Stories indexed with the term ‘Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners’

Equalization Report: Taxable Value Up

Most local governments in Washtenaw County will see increases in tax revenue this year, according to the 2014 equalization report that county commissioners approved at their April 16, 2014 meeting. The report was presented by Raman Patel, the county’s long-time equalization director.

Equalized (assessed) value is used to calculate taxable value, which determines tax revenues for the county as well as its various municipalities and other entities that rely on taxpayer dollars, including schools, libraries and the Ann Area Arbor Transportation Authority, among others.

For 2014, taxable value in the county increased 2.02% to $14.18 billion. That’s a greater increase than the 1.68% climb in 2013, and an improvement over declines seen in recent years.

It’s also an improvement over projections made when … [Full Story]

Final Approval Granted for Police Services

A two-year pricing proposal for contracts to provide police services to local municipalities has received final authorization from the Washtenaw County board of commissioners at its April 16 meeting.

For 2016 and 2017, the police services unit (PSU) price will be  $156,709 and  $158,276, respectively. An initial vote had been taken on April 2, 2014.

By way of background, on July 6, 2011, commissioners had authorized the price that municipalities would pay for a contract sheriff’s deputy through 2015. The price in 2012 – $150,594 per “police services unit” – was unchanged from 2011, but has been rising in subsequent years by about 1% annually. The complex, politically-charged process of arriving at those figures in 2011 involved more than a year of discussion … [Full Story]

Thompson Block Brownfield Plan Gets OK

Final approval for a brownfield redevelopment plan for the Thompson Block in Ypsilanti’s Depot Town area was given by the Washtenaw County board of commissioners at its April 16, 2014 meeting. [.pdf of Thompson Block brownfield plan] Commissioners had granted initial approval on April 2, 2014.

The plan covers 400-408 N. River St. and 107 E. Cross St., an historic property that has been declared ”functionally obsolete and blighted.” That qualifies the project as a brownfield under the state’s brownfield redevelopment financing act (Public Act 381), which allows the owner to receive reimbursements for eligible activities through tax increment financing (TIF). Approval also will allow the developer to apply for Michigan Business Tax Credits. The property is currently owned by Thompson … [Full Story]

Distribution of Accommodation Tax Approved

Initial approval of proceeds from a countywide tax on hotels and other accommodations has been given by the Washtenaw County board of commissioners.

For 2013, $472,846 was available for distribution. Given initial approval at the board’s April 16, 2014 meeting was a distribution that sees the county keeping 10% ($47,285) to pay for enforcement of the accommodation ordinance. The remainder will be divided between the Ann Arbor Convention & Visitors Bureau ($319,171) and the Ypsilanti Convention & Visitors Bureau ($106,390).

A final vote on that distribution is expected on May 7.

The county collects the 5% excise tax from hotels, motels, and bed & breakfasts, which is then distributed to the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti convention & visitors bureaus and used to promote … [Full Story]

Urban County Action Plan: Initial Approval

Washtenaw County commissioners gave initial approval to the 2014 Urban County action plan at their April 16, 2014 meeting. The plan covers the period from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015 and outlines how the Urban County consortium intends to spend federal funding received from the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). [.pdf of draft action plan]

Washtenaw Urban County, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Map of Urban County participants.

The Urban County is a consortium of Washtenaw County and 18 local municipalities that receive federal funding for low-income neighborhoods. Members include the cities of Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Saline, and 15 townships. “Urban County” is a designation … [Full Story]

Homeless Issues Emerge on County Agenda

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (April 2, 2014): Responding to several homeless residents who spoke during public commentary, commissioners spent about 90 minutes on April 2 discussing how to address short-term and long-term needs of the homeless.

Yousef Rabhi,  Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8), chair of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners, talked with an advocate from the homeless community before the April 2 county board meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

The board ultimately voted to direct county administrator Verna McDaniel to work with community partners to address immediate needs of the homeless. In general, McDaniel has budgetary discretion to spend up to $50,000 on professional services contracts, and up to $100,000 for any proposed goods, services, new construction or renovation. Later in the week, she allocated $35,000 to the Delonis Center – which is run by the nonprofit Shelter Association of Washtenaw County – to keep its nighttime warming center open through April 30. The warming center had originally been slated to close for the season on April 6.

The resolution also directed the administration to develop a plan by May 7 for updating the county’s Blueprint to End Homelessness, which was adopted in 2004 but appears to be dormant. The process of updating that plan is to be completed by Oct. 1, 2014.

Conan Smith (D-District 9) had initially suggested allocating $40,000 to the shelter to keep the warming center open another month. Other commissioners had concerns about throwing money at the shelter without any input from shelter staff, and without knowing specifically how the money would be used. Because the item hadn’t been included on the agenda, representatives from the shelter staff didn’t attend the meeting.

Some commissioners thought there should be a strategic plan in place before any additional funding is given – and they seemed to assume that such a plan doesn’t already exist. Mary Jo Callan, director of the county’s office of community & economic development, noted that the city of Ann Arbor and several other entities are working on this issue, in partnership with the Shelter Association. The board had received a briefing from the association’s executive director, Ellen Schulmeister, at their Feb. 6, 2014 working session.

The vote on the resolution was 6-2, over dissent from Republicans Dan Smith (District 2) and Alicia Ping (District 3), who both objected to the process. Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) was absent.

Dan Smith called it “completely and entirely inappropriate” to be making policy and budgetary decisions on the fly, in response to a few people who showed up to speak during public commentary. He supported updating the Blueprint to End Homelessness, but thought it was a discussion that should take place at a working session before taking action at a regular board meeting. Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) responded by saying that commissioners are elected to work for the people. When people come to the board, it’s important to address their concerns in a serious manner, he said.

Because of the length of the meeting, some men who were staying at the shelter missed the 9:30 p.m. curfew. Typically, anyone showing up after that time isn’t allowed inside. Greg Dill, the county’s director of infrastructure management, contacted the shelter staff and made arrangements for the men to be accommodated.

In other action, commissioners gave initial approval to a two-year pricing proposal – for 2016 and 2017 – to provide police services to local municipalities through contracts with the county sheriff’s office. Some commissioners expressed concern about the financial sustainability of this approach to funding police services, and cited the need for new revenue sources for public safety. Sheriff Jerry Clayton was on hand to present the pricing proposal, and supported suggestions to seek a new funding source. As he’s done in the past, Clayton characterized the issue of public safety as one that encompasses economic development, human services and other aspects of the community.

Commissioners also gave initial approval to a new brownfield redevelopment plan for the Thompson Block in Ypsilanti’s Depot Town, and took final action to add autism coverage to the health care benefits for employees. They postponed action on a resolution related to the county road commission until May 7, following an April 17 working session that will focus on that issue. The board also was briefed on the 2013 audit and comprehensive annual financial report (CAFR), and received an award for financial reporting from the national Government Finance Officers Association.

During communications, Felicia Brabec (D-District 4) reported that the review of applications is underway for the current cycle of coordinated funding, a partnership to fund social service agencies that involves the county, city of Ann Arbor, and several other entities. For this cycle, 105 applications were received, representing $8.7 million in requests. The amount of available funding this year from all partners is $4.4 million. “So it’s a difficult, difficult process,” she said. Funding recommendations will be brought to the board in May.

On April 2, the board also honored five local businesses and institutions with “healthy workplace” awards, and recognized the Ann Arbor Community Center for 91 years of service. [Full Story]

County Board Discusses Homelessness

After about 90 minutes of discussion on an item not originally on its April 2, 2014 agenda, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners took steps to address short-term and long-term needs of the homeless.

The board voted to direct county administrator Verna McDaniel to work with community partners to address immediate needs of the homeless. [In general, McDaniel has budgetary discretion to spend up to $50,000 on professional services contracts, and up to $100,000 for any proposed goods, services, new construction or renovation.] The resolution also directs the administration to develop a plan by May 7 for updating the county’s Blueprint to End Homelessness, which was adopted in 2004 but appears to be dormant. The process of updating that plan is to be … [Full Story]

Action on Road Commission Postponed

Washtenaw County commissioners have postponed a resolution regarding the county road commission until their May 7, 2014 meeting. It’s the first board meeting that follows an April 17 working session, when issues related to the road commission will be discussed. The vote to postpone took place at the county board’s April 2, 2014 meeting.

The resolution, if passed, would leave the county road commission as an independent entity. The resolution also states that the county board does not support making the road commission’s board an elected body. [.pdf of board resolution]

The resolution is in line with recommendations of a board subcommittee that was appointed in October of 2013 to look at the future of the road commission. At its final … [Full Story]

Brownfield Plan for Ypsilanti Site: Initial OK

A brownfield redevelopment plan for the Thompson Block in Ypsilanti’s Depot Town area was given initial approval by the Washtenaw County board of commissioners at its April 2, 2014 meeting. A final vote is expected on April 16. [.pdf of Thompson Block brownfield plan]

The plan covers 400-408 N. River St. and 107 E. Cross St., an historic property that has been declared ”functionally obsolete and blighted.” That qualifies the project as a brownfield under the state’s brownfield redevelopment financing act (Public Act 381), which allows the owner to receive reimbursements for eligible activities through tax increment financing (TIF). Approval also will allow the developer to apply for Michigan Business Tax Credits. The property is currently owned by Thompson Block … [Full Story]

County Jail Bonds To Be Re-Funded

The  Washtenaw County board of commissioners has given initial approval to authorize the re-funding of up to $16.5 million in outstanding capital improvement bonds, which were originally issued in 2006 to fund expansion of the county jail. The action took place at the board’s April 2, 2014 meeting.

According to a staff memo, $16.9 million in principal remains of the original $21.675 million bond sale. The county’s bond counsel, Axe & Ecklund, is advising the re-funding because of lower interest rates, and estimates a net savings of about $869,000 over life of the bond issue. The new issue would be called “County of Washtenaw Capital Improvement Refunding Bonds, Series 2014.” [.pdf of refunding resolution]

Bond counsel John Axe told the board that current interest rates are … [Full Story]

County Board Acts on Police Services Contract

A two-year pricing proposal for contracts to provide police services to local municipalities has received initial authorization from the Washtenaw County board of commissioners at its April 2, 2014 meeting. A final vote is expected on April 16.

On July 6, 2011, commissioners had authorized the price that municipalities would pay for a contract sheriff’s deputy through 2015. The price in 2012 – $150,594 per “police services unit” – was unchanged from 2011, but has been rising in subsequent years by about 1% annually. The complex, politically-charged process of arriving at those figures in 2011 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.

The board’s … [Full Story]

County Board Handles Budget, Policy Items

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (March 19, 2014): Budget and finance issues were the focus of several items at the March 19 meeting, including a report that the county saw a $3.92 million surplus for its general fund in 2013. The county’s fiscal year is the same as the calendar year. Total general fund revenues were $105.797 million, with total expenses of $101.876 million.

Pat Kelly, Dexter Township, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Pat Kelly, former Dexter Township supervisor, talks with county commissioner Conan Smith and finance director Kelly Belknap before the March 19, 2014 county board meeting. The board passed a resolution of appreciation for Pat Kelly during the meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

The board also heard from county treasurer Catherine McClary, who reported that foreclosures are decreasing, as are delinquent taxes. Delinquent taxes are a leading economic indicator for both mortgage foreclosures and tax foreclosures, she noted, so the decreases are good news. Commissioners gave initial authorization to the treasurer’s office to borrow up to $30 million against the amount of delinquent property taxes in all of the county’s 80 taxing jurisdictions, an annual process.

Commissioners also authorized the county administrator to hire a contract employee who will support budget-related work this year for the county board and administration. The vote came over dissent from Rolland Sizemore Jr., who felt the work could be absorbed by existing staff.

The budget was also the focus of an update from lobbyist Kirk Profit and his colleague Gary Owen at Lansing-based Governmental Consultant Services Inc., who talked about how action in the state government might impact Washtenaw County. GCSI is the lobbyist for the county and several other local governments, including the city of Ann Arbor. Their updates included the fact that legislation has been introduced to repeal Act 88, which the county uses to levy taxes for economic development and agriculture. This year, the county has budgeted $973,000 in revenues from an Act 88 levy.

In other action, the board appointed former Superior Township supervisor Bill McFarlane to the county road commission board, to fill the seat left vacant by the recent death of long-time road commissioner Fred Veigel. The remainder of that six-year term runs through Dec. 31, 2014.

Commissioners supported McFarlane, but also discussed the possibility of changing the process so that interviews with applicants would be held at a public meeting. Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8), who as board chair makes these nominations, described the process of nominating a new road commissioner as a difficult one, and highlighted the need for a five-member road commission. Currently the road commission board consists of three members. It’s an issue that Rabhi plans to bring up at an April 17 working session.

The board also took a step toward allowing employees to get health insurance coverage for the treatment of autism. Commissioners gave initial approval that would authorize adding an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) rider to existing active employee and retiree benefits.

And a resolution to oppose a mineral mining operation in Lyndon Township drew criticism from Dan Smith (R-District 2), who objected to the county board weighing in on an issue that’s not within its purview. Other commissioners felt the county had a vested interest in formally voicing an opinion, both because of broader economic and environmental impacts that would affect residents, and because the county parks & recreation commission owns property in the township. Smith’s decision to state “present” – rather than casting a yes or no vote – resulted in brief discussion about board rules. [Full Story]

More Candidates File for County Board Race

Two more candidates have filed to run for seats on the Washtenaw County board of commissioners in the Aug. 5, 2014 primary election.

Incumbent Democrat Ronnie Peterson paid a $100 fee on March 25 to appear on the ballot for District 6, which includes Ypsilanti and parts of Ypsilanti Township and Superior Township. And Wilma Gold-Jones, a Democrat from Ypsilanti Township, has filed the required number of signatures to be put on the ballot in District 5. She filed petitions on March 14, and the signatures she collected were subsequently validated by the county elections director. The incumbent in that seat, Rolland Sizemore Jr., previously had announced his intent not to seek re-election. District 5 covers southeast Washtenaw, including Augusta Township and much of … [Full Story]

Conan Smith to Seek County Board Re-Election

Democrat Conan Smith has announced his intent to seek re-election to the Washtenaw County board of commissioners, representing District 9 in Ann Arbor.

Conan Smith, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Conan Smith (D-District 9) at the Washtenaw County board of commissioners March 19, 2014 meeting.

He emailed The Chronicle about his decision on Saturday, March 22, 2014 and posted a comment on his Facebook page the following day, on March 23.

Smith was elected to his first two-year term on the county board in 2004. He served as board chair in 2011 and 2012. He is executive director of the Michigan Suburbs Alliance, a nonprofit based in Ferndale.

Smith … [Full Story]

McFarlane Appointed to Road Commission

At its March 19, 2014 meeting, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners made appointments to six county committees, commissions and boards. [.pdf of application packet]

The appointments included naming former Superior Township supervisor Bill McFarlane to the Washtenaw County road commission board, to fill the seat left vacant by the recent death of long-time road commissioner Fred Veigel. The remainder of that six-year term runs through Dec. 31, 2014. Unlike most other county appointed boards, road commissioners receive annual compensation of $10,500.

McFarlane was among 10 applicants for the position. Others who applied included former county commissioner Rob Turner; Mike Henry, chair of the Ann Arbor Democratic Party; and University Bank CEO Stephen Ranzini.

Nominations are made by the board chair. The current … [Full Story]

County Opposes Lyndon Twp. Mineral Mining

A mineral mining proposal in Lyndon Township received formal opposition from the Washtenaw County board of commissioners at its March 19, 2014 meeting.

On a majority vote, the board passed a resolution that “formally opposes the establishment of the proposed McCoig Materials mining operation in Lyndon Township on the basis of the very serious negative consequences to the surrounding communities.” The company is proposing a sand and gravel mine on 189 acres north of Chelsea on M-52. The rural site is located near several parks and nature areas, including  Waterloo State Recreation Area, the Pinckney State Recreation Area, Park Lyndon, the Green Lake Camping area, and the Waterloo-Pinckney Hiking Trail.

McCoig is asking Lyndon Township for special land use zoning and has submitted … [Full Story]

Delinquent Tax Borrowing Gets Initial OK

In an annual action to help the cash flow of local governments in Washtenaw County, the county board of commissioners gave initial authorization to county treasurer Catherine McClary to borrow up to $30 million against the amount of delinquent property taxes in all of the county’s 80 taxing jurisdictions. The action took place at the board’s March 19, 2014 meeting, with a final vote expected on April 2.

It’s a standard practice to help the local jurisdictions manage their cash flow. The estimated amount of delinquent taxes is lower than in recent years, possibly reflecting a recovering economy. Last year, the board authorized borrowing up to $40 million. [.pdf of delinquent tax resolution]

After March 1, taxing jurisdictions – including cities, townships, … [Full Story]

County Moves to Offer Insurance for Autism

Washtenaw County employees will soon be able to get health insurance coverage for the treatment of autism, following action at the county board’s March 19, 2014 meeting. In a unanimous vote, the board gave initial approval that would authorize adding a Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) rider to existing active employee and retiree benefits. [.pdf of staff memo and resolution]

Adding the rider would cost the county an estimated $182,589 this year, according to staff – to be paid to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. To cover that cost, each county department will be charged on a per-employee basis. In addition, the county will pay for claims made by employees for this benefit, with the assumption that most if not all claims … [Full Story]

County Board Briefed on Transit Tax

Washtenaw County board of commissioners working session (March 6, 2014): Two months before voters will weigh in on a public transit millage proposal, staff with the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority briefed county commissioners about the initiative, and answered a wide range of questions.

Michael Benham, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Michael Benham, special assistant for strategic planning at the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority. (Photos by the writer.)

The proposal – for an 0.7 mill tax to pay for expanded transit services – was placed on the May 6 ballot by the AAATA board on Feb. 20, 2014. The tax would be levied by the AAATA only if it wins a majority of support among voters across its three member jurisdictions: the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township.

Andy LaBarre (D-District 7), an Ann Arbor commissioner who chairs the working sessions, pointed out that those three jurisdictions touch seven of the nine districts represented by the Washtenaw County board.

The three commissioners representing Ann Arbor – LaBarre, Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) and Conan Smith (D-District 9) – attended the March 6 working session. The two commissioners representing Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township – Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) and Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) – were absent. A small portion of Ann Arbor is in District 2, represented by Republican Dan Smith. District 4, represented by Democrat Felicia Brabec, includes a small portion of Ypsilanti Township.

Questions during the March 6 session included clarification that the millage revenues would not support rail service, and a query about why the tax proposal was being put forward in May rather than November, when turnout would be higher for the general election. Another issue raised was whether a property tax for this type of activity is fair, considering that residents of apartments don’t see the impact of a property tax as directly as a homeowner does.

Michael Benham, AAATA’s special assistant for strategic planning, noted that the possibility of rail service is part of the authority’s 30-year plan, but it’s not in the current five-year plan for expanded services that would be funded by the new millage. He told commissioners that a May election will focus attention on transit, while there would be many other issues in November competing for attention. Benham also stressed the urgency of moving ahead on more services, which will include increased service hours, greater frequency of buses along some routes, and expanded Dial-a-Ride services.

As for the fairness of a property tax, Benham pointed out that the AAATA has few available options for raising revenue, and that revenues from the new millage will leverage additional state and federal funding.

Most commissioners were supportive of the millage and expanded services, citing reasons of environmental sustainability, social equity and economic development. Rabhi said he wanted to make it clear that his support for the transit millage does not mean he supports using public transit to divide the community based on socioeconomic levels. People should be able to live in downtown Ann Arbor even if they don’t earn above the area median income, he said. The concept of “segregating our community along economic boundaries is one that sickens me,” he said, adding that he didn’t think AAATA’s five-year plan buys into a segregated vision for this area.

At the end of working session, six commissioners – including the three who represent Ann Arbor districts – announced their official support for the millage in a press release.

For additional background on this issue, see Chronicle coverage: “Tax Question Focus of Transit Board Meeting“; “5-Year Transit Plan: Possible Tax Vote Soon“; “Survey: Majority Favorable on Transit Tax“; “Transit Vote for A2 and Ypsi: May 6, 2014“; “Committee to Oppose AAATA Millage“; and “Column: Let Data Steer Local Transit Policy.” [Full Story]

Number of Signatures Incorrect

Two reports on filings for the August 2014 primary election incorrectly reported the number of signatures needed on petitions for Washtenaw County commissioner. Candidates can file either 50 signatures from their district or pay a $100 fee to appear on the ballot. We note the error here, and have corrected the Civic New Tickers on Jan. 26, 2014 and Feb. 26, 2014.

County Board Handles Lawsuit, Art, Budget

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (March 5, 2014): A light agenda at the March 5 meeting was punctuated by a relatively rare closed session to discuss pending litigation. The specific litigation wasn’t cited.

Jim Casha, Mary Jo Callan, southeast Michigan regional transit authority, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Jim Casha shows Mary Jo Callan, director of Washtenaw County’s office of community & economic development, a map of the Michigan state fairgrounds. Casha is advocating for the southeast Michigan regional transit authority to develop the site as a regional transit hub. (Photos by the writer.)

However, in the previous week, a jury had awarded nearly $1.2 million to a former Washtenaw County employee, Ali Aboubaker, who had filed a discrimination lawsuit against the county in 2011. Responding to a query after the March 5 meeting, corporation counsel Curtis Hedger told The Chronicle that the county would be evaluating its options for appeal. The administration would also be meeting with the county’s insurance carrier to discuss the situation.

In other action, the board gave initial approval to hire a contract position that would support budget-related work for the board and administration. The item had been originally considered, but postponed, at the Feb. 5, 2014 meeting. The vote on March 5 was 7-1, over dissent from Dan Smith (R-District 2). Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) was absent.

Commissioners also voted to accept a grant from the Michigan Council of Arts and Cultural Affairs for the Youth Arts Alliance (YAA). Washtenaw County is the fiduciary for this five-county collaborative, which provides creative arts workshops to youth in the juvenile justice system. The county also provides office space for YAA.

The grant will pay local artists to install public art at each of the five county juvenile facilities, made with help from the youth at those facilities. The youth will also work with local musicians to create an original album. The alliance’s director, Heather Wilson, told commissioners: “We are seeing huge transformations with the kids experiencing creative arts as an outlet.”

During his communications to the board, chair Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) laid out the application process to fill the seat on the Washtenaw County road commission board left vacant by the recent death of long-time road commissioner Fred Veigel. The deadline for submitting applications is Sunday, March 16. Rabhi hopes to make a nomination at the board’s March 19 meeting. The appointment would be to fill the remainder of Veigel’s term, through Dec. 31, 2014. During the March 5 meeting, commissioners passed resolutions honoring Veigel as well as local activist Lois Mayfield, who died on Feb. 21.

Commissioners also scheduled a public hearing to give input for the Washtenaw Urban County 2014-15 action plan. The hearing will be held at the county boardroom in downtown Ann Arbor during the March 19 meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m. It’s intended to solicit feedback about proposed projects and programs that the county intends to implement with federal funding – through community development block grant (CDBG), HOME and emergency shelter grant programs – from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015.

The March 5 meeting included an update from Diane Heidt, the county’s human resources and labor relations director, about a proposal to offer autism health care coverage for county employees. A formal resolution is expected to be on the March 19 agenda for the board’s consideration.

Public commentary included advocacy from Jim Casha, who has previously addressed the board regarding the southeast Michigan regional transit authority. Washtenaw County is a member of the RTA, and the county board appoints two representatives to the RTA board. Casha’s remarks focused on the benefits of using the former state fairgrounds as a regional transit hub, instead of private development. [Full Story]

Public Hearing Set for Urban County Plan

At their March 5, 2014 meeting, Washtenaw County commissioners scheduled a public hearing for March 19 to give input for the Washtenaw Urban County 2014-15 action plan. The hearing, set to start at 6:30 p.m. at the county boardroom in downtown Ann Arbor, is intended to solicit feedback about proposed projects and programs that the county intends to implement with federal funding – through community development block grant (CDBG), HOME and emergency shelter grant programs – from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015. [.pdf of action plan]

The Urban County is a consortium of Washtenaw County and 18 local municipalities that receive federal funding for low-income neighborhoods. Members include the cities of Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Saline, and 15 townships. “Urban County” … [Full Story]

Applications Accepted for Road Commission

Applications are being accepted to fill the seat on the Washtenaw County road commission board left vacant by the recent death of long-time road commissioner Fred Veigel. The appointment process was announced by county board chair Yousef Rabhi at the board’s March 5, 2014. The deadline for submitting applications is Sunday, March 16. Rabhi hopes to make a nomination at the board’s March 19 meeting.

The appointment would be to fill the remainder of Veigel’s term, through Dec. 31, 2014. Applications can be submitted to Peter Simms of the Washtenaw County clerk’s office at simmsp@ewashtenaw.org.

The road commission is overseen by a three-member board that’s appointed by the county board. The two current commissioners are Doug Fuller and Barb Fuller, who are … [Full Story]

Hire for County Budget Work: Initial OK

Washtenaw County commissioners have given initial approval to a proposal to hire a contract position that would support budget-related work for the county board and administration. The vote came at the board’s March 5, 2014 meeting, with a final vote expected on March 19. The item had been originally considered, but postponed, at the board’s meeting on Feb. 5, 2014. The vote on March 5 was 7-1, over dissent from Dan Smith (R-District 2). Rolland Sizemore Jr. was absent.

This process started on Nov. 20, 2013 meeting, when commissioners gave direction to county administrator Verna McDaniel to research and recommend staffing options that would support the board’s community investment priorities. As part of adopting a four-year budget, the board set up a … [Full Story]

County to Get Homeland Security Grant

Washtenaw County commissioners have given initial approval to authorize the acceptance of $444,215 from the federal homeland security grant program, to fund projects and positions in the county sheriff’s office for a period from Sept. 1, 2013 through May 31, 2015. The action came at the county board’s March 5, 2014 meeting. A final vote is expected on March 19.

According to a staff memo, each project was reviewed and recommended by Washtenaw County’s homeland security task force. Major allocations include $117,983 for the Washtenaw County Technical Rescue Team; $107,704 for Washtenaw County Sheriff Emergency Services; and $90,000 to continue funding an existing crime analyst position in the sheriff’s office. The position is dedicated to the Detroit/Southeast Michigan Fusion Center, which coordinates crime analysis efforts and regional … [Full Story]

No Major Change Likely for Road Commission

A subcommittee that’s been exploring possible organizational options for the Washtenaw County road commission is recommending that it remain an independent operation, and not be absorbed into the county government.

Pat Kelly, Alicia Ping, Doug Fuller, Washtenaw County road commission, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Dexter Township supervisor Pat Kelly, Washtenaw County commissioner Alicia Ping, and Doug Fuller, chair of the county road commission board. Ping chairs a subcommittee that’s looking at the future of the road commission. Kelly is a member of that subcommittee, which met on March 1, 2014 at the county administration building in downtown Ann Arbor. (Photos by the writer.)

The recommendation was made at a March 1 meeting, and will be forwarded to the county board of commissioners, an elected body that has authority to make changes in the road commission’s organizational structure.

The vote came over dissent from Conan Smith of Ann Arbor (D-District 9), who argued that consolidating the road commission into the county would allow for more flexibility and accountability in oversight. Currently, the road commission is overseen by a board with three members appointed by the county board of commissioners to six-year terms. Smith thought that asking voters to approve a countywide road millage – when the revenues aren’t allocated by an elected body – would be a tough sell. It would be especially tough to sell to voters in the city of Ann Arbor, who already pay a millage for street maintenance within the city.

But others on the subcommittee were in line with the strong support from township officials for keeping the road commission independent. Most township boards in the county have passed resolutions supporting the current structure, citing their strong relationships with the road commission staff and board.

The subcommittee also discussed the option of expanding the current three-member board to five members. Pat Kelly, Dexter Township’s supervisor, voiced concerns over possible Open Meetings Act violations: Two members constitute a quorum, so any conversation about road commission business must be held in public. “I think a three-member body in the age of the Open Meetings Act is just a dangerous thing,” Kelly said. “I just don’t think it can operate properly all the time.”

The three county commissioners who serve on the subcommittee – Conan Smith, Dan Smith (R-District 2) and Alicia Ping (R-District 3) – all agreed that the question of expansion was primarily a political one, and should be taken up by the county board. Subcommittee members did not make a recommendation on this issue, but indicated that they’d be willing to discuss it further, if directed to do so by the county board.

Regarding the question of whether road commissioners should be elected positions, the subcommittee unanimously passed a resolution recommending not to pursue that option. The sense was that elections would be dominated by urban voters who are heavily Democratic, but who would be electing commissioners to oversee road projects in rural communities.

Also discussed on March 1 were possible funding options, focused primarily on (1) a countywide voter-approved millage, or (2) a levy by the county board under Act 283 of 1909, without voter approval. No recommendations were made on either of those options.

All subcommittee members agreed that action is needed to address the condition of roads, which Superior Township supervisor Ken Schwartz described as resulting from “inexcusable neglect from Lansing.” If the county board does intend to levy a millage for road projects, he urged them to act as soon as possible. Dan Smith noted that after the spring thaw, poor road conditions will be ”unlike we’ve ever experienced in our lifetime.”

Two of the three road commissioners – Doug Fuller and Barb Fuller, who are not related – attended the March 1 meeting but did not participate in the discussion. The third road commissioner – labor leader Fred Veigel, who was first appointed in 1990 – was in hospice and died the following day, on March 2.

For additional background on this process, see Chronicle coverage: “Group Explores Road Commission’s Future.[Full Story]

Process Debated for Platt Road, Act 88 Funds

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Feb. 19, 2014): A broad community planning process for the future of Platt Road property owned by Washtenaw County is moving forward, after the county board approved a set of recommendations made by a citizens advisory group.

Jason Morgan, Washtenaw Community College, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Jason Morgan, director of government relations for Washtenaw Community College, was appointed to the county’s community action board during the Feb. 19 meeting of the county board of commissioners. (Photos by the writer.)

The vote was unanimous, but came after Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) raised concerns about the affordable housing component of the project. The planning process will use a $100,000 grant from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA), with a stipulation that planning for the 13.5-acre property – south of Washtenaw Avenue – include consideration of affordable housing.

When debate was cut short through a procedural move, Peterson criticized commissioners for not spending more time on the topic – though it had been discussed at length during the board’s Feb. 5, 2014 meeting. Andy LaBarre (D-District 7), who is helping to lead the project and who serves as chair of the board’s working sessions, indicated support for discussing it further at an upcoming session.

Peterson also voiced concerns about a new Act 88 advisory committee, which resulted in a postponement of the first appointment to that group until March 19. The committee had been created at the board’s Nov. 6, 2013 meeting, as part of a broader policy to help the board allocate revenues levied under Act 88 of 1913. No appointments have been made, however. The county levies the tax to fund economic development and agricultural activities, including Ann Arbor SPARK.

As he has in previous board discussions, Peterson expressed concern that the board was abdicating its responsibility to allocate funding. Other commissioners assured him that the committee will deliver recommendations, but the board retains authority for making the allocations.

In other action, the board gave authority to the Washtenaw County clerk/register of deeds office to reduce the fee for expediting marriage licenses under certain circumstances – from $50 to 1 cent. The vote came over dissent from Kent Martinez-Kratz (D-District 1), who argued that fees should be applied equally to all applicants – whatever the amount. He also didn’t think the criteria for applying the waiver were clear. County clerk Larry Kestenbaum cited some examples of when this fee reduction might be used. As one example, he noted that the vital records office anticipates moving later this year to the space where the deeds office currently is, so the office will likely be closed for more than three days.

Kestenbaum also reported that last year, his office had anticipated that a lot of people would want to get married right away because of a possible change in the state’s same-sex marriage law. He said he announced at that time that he intended to waive the fee, but “my authority to do that has been questioned.” He subsequently looked at the state statute, which requires a fee to be set by the county board and charged – whether it’s $5, or $50, or 1 cent. “It’s your authority to do this,” he told commissioners.

During the Feb. 19 meeting, commissioners also gave final approval to create a new dental clinic in Ypsilanti for low-income residents, and heard public commentary regarding the importance of the GED (general education diploma).

Updates and communications included news that the Sharon Township board of trustees had passed a resolution urging the board to keep the road commission as an independent entity. At the county board’s Oct. 2, 2013 meeting, commissioners had created a seven-member subcommittee to “explore partnerships and organizational interactions with the Washtenaw County Road Commission.” State legislation enacted in 2012 opened the possibility of absorbing the road commission into county operations, which would give county commissioners direct control over funding and operations now administered by the road commission.

However, it’s unlikely that will happen. During a 2.5-hour meeting on March 1, the subcommittee voted to recommend that the duties and responsibilities of the road commission should not be transferred to the county board of commissioners. Alicia Ping (R-District 3), who chairs the subcommittee, told The Chronicle that she’ll be bringing the recommendation to the board at its meeting on March 5. [Full Story]

Sizemore: Not Running for Re-election

Rolland Sizemore Jr., one of the longest-serving current members of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners, has announced that he’s not running for re-election in 2014. The Ypsilanti Township Democrat was elected to his first two-year term in November 2000 to represent District 5, for a term starting in January of 2001. The district covers southeast Washtenaw, including Augusta Township and much of Ypsilanti Township.

Rolland Sizemore Jr., Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Commissioner Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5), at the Washtenaw County board of commissioner’s May 2, 2013 working session.

In an interview with The Chronicle on Feb. 26, Sizemore said he’d actually made … [Full Story]

County OKs Marriage License “Fee Holiday”

A proposal giving authority to the Washtenaw County clerk/register of deeds office to reduce the fee for expediting marriage licenses under certain circumstances – from $50 to 1 cent – was approved by the county board of commissioners at its Feb. 19, 2014 meeting. The vote was 5-1, with dissent by Kent Martinez-Kratz. Three commissioners – Felicia Brabec (D-District 4) Alicia Ping (R-District 3), and Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) – were absent.

Currently, the $50 fee is charged if applicants want to waive the statutory three-day marriage license waiting period. The resolution passed on Feb. 19 allows the county clerk, consulting with the county administrator, to establish a ”fee holiday” on the day preceding a period during which the office’s vital records … [Full Story]

Planning for Platt Road Site Moves Ahead

A broad community planning process for the future of Platt Road property owned by Washtenaw County will move forward, following approval by the county board of commissioners at its Feb. 19, 2014 meeting. With three commissioners absent from the 9-member body, the board voted unanimously to give final approval to a set of recommendations made by a citizens advisory group. Initial approval had been given on Feb. 5, 2014.

The 13.5-acre site at 2260 and 2270 Platt Road formerly housed the juvenile center. The advisory committee, which was created by the board on Sept. 18, 2013 and met three times late last year, recommended that the county use a $100,000 grant from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) to fund a community design … [Full Story]