car that included information about a facility that provides free ultrasounds. [Source]
Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (May 16, 2012): Budget issues threaded through most topics raised at the recent county board meeting. Some were obvious, like the first-quarter budget update, and some less direct, like the stalled effort to develop a policy for animal control services.
The 2012 budget update covered the first three months of the year, but also looked at projections for the full year. Overall revenues for the general fund are now projected to be about $1.165 million more than budgeted in 2012 – thanks in large part to about $2.5 million more in property tax revenues than originally anticipated, but offset by revenue shortfalls in other areas. Total revenues for the 2012 general fund are expected to reach $99.9 million.
But expenditures for the general fund are $893,527 more than budgeted, primarily due to $669,000 in higher-than-expected costs in the sheriff’s office from greater use of part‐time temporary workers and overtime, operating supplies, and jail medical/food contracts.
The 2012 budget had anticipated a surplus of $1.889 million, but the administration is now projecting a surplus of just $272,238. That surplus is intended to carry over into the 2013 fund balance – so the county faces a $1.617 million shortfall in the amount it had budgeted for the fund balance contribution in 2013. Currently, the county has a $14.5 million fund balance.
Tina Gavalier, the county’s finance analyst, told commissioners that she’ll have a much clearer picture of the budget outlook when she gives a second-quarter update at the board’s Aug. 1 meeting. She listed out several areas that the administration intends to monitor closely, including medical costs, state revenue-sharing, personal property tax reform, and actuarial valuations for the retirement plan and retiree health benefits.
The board also took an initial vote to set the 2012 county general operating millage rate at 4.5493 mills – unchanged from the current rate. Several other county millages are levied separately: emergency communications (0.2000 mills), the Huron Clinton Metroparks Authority (0.2146 mills), two for county parks and recreation (0.2353 mills and 0.236 mills) and for the natural areas preservation program (0.2409 mills). That brings the total county millage rate to 5.6768 mills, which is also unchanged from 2011. One mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of a property’s taxable value.
This is an annual procedural action, not a vote to levy new taxes, and it’s typically passed without discussion. But this time Wes Prater raised concerns about a $29 million fund balance for the parks and recreation department, saying it was too high and wondering whether it indicated that the tax levy for parks should be lowered. Several other commissioners – including those who serve on the parks & recreation commission (which oversees those funds) – defended the fund balance, noting that several major capital projects are in the works that will tap that money.
In another budget-related action, commissioners gave final approval to the Urban County’s annual plan for July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2013 with a $3.59 million budget. The Urban County is a consortium of local municipalities that receive federal funding for projects in low-income neighborhoods. In a separate vote, the board approved adding Webster Township to the consortium, which includes the city of Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and several townships.
Two residents spoke during public commentary, objecting to funding for Planned Parenthood that was included in the annual plan. That particular funding had already been approved last year by the board, as part of a coordinated funding model that pools includes money from the county, the Urban County, Washtenaw United Way, and the city of Ann Arbor to fund several dozen human services nonprofits.
Two commissioners commented on issues related to animal control services during the May 16 meeting. Barbara Bergman noted that there had been a “failed meeting” of a task force on May 9 – only she and board chair Conan Smith had attended from the board, although the task force is open to all commissioners. [See Chronicle coverage: "Low Turnout for Animal Control Task Force."] The intent is to set policy that will guide a request for proposals that the county plans to issue later this year, for its next contract to provide animal control services. Those services are currently handled by the Humane Society of Huron Valley (HSHV), in a contract that expires at the end of 2012. [A subsequent task force meeting on the morning of May 23 drew five of the 11 commissioners, and will be reported in a separate Chronicle article.]
A separate work group on animal control services is being led by the sheriff’s office. That group is tasked with developing a methodology to determine the cost of providing animal control services. It includes representatives from HSHV, the county, and other municipalities that have animal control ordinances. Commissioner Rob Turner, who serves on the group, reported that the HSHV has agreed to work with the county’s finance department to come up with a cost breakdown for the services it currently provides.
The May 16 meeting also included a brief swearing-in ceremony for Felicia Brabec, who won a May 8 special election to represent District 7. Brabec had been appointed to the board last October following Kristin Judge’s resignation.
Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (June 1, 2011): Budget issues again occupied commissioners’ focus at this month’s county board meeting. The board took an initial vote to set the price for a contract sheriff’s deputy and to approve funding for local nonprofits.
While the board’s previous meeting drew supporters from a range of human services groups, on Wednesday most public commenters spoke against funding of one specific nonprofit: Planned Parenthood of Mid and South Michigan. Their arguments on financial and moral grounds were ultimately unpersuasive to commissioners, who voted unanimously to approve support for Planned Parenthood and several other agencies, totaling $1.015 million through fiscal year 2013, including $53,040 from the county for Planned Parenthood.
Two commissioners raised concerns that county funding for human services in general is inadequate, especially in light of proposed changes that could bump thousands of beneficiaries statewide off the welfare rolls later this year.
In a vote that also holds budget implications, the board’s move to set the price for a contract sheriff’s deputy was remarkable mainly for its lack of debate – historically it’s been a contentious issue. Commissioners gave initial approval without comment. The price set in 2012 for a police services unit (PSU) is $150,594 – unchanged from this year. That’s followed by 1% annual increases through 2015. The difference between the actual cost of a PSU and the amount charged – roughly $25,500, based on current figures – would be covered by the county. The item will return to the board’s July 6 meeting for a final vote.
Meanwhile, a 2006 lawsuit filed against the county over the amount it charged at that time for contract deputies remains unresolved. Judge Joseph Costello of the 38th Circuit Court Chief has ordered the county and Augusta and Ypsilanti townships into non-binding facilitation, in a meeting set for June 22.
During Wednesday’s meeting, commissioners also approved a raft of other items, including: (1) the hiring of Monique Reeves as new medical director; and (2) five drain projects in Ann Arbor that require bonds backed by the county’s full faith and credit. The board also voted to add five new working sessions to its calendar: on June 16, July 21, Aug. 18, Sept. 15 and Oct. 13. All are focused on the 2012-2013 budget.
Finally, at the end of its meeting the board went into executive session for about an hour to address three issues: (1) a collective bargaining strategy; (2) possible settlement of pending litigation; and (3) review of a legal opinion.