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

County Board Appoints Road Funding Committee

Washtenaw County commissioners have approved appointments to a new committee that’s charged with exploring funding options for road repair. The appointments were made at the board’s July 9, 2014 meeting.

The board had created the road funding committee on June 4, 2014, after debating whether to levy a countywide road millage or put a millage proposal on the Nov. 4, 2014 ballot to fund road repair. The final vote to create the committee had been 6-1 vote, over dissent from Conan Smith (D-District 9). Commissioners Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) and Dan Smith (R-District 2) were absent.

In arguing against levying a tax at that time, some commissioners cited the need to study funding options – including a possible Act 283 levy, … [Full Story]

County Makes Mid-Year Budget Adjustments

Washtenaw County commissioners passed a resolution making mid-year budget adjustments and allocating this year’s higher-than-expected property tax revenues, as well as a $3.9 million surplus from 2013. The 6-2 vote was taken at the board’s July 9, 2014 meeting, with Dan Smith (R-District 2) and Conan Smith (D-District 9) dissenting. Andy LaBarre (D-District 7) was absent.

The adjustments increased the general fund budget’s expenses and revenues by $720,486 for 2014, $733,233 for 2015, $745,980 for 2016 and $758,727 for 2017. The county operates on a four-year budget, with the fiscal year matching the calendar year.

The adjustments also followed the recommendation of county administrator Verna McDaniel, and set aside the $3,920,818 surplus from 2013 in unearmarked reserves, rather than spending it. The projected year-end 2014 fund … [Full Story]

Funding OK’d to Address Juvenile Crime

An increase in violent crime committed by teens in Washtenaw County has spurred the need for additional funding from the county’s Child Care Fund. At its July 9, 2014 meeting, the county board of commissioners voted to authorize using $642,707 from the Child Care Fund balance to pay for a range of services overseen by the county’s dept. of human services.

Linda Edwards-Brown, the county’s juvenile court administrator, told commissioners that there’s been an increase in young men “terrorizing” their communities. The sheriff’s office and court had started working together several months ago after they began observing an increase in gang-type activity, she said, including home invasions, firearm larceny, and assaulting police officers. They’d been hopeful that they could stem the tide of … [Full Story]

County Creates New Board of Health

A new Washtenaw County board of health was created following action at the July 9, 2014 county board of commissioners meeting. Initial approval had been given on May 21, 2014. Rolland Sizemore Jr. cast the sole dissenting vote on both occasions.

A description of the board’s duties was outlined in a staff memo that accompanied the original May 21 resolution:
The purpose and role of a Washtenaw County Board of Health will be to identify public health problems and concerns in the community, establish health priorities, and advise the Board of Commissioners and the Health Department on issues and possible solutions. The Board of Health will serve as advocates and educators for public health services and policies. The Board of Health … [Full Story]

Next Phase Starts to Help Homeless

The Washtenaw County board of commissioners has voted to accept the report and recommendations of a task force that’s been working on a funding strategy to help end homelessness. The board’s action – taken on July 9, 2014 – also sunsets that task force.

The leadership group for the Task Force on Sustainable Revenues for Supportive Housing Services to End Homelessness made a presentation at the board’s May 22, 2014 working session. Their recommendations include the goal of building a $50 million endowment over 20 years. Payouts from the endowment would fund supportive services – such as treatment for mental illness and substance abuse – with the intent of addressing the root causes of homelessness. The concept is called permanent supportive … [Full Story]

County Parks Tax Renewal on Nov. Ballot

The Nov. 4, 2014 ballot will include a proposal to renew a 10-year countywide parks and recreation operations millage. The Washtenaw County board of commissioners gave final approval on July 9, 2014 to put the request on the ballot.

The action on July 9 was for an amended version, compared to a resolution given initial approval on May 21, 2014. That’s because some state-mandated information had inadvertently been left off the proposed ballot language in the original resolution, according to a staff memo. [.pdf of staff memo]

The operations millage was first authorized by voters in November 1976 at 0.25 mills for a 10-year period and has been renewed three times. Because of the state’s Headlee amendment, the rate that’s actually … [Full Story]

Board Gets Advice from County Electeds

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (June 4, 2014): The board’s meeting featured a discussion of how to allocate a budget surplus – prompted by recommendations from the five countywide “electeds.” The elected officials hope to partner with the county board as it sets priorities for the $3.9 million surplus from 2013. The county’s fiscal year is the same as the calendar year.

Kent Martinez-Kratz, Bob Tetens, Catherine McClary, Brian Mackie, Washtenaw County, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Commissioner Kent Martinez-Kratz (D-District 1); Bob Tetens, director of parks & recreation; county prosecuting attorney Brian Mackie; and county treasurer Catherine McClary. (Photos by the writer.)

The board, comprised of elected officials representing nine districts, is responsible for budget decisions. The five positions that are elected by voters countywide – the sheriff, prosecuting attorney, treasurer, clerk/register of deeds and water resources commissioner – head up county departments but must have their budgets approved by the board.

The board is developing a process that will guide budget decisions regarding how to manage budget surpluses or shortfalls, including $3.9 million surplus from 2013 and about $600,000 in higher-than-budgeted property tax revenues in 2014. The county administrator, Verna McDaniel, is recommending that the $3.9 million be kept as general fund reserves. Some county commissioners would rather spend at least a portion of the surplus.

The recommendation from the electeds is to allocate a to-be-determined percentage of any surplus to these five areas: (1) unfunded liabilities for the pension fund; (2) unfunded liabilities for the retiree health care fund; (3) the county’s housing fund, which was eliminated in 2012; (4) the delinquent tax fund reserves, specifically for internal advances on county projects to save bonding costs; and (5) the capital reserve fund or unearmarked reserve fund.

Commissioners made no decision on these recommendations, other than to thank the electeds for their input.

In other budget-related action, the board gave final approval to put a 10-year parks & recreation millage renewal on the Nov. 4, 2014 ballot. Commissioners also set public hearings for two millages that are levied annually in December without voter approval – for support of indigent veterans and their families; and to fund economic development and agricultural activities. Those hearings, to solicit public input, will be held at the board’s July 9 meeting.

The board also gave final approval to set the county’s general operating millage rate at 4.5493 mills – unchanged from the current rate. This is an annual process that includes a public hearing, which was also held on June 4. One person spoke.

A final vote was also taken to create a new committee that will explore funding options for road repair. This follows the board’s rejection – at its meeting on May 21, 2014 – of a proposal to levy a countywide tax for this purpose. No committee members have been appointed yet.

The board was also briefed on work by the community corrections unit, which is part of the sheriff’s department. It provides services that include jail diversion and alternative sentencing options to the Washtenaw County Trial Court, pre-trial services, drug testing, and electronic monitoring. The use of electronic monitoring has increased dramatically, from an average number of cases between 25-30 at any given time in FY 2012-2013, to between 85-115 cases in FY 2013-14.

During public commentary, commissioners heard from David Schonberger, an Ann Arbor resident who thanked the board for passing a resolution last month to oppose oil exploration and drilling in the county. He urged them to use it as a starting point for more action. Specifically, he advocated that the board fund a robust public education campaign and establish an advisory committee to work with Scio Township and the city of Ann Arbor on this issue. [Full Story]

Group to Study Countywide Road Funding

Washtenaw County commissioners gave final approval to create a new committee that will explore funding options for countywide road repair. The action took place at the board’s June 4, 2014 meeting on a 6-1 vote, over dissent from Conan Smith (D-District 9). Commissioners Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) and Dan Smith (R-District 2) were absent.

Commissioners had given initial approval to the idea at their May 21, 2014 meeting, after rejecting a proposal to levy a 0.4-mill countywide road tax in December. The tax would have been levied under Act 283 of 1909, which does not require voter approval.

In arguing against levying the tax at this time, some commissioners cited the need to study funding options – including a possible Act 283 levy … [Full Story]

County Parks Millage Renewal on Fall Ballot

Washtenaw County commissioners took action on two millage-related items at their June 4, 2014 meeting. The county board gave final approval to put a 10-year parks & recreation operations millage renewal on the Nov. 4, 2014 ballot. They also voted to set the county’s 2014 general operating millage rate at 4.5493 mills – unchanged from the current rate.

The parks & recreation operations millage was first authorized by voters in November 1976 at 0.25 mills for a 10-year period and has been renewed three times. Because of the state’s Headlee amendment, the rate that’s actually levied has been rolled back and is now 0.2353 mills. The current millage expires in December 2016.

If renewed again, it would generate an estimated $3.2 million annually. That’s … [Full Story]

County Millage Hearings Set for July 9

Public hearings are set for July 9, 2014 to get input on two millages that Washtenaw county levies without voter approval: (1) for support of indigent veterans and their families; and (2) to fund economic development and agricultural activities. The action to set the hearings took place at the June 4 meeting of the county board of commissioners.

No increase is proposed for the economic development millage, levied under Act 88. The proposal is to levy 0.07 mills in December 2014, raising an estimated $1,022,276 in property tax revenues. In previous years, the resolution setting this millage has outlined how the revenues would be allocated. The largest allocations have gone to the county’s office of community & economic development, and to the … [Full Story]

Community Corrections Grant Approved

Application for a $421,900 state community corrections grant was approved by the Washtenaw County board of commissioners at its June 4, 2014 meeting.

The grant from the Michigan Dept. of Corrections is for the period from Oct. 1, 2014 through Sept. 30, 2015. This is part of a regular, annual grant process to fund services that include diversion and alternative sentencing options to the Washtenaw County Trial Court, pre-trial services, drug testing, electronic monitoring and “social education,” according to a staff memo. The total program of $1.18 million also includes $240,983 in county matching funds, $280,584 in estimated program revenue, and $239,554 in the use of fund balance. The community corrections program is part of the county sheriff’s office. [.pdf of staff ... [Full Story]

County Continues to Explore Road Funding

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (May 21, 2014): The county board rejected a proposal to levy a 0.4-mill countywide road tax in December, but agreed to continue discussing funding options for road repair.

Barbara Bergman, Felicia Brabec, Yousef Rabhi, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Former county commissioner Barbara Bergman, left, talks with Felicia Brabec (D-District 4) and Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) before the board’s May 21, 2014 meeting. Bergman spoke during public commentary to oppose a possible road tax. (Photos by the writer.)

The vote on levying a millage was 2-6, with support only from Dan Smith (R-District 2) and Conan Smith (D-District 9). Alicia Ping (R-District 3) was absent. The tax would have been levied under Act 283 of 1909, which does not require voter approval.

Several commissioners spoke against levying this kind of tax at this time. Andy LaBarre (D-District 7) advocated for waiting to see whether the state provides more funding for roads. Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) reported that the boards of Willow Run and Ypsilanti public schools are considering levying tax increases this summer of 2.8 mills and 1.2 mills, respectively. The state passed legislation that enables school districts to levy millages for debt retirement without voter approval. Noting that a new public transit millage had been approved by voters earlier this month – in Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township and Ann Arbor – Peterson said the communities that he represents would be hard-pressed to handle yet another tax increase.

Dan Smith argued that there are few funding options available to the county to pay for road repair, and that the need for additional revenues is critical because the roads are in such bad shape. He said he was well aware of the reasons why this was a bad plan – even a terrible one – but added that the only thing worse would be to do nothing. Conan Smith pointed out that because all of the board seats are up for election this year, residents will have a way to weigh in on this decision, albeit indirectly. “This is the most defensible moment that we have” to levy a tax that doesn’t require voter approval, he said.

The May 21 meeting also included a public hearing on the possible levy. And the board heard from people on the topic during general public commentary. In total, seven people spoke about the road funding issue. Former county commissioner Barbara Bergman, who is an Ann Arbor resident, argued against levying the tax, while former state Rep. Rick Olson of York Township urged commissioners to levy the full 1-mill amount allowed under Act 283. Another resident argued against any tax that isn’t approved by voters, calling it taxation without representation.

After the tax levy resolution was rejected, Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) brought forward a resolution to create a seven-member road funding committee that would explore options – including Act 283, as well as other possible revenue sources like bonding or a voter-approved tax. The initial vote to form the committee passed on a 6-2 split, over dissent from Conan Smith and Dan Smith. A final vote is expected on June 4. If approved, members would be appointed at a later date, with the direction to provide a road funding plan to the board in the fall.

Commissioners also weighed in to oppose oil exploration and drilling in the county, prompted by a company’s permit application to the state to drill in Scio Township. The vote was 7-1, over dissent from Dan Smith. Two residents spoke during public commentary,urging the board to oppose oil drilling.

During deliberations, Dan Smith argued that the issue was outside of the county’s purview, because the county can’t regulate oil drilling. He noted that the easiest way to prevent oil drilling is for property owners not to sign leases with companies that seek to drill on their land. Other commissioners supported the resolution, citing environmental and public health concerns, including the proposed drilling location’s proximity to the Huron River.

In other action on May 21, commissioners took initial steps to: (1) put a 10-year countywide parks and recreation operations tax renewal on the Nov. 4 ballot, at 0.2353 mills; (2) create a board of health that would give advice on public health issues; and (3) approve an application for a $940,000 federal grant that the county would make on behalf of Ann Arbor SPARK, the local economic development agency. Funds would be used to help redevelop the former General Motors Willow Run Powertrain plant in Ypsilanti Township for use as a connected vehicle testing facility.

Given final approval on May 21 was this year’s allocation to local nonprofits through the coordinated funding process, in which the county participates.

The board also approved a process that will determine how the $3.9 million budget surplus from 2013 will be allocated. Conan Smith said he felt “personally let down” by the approach, because the county administrator has already recommended to keep that amount in the general fund’s unearmarked reserves. He thought it was “turning out to be little more than a rubber stamp of a decision that’s already been proposed by the administration.” Felicia Brabec (D-District 4), who’s leading this process, stressed that commissioners will be discussing and making the final decision – which might differ from the administration’s recommendation. [Full Story]

Task Force: Millage, Endowment for Housing

An ambitious plan to help the homeless – by creating 500 or more units of housing with support services, paid for through a millage and endowment fund – was presented to Washtenaw County commissioners at their May 22 working session.

Bob Guenzel, Mary Jo Callan, Norm Herbert, Washtenaw County, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Former Washtenaw County administrator Bob Guenzel and Mary Jo Callan, director of the county’s office community & economic development, talk with former University of Michigan treasurer Norm Herbert before the start of the May 22, 2014 county board working session. Guenzel and Herbert are members of a task force on supportive housing. (Photos by the writer.)

The leadership team of the Task Force on Sustainable Revenues for Supportive Housing Services briefed commissioners on their recommendations, including the goal of building a $50 million endowment over 20 years. Payouts from the endowment would fund supportive services – such as treatment for mental illness and substance abuse – with the intent of addressing the root causes of homelessness. The concept is called permanent supportive housing, and is part of the community’s broader Blueprint to End Homelessness, which was created in 2004 and is being updated.

A possible millage – recommended at 0.25 mills, for no more than 20 years – would help fund supportive services while the endowment is built. County commissioners are being asked to consider putting such a millage on the ballot, possibly in 2015.

Former county administrator Bob Guenzel, a task force member, told commissioners that the task force believes this approach “is absolutely the right thing to do, to end homelessness and keep people housed. We feel very strongly about that. It’s a moral issue.” There’s also a strong business case for this approach when looking at the cost of emergency services and the criminal justice system, compared to the cost of permanent supportive housing, he said.

Several steps have already been taken to achieve these goals. An endowment was established in 2011, with $2.1 million in commitments so far. That amount includes a $1 million gift from the St. Joseph Mercy Health System to create the endowment, which is called the Sister Yvonne Gellise Fund for Supportive Services for Housing. Gellise is the former CEO of St. Joe’s. She’s on the task force and is a founding board member of the Washtenaw Housing Alliance. Another $1 million commitment comes from the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation (AAACF), where the endowment is housed. AAACF Cheryl Elliott is another task force member. In addition, an anonymous donor has contributed $100,000.

The first fund distribution – of $26,100 – will be made this fall in a competitive grant process. AAACF’s distribution committee – an all-volunteer group – will be responsible for making grant recommendations.

AAACF is also helping provide a three-year, part-time development job to support fundraising for this endowment. Funding for the position will come from the Washtenaw Housing Alliance ($25,000), the AAACF ($5,000) and an anonymous donor ($10,000).

The foundation will post this position in early June, Elliott reported, with the intent of making a hire as soon as possible. The position would be in place until at least mid-2017. The employee will report to AAACF’s vice president for development and donor services, and to the Sister Yvonne Gellise Fund development committee. Members of that committee are the same people who’ve served on the leadership team of the task force, Elliott said. In addition to herself, members are Bob Chapman, Sister Yvonne Gellise, Bob Guenzel, Norm Herbert and Dave Lutton. They hope to get an additional two or three members, she said.

The next steps in this process include a request to the county board to sunset the task force at the June 4 board meeting. The board will also be asked to consider the task force’s recommendation for a millage. “Please use this year and into 2015 to set a millage strategy,” Elliott said.

The task force also stressed the importance of a public outreach and education effort, to help build awareness and support for the endowment.

The task force presentation was attended by five of the county’s nine commissioners. During their discussion, Conan Smith (D-District 9) expressed interest in having the county bond for this initiative – either for the full $50 million, or some portion of that amount. The county now has a triple-A bond rating, Smith noted. [That news had been announced earlier in the day. In general, higher ratings allow organizations to secure better terms for borrowing funds.] “This gives us an opportunity… to actually have some real impact in the community,” Smith said.

Task force members indicated that they hadn’t considered the option of bonding, and Elliott had some concerns about whether it would be legal to use taxpayer dollars for an endowment. They plan to explore the possibility, including consultation with legal counsel. [Full Story]

County Board Rejects Road Tax for Now

Washtenaw County commissioners voted down a proposal to levy a 0.4-mill countywide road tax in December, but agreed to continue discussing funding options for road repair. The vote on levying a millage was 2-6, with support only from Dan Smith (R-District 2) and Conan Smith (D-District 9). The action took place at its May 21, 2014 meeting. Alicia Ping (R-District 3) was absent.

The tax would have been levied under Act 283 of 1909, which does not require voter approval.

After the tax levy resolution was rejected, Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) brought forward a resolution to create a seven-member road funding committee that would explore options – including Act 283, as well as other possible revenue sources like bonding or a voter-approved … [Full Story]

County Board Opposes Local Oil Drilling

The Washtenaw County board of commissioners has weighed in to oppose oil exploration and drilling in the county, following a vote at the board’s May 21, 2014 meeting. The vote was 7-1, over dissent from Dan Smith (R-District 2). Alicia Ping (R-District 3) was absent.

The resolution was brought forward by board chair Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) of Ann Arbor, who had alerted the board about his plans at the previous meeting on May 7. He said he’d met with residents from the west side of the county about the threat of oil extraction. A drilling permit has been applied for in Scio Township, and residents are afraid that the state will grant the permit.

The two resolved clauses state:
BE IT … [Full Story]

County Board Moves to Set 2014 Millage Rate

Washtenaw County commissioners have taken the first step in setting the county’s 2014 general operating millage rate at 4.5493 mills – unchanged from the current rate. The county board took an initial vote on the rate at its May 21, 2014 meeting, with a final vote expected on June 4.

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 (for operations at 0.2353 mills and capital improvements at 0.2367 mills) and for the natural areas preservation program (0.2409 mills). That brings the total county millage rate levied in July to 5.6768 mills, a rate that’s also unchanged from 2013. [.pdf of staff memo]

This is an annual procedural action, not … [Full Story]

County Helps SPARK with Federal Grant

Washtenaw County is applying for a $940,000 federal grant on behalf of Ann Arbor SPARK, the local economic development agency. Funds would be used to help redevelop the former General Motors Willow Run Powertrain plant in Ypsilanti Township for use as a connected vehicle testing facility.

The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant is available through the National Infrastructure Investments Program of the U.S. Department of Transportation. SPARK asked that the county’s office of community & economic development (OCED) act as the lead applicant and fiscal agent. OCED already submitted the grant application – on April 25, 2014. According to a staff memo, “due to the grant application deadline, it was not possible to bring the matter before the [board ... [Full Story]

County to Create Public Health Board

Washtenaw County commissioners have taken an initial step to create a board of health, an entity that would prove advice on public health issues for the county. The action took place at the county board’s May 21, 2014 meeting on a 7-1 vote, over dissent from Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5). Alicia Ping (R-District 3) was absent.

A description of the board’s duties is outlined in a staff memo that accompanied the May 21 resolution:
The purpose and role of a Washtenaw County Board of Health will be to identify public health problems and concerns in the community, establish health priorities, and advise the Board of Commissioners and the Health Department on issues and possible solutions. The Board of Health will serve … [Full Story]

County Preps for Parks Millage Renewal

Voters will likely be asked to renew a 10-year countywide parks and recreation operations millage in November, now that the Washtenaw County board of commissioners have given initial approval to put the request on the Nov. 4 ballot. That action came at the board’s May 21, 2014 meeting. A final vote is expected on June 4.

The operations millage was first authorized by voters in November 1976 at 0.25 mills for a 10-year period and has been renewed three times. Because of the state’s Headlee amendment, the rate that’s actually levied has been rolled back and is now 0.2353 mills. The current millage expires in December 2016.

If renewed again, it would generate an estimated $3.2 million annually. That’s about half of … [Full Story]

County Board Continues Weighing Road Tax

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (May 7, 2014): Two topics dominated a four-hour meeting: possible funding options for road repair, and an update on how the community is addressing homelessness.

Curtis Hedger, Dan Smith, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Washtenaw County corporation counsel Curtis Hedger and commissioner Dan Smith (R-District 2). (Photos by the writer.)

Following a lengthy discussion, commissioners voted to set a public hearing about a possible countywide road millage. The hearing will be held at their meeting on May 21 so that the public can give input on a proposal to levy up to 1 mill for roads in 2014. The tax would be levied under Act 283 of 1909.

No final decision is expected at the May 21 meeting about levying a tax – although a resolution to levy a 1-mill tax is on the May 21 agenda for initial consideration.

Commissioners all appeared to support finding a way to secure more road funding, but some voiced concern about process and timing – especially because a tax under Act 283 would be levied without voter approval.

The May 7 discussion began when Dan Smith (R-District 2) brought forward a resolution that would authorize levying a 1 mill tax – under Act 283 – in December 2014. It would generate $14.34 million “to repair 2013–14 winter damage to the roads, streets and paths in Washtenaw County.” The board ultimately voted to postpone the resolution until May 21 over dissent from Alicia Ping (R-District 3).

During the wide-ranging discussion, Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) expressed concern that the public hadn’t yet been informed about the Act 283 proposal. At the request of board chair Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8), Roy Townsend – managing director of the county road commission – had prepared a list of road projects that could be funded by an Act 283 millage, which was distributed at the May 7 meeting. Townsend and two of the three road commissioners – Barb Fuller and Bill McFarlane – attended the May 7 meeting, and Townsend fielded questions from the board.

Corporation counsel Curtis Hedger cautioned that Act 283 lays out a specific process, which calls for a presentation of proposed road projects at a meeting in late September or October, prior to the December levy. Responding to those concerns, Dan Smith noted that options might include passing a resolution this month or in June to indicate the board’s intent to levy the tax, then possibly using money from the general fund’s fund balance to pay for road work this summer. The fund balance would be reimbursed when the tax revenues are collected in December. Hedger pointed out a risk in that approach: If someone sues the county and a court issues an injunction, then the county might be unable to levy the tax – after already spending general fund dollars.

Conan Smith (D-District 9) supported the Act 283 tax. “I’m almost of a mindset of ‘Let’s do it’ – and if someone wants to sue us over it, you know, then when they file a lawsuit we can reconsider,” he said. Smith preferred the Act 283 levy over a ballot initiative that voters would be asked to approve, saying there are other funding proposals he’d rather put on the ballot – for public safety and human services.

The board discussion on this issue will continue at the May 21 meeting.

In other road-related items on the May 7 agenda, the board voted to accept the recommendations of a subcommittee that was appointed last year to explore options enabled by state legislators. The subcommittee had recommended not to make the road commission part of county operations, and not to make the job of road commissioner an elected position.

The May 7 meeting also included an update about the community’s approach to addressing homelessness. The briefing was in response to a board directive given to staff on April 2, 2014 to develop a plan for updating the county’s Blueprint to End Homelessness. The blueprint was adopted in 2004. The process of updating that plan is to be completed by Oct. 1, 2014.

Responding to information that there’s been an increase in people from outside of Washtenaw County coming to the Delonis Center shelter in Ann Arbor, Conan Smith cautioned against making that kind of distinction, saying it “dehumanized” people who are seeking help, regardless of where they’re from.

Mary Jo Callan, director of the county’s office of community & economic development, told Smith that his point was well taken. But she noted that unless the state asks other communities to provide something close to the level of support that Washtenaw County provides, “then it’s an issue of volume. I’m sorry, but it’s not about dehumanizing.” Ellen Schulmeister, executive director of the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, noted that 96% of the shelter’s budget comes from local public funding, and the shelter was built for people who became homeless in Washtenaw County. She said it was her job “to hold that line.”

During the May 7 meeting, commissioners also gave initial approval to allocate funding to local nonprofits as part of a coordinated funding approach for human services, in partnership with several other local funders. The county is one of the original five partners in the coordinated funding approach. Other partners are city of Ann Arbor, United Way of Washtenaw County, Washtenaw Urban County, and the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation.

This year, 105 applications were submitted by 50 local organizations totaling $8,732,389 in requested funding, according to a staff memo. A review committee recommended that 57 programs receive a total of $4,321,494 in available funding. Of that amount, the county is providing $1.015 million. Among the organizations that are being funded in this cycle are Corner Health Center, Interfaith Hospitality Network of Washtenaw County, Child Care Network, Catholic Social Services of Washtenaw, Food Gatherers and Legal Services of South Central Michigan. Several nonprofit leaders spoke during public commentary in support of this process, as did Ann Arbor city administrator Steve Powers.

In other action, the board appointed Ellen Rabinowitz as health officer for the Washtenaw public health department; passed a resolution calling for an increase in Michigan’s minimum wage to $10.10 per hour; and received a first-quarter budget update from the county’s finance staff. First-quarter projections tend to be conservative, because they’re based on only three months of the year, with limited evidence of budget trends. At this point, the 2014 general fund is projected to have a $70,230 shortfall by year’s end – with total revenues of $103,404,537 and total expenditures of $103,474,767. There is no planned use of fund balance for this year’s budget. [Full Story]

County Debates Expanded Road Commission

Washtenaw County board of commissioners working session (May 8, 2014): Washtenaw County commissioners tackled the topic of possibly expanding the road commission board, but reached no consensus at their most recent working session.

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

Conan Smith (D-District 9) advocated for expanding the road commission board from three members to five. (Photos by the writer.)

The road commission board is a three-member entity, and is run independently from county operations. The county board, an elected body that appoints the road commissioners, is enabled under state law to expand the road commission board to five members. The possibility of expansion has been discussed periodically for years, but was always met with resistance – most notably from some of the road commissioners themselves.

Although there have been tensions in the past, several county commissioners commented on the current positive relationship between the county and the road commission, and noted that two of the three road commissioners – Barb Fuller and Bill McFarlane – are new. The third road commissioner, Doug Fuller, has served in that role since 2008, and is the current chair. [Barb and Doug Fuller are not related.]

Commissioners who argued against expansion at this time cited the need for the relatively new road commission board to gain more experience before any changes are made.

Arguing in favor of expansion, Conan Smith (D-District 9) scoffed at the idea that the road commission was “some magical institution that needs special treatment.” The only result of leaving the road commission board at three members instead of five is that it will consolidate political power among the three current road commissioners, he said. “Those people who are there longer get to build stronger relationships, get deeper knowledge, and they have that ability then to leverage that knowledge and political authority to their own ends.” Adding two more road commissioners will bring more diversity to the governance of that organization, he argued, saying it’s something that should have been done years ago.

Smith said it’s crucial to bring more voices to bear on one of the most contentious, critical issues that the county will face in a long time – the management of the local transportation network. Over the past decade, he said, the people who’ve served as road commissioners haven’t “had the wherewithal to tackle this issue in a way that presents a comprehensive solution.” Given the changing nature of transportation, the economy and economic development, the most important thing that’s needed is a greater diversity of voices at the table, Smith concluded.

Smith, Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) and Felicia Brabec (D-District 4) indicated that they support expansion. Dan Smith (R-District 2) and Alicia Ping (R-District 3) were inclined to keep a three-member road commission board at this time, while two other commissioners – Kent Martinez-Kratz (D-District 1) and Andy LaBarre (D-District 7) – seemed on the fence, or leaning toward picking up the issue at a later date. Commissioners Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) and Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) did not attend the May 8 working session.

The meeting was attended by one of the three current road commissioners, Barb Fuller. She did not formally address the board.

The issue of possible expansion comes in the broader context of discussions about whether to change the structure of the road commission – by absorbing the commission into county operations. At their Oct. 2, 2013 meeting, county commissioners created a seven-member subcommittee to “explore partnerships and organizational interactions with the Washtenaw County Road Commission.” The subcommittee made recommendations to the board earlier this year that called for leaving the road commission as an independent entity. The subcommittee did not make a recommendation about expanding the road commission from three to five members, calling it a political decision that the county commissioners should make.

The board accepted the subcommittee’s recommendations at their May 7, 2014 meeting, but have not yet made a decision about expansion.

Following the working session discussion, it’s still unclear what action, if any, will be taken regarding the possible expansion of the road commission board. Any of the county commissioners have the option of bringing forward a resolution on the issue. [Full Story]

County Board Sets Hearing on Road Tax

Following a lengthy discussion at their May 7, 2014 meeting, Washtenaw County commissioners voted to set a public hearing about a possible countywide road millage. The hearing will be held at their meeting in two weeks – on May 21 – so that the public can give input on a proposal to levy up to 1 mill for roads.

The tax would  be levied under Act 283 of 1909. The vote to set the public hearing was 5-3, over dissent from Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6), Felicia Brabec (D-District 4) and Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8). Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) was out of the room when the vote was taken.

No final decision about whether to levy the millage is expected at the … [Full Story]

County Board Pushes to Raise Minimum Wage

At their May 7, 2014 meeting, Washtenaw County commissioners passed a resolution calling for an increase in Michigan’s minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, over dissent from Alicia Ping (R-District 3). Not voting yes was also Dan Smith (R-District 2) who stated “Present” for his vote and Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) was not in the room when the vote was taken.

At the board’s April 2, 2014 meeting, board chair Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) had indicated his intent to bring forward this resolution. Earlier in the day, President Barack Obama had given a speech at the University of Michigan that focused on the need to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10. The resolution debated on May 7 includes a quote … [Full Story]

County Weighs Response to Homelessness

At their May 7, 2014 meeting, Washtenaw County commissioners were briefed on possible responses to homelessness and a lack of affordable housing in this community. The briefing was in response to a board directive given to staff on April 2, 2014 to develop a plan for updating the county’s Blueprint to End Homelessness. The Blueprint  was adopted in 2004. The process of updating that plan is to be completed by Oct. 1, 2014.

The May 7 presentation was given by three different staff: Mary Jo Callan, director of the county’s office of community and economic development; Ellen Schulmeister, executive director of the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, which runs the Delonis Center homeless shelter; and Amanda Carlisle, director of the … [Full Story]

Rabinowitz Appointed County Health Officer

Ellen Rabinowitz has been appointed as health officer for the Washtenaw public health department, after serving in that position on an interim basis since late last year. The appointment, effective May 19, was made by the county board of commissioners on May 7, 2014.

Ellen Rabinowitz, public health, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ellen Rabinowitz at a Feb. 5, 2014 meeting of the county board of commissioners. She was appointed as the county’s public health officer on May 7, after serving in that role on an interim basis for several months.

Rabinowitz will receive a salary of $126,098. That salary includes her role as executive director of the … [Full Story]

County Gives Initial OK to Coordinated Funding

Washtenaw County commissioners have given initial approval to allocate funding to local nonprofits as part of a coordinated funding approach for human services, in partnership with several other local funders. The action took place at the county board’s May 7, 2014 meeting.

The county is one of the original five partners in the coordinated funding approach. Other partners are city of Ann Arbor, United Way of Washtenaw County, Washtenaw Urban County, and the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation. It began as a pilot program in 2010.

This year, 105 applications were submitted by 50 local organizations totaling $8,732,389 in requested funding, according to a staff memo. A review committee recommended that 57 programs receive a total of $4,321,494 in available funding. Of that amount, … [Full Story]

County Considers Road Funding Options

Washtenaw County board of commissioners working session (April 17, 2014): For more than two hours, county commissioners discussed the future of the road commission and appeared to reach consensus that no major structural changes will be made at this time.

Gene DeRossett, Manchester Township, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Several Washtenaw County road commission employees attended the county board’s April 17 working session, as did some township officials. In the foreground is Manchester Township supervisor Gene DeRossett. (Photos by the writer.)

More likely, though not yet determined, are efforts to find additional funding sources for road maintenance – including a possible countywide road millage on the Nov. 5, 2014 ballot.

Keeping the road commission unchanged had been the recommendation of a board subcommittee that met for several months to discuss available options, including the possibility of dissolving the road commission and making it part of county operations, rather than operate as an independent entity. Most county commissioners oppose that approach. The board’s May 7 agenda includes a resolution accepting the subcommittee recommendations, which also rejects making the job of road commissioner an elected position. The three road commissioners are currently appointed by the county board.

State legislation enacted in 2012 allowed for: (1) a county board of commissioners to exercise the powers and duties of a road commission; and (2) the functions of a road commission to be transferred to the county board. A sunset clause means that the laws expire on Jan. 1, 2015. That deadline prompted the county board to examine these options.

The board’s May 7 agenda includes a letter to the state House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, urging passage of HB 5117 and 5118 – bills that would eliminate the current sunset clause and extend the options for changing the road commission functions.

Much of the focus of the April 17 working session was on funding options and long-term strategy for maintaining the county’s road network. Several township representatives who attended the session voiced support for special assessment districts, known as SADs, which are being used in Scio Township to pay for road maintenance.

But Conan Smith, an Ann Arbor Democrat who’s been vocal in urging the county board to take responsibility for the road commission, argued that SADs shouldn’t be a long-term approach. The road network is an asset to the entire county’s economy, he said, and the burden of maintaining it shouldn’t rest on the smaller communities.

Smith also noted that the economy is changing. Telecommuting, for example, might change the way people use the roads, he said. Later in the meeting, road commissioner Barb Fuller noted that other infrastructure needs are important to achieve the vision that Smith had described. “I would suggest that you folks look at making broadband ubiquitous across the county,” she said. For those commissioners who take access to broadband as a given, she said, “trust me – there are parts of the county where they can’t get a signal at all.”

Yousef Rabhi, another Ann Arbor commissioner, also spoke of the need for a broader vision. Roads should serve not just drivers, but also bicyclists and pedestrians. Potholes are a serious safety issue for cyclists, he noted. “We have to keep in mind that not every taxpayer drives a car.”

Regarding funding for roads, Rabhi wanted the discussion to be about the structure of a millage – not whether there should be a new road tax. “I think it’s pretty obvious that we need more money,” he said.

The May 7 agenda includes a discussion item on options for road funding. A draft resolution was circulated at the April 17 working session to put a countywide road millage on the Nov. 5, 2014 ballot. The draft resolution calls for a four-year, 0.5 mill tax – from 2014-2017 – that would raise $7.15 million in its first year. It would earmark 50% of the gross revenues to be used in the municipality in which the revenue was generated. Beyond that, 10% would be used for non-motorized transportation needs – like bike lanes and pedestrian paths – with the remainder to be allocated “based on use, need, and impact to the traveling public.”

Another possibility is for the county board to levy a millage under Act 283. The law allows the county board to levy a millage to cover those costs, without voter approval. A draft resolution that’s been circulated among commissioners calls for levying a 1 mill tax in December 2014, which would generate $14.34 million “to repair 2013–14 winter damage to the roads, streets and paths in Washtenaw County.”

On April 17, commissioners also discussed the possibility of expanding the road commission board from three to five members. That discussion will be continued at a May 8 working session agenda.

For additional background on this process, see Chronicle coverage: “No Major Change Likely for Road Commission” and “Group Explores Road Commission’s Future.[Full Story]

Equalization Report Shows Stronger Economy

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (April 16, 2014): Most local governments in Washtenaw County will see increases in tax revenue this year, according to the 2014 equalization report that county commissioners approved on April 16.

Raman Patel, Conan Smith, Dan Smith, equalization, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Washtenaw County equalization director Raman Patel with commissioners Conan Smith (D-District 9) and Dan Smith (R-District 2) at the April 16, 2014 board of commissioners meeting. (Photos by the writer.

The report was presented by Raman Patel, the county’s long-time equalization director. “Washtenaw County is showing improvements in the market,” he told commissioners. “We are slowly regaining our county’s equalized base. It appears that the worst part of the decline in market value is behind us.”

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. Patel cautioned that several factors are impacting revenue for local governments, including the phase-out of personal property taxes, a variety of exemptions, and tax capture from entities like downtown development authorities.

More of the tax burden is also being shifted to residential property owners, he noted, compared to other categories, like commercial property. The category of residential property accounts for 67.34% of total property value in the county. Five years ago, in 2009, it was 63%.

In other action on April 16, commissioners gave initial approval to distribute proceeds from a countywide tax on hotels and other accommodations. For 2013, $472,846 was available for distribution. If the resolution is given final approval, the county will keep 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).

During public commentary, Mary Kerr, president of the Ann Arbor Convention & Visitors Bureau, and Jason Morgan, director of government relations for Washtenaw Community College, highlighted the union training programs that will be coming to the area this summer. The CVBs have been instrumental in recruiting these kinds of events to Washtenaw County.

Commissioners also gave initial approval to the annual Urban County action plan, which outlines proposed projects funded by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development. 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.

Final authorization was given 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. And commissioners gave final approval to a new brownfield redevelopment plan for the Thompson Block in Ypsilanti’s Depot Town.

In other action, the board passed a resolution declaring April 13-19 as National Public Safety Telecommunicator Week in Washtenaw County. They also honored Dr. Eugene Glysson, who had served on the county’s board of public works (BPW) since 1986, and was its chair since 1996. He died on April 2.

Several issues were raised during public commentary, including concerns about emergency sirens installed by a pasture in Scio Township. The owner told commissioners that the sirens spook his horses, causing a dangerous situation if anyone is riding them or standing nearby. Other topics discussed by the public included the creation of a new group to help end homelessness, called Our 2020 Vision, and efforts by University of Michigan students to reduce the use of plastic bags by imposing a per-bag usage fee. They’re garnering support in part through a MoveOn.org petition. [Full Story]

County Board Races Set for Aug. 5 Primary

Competition in only one district for the Washtenaw County board of commissioners will play out in the Aug. 5, 2014 primary. Four Democratic candidates have filed for that seat. The deadline to file for the primary election was 4 p.m. on April 22.

In the remaining eight county districts, incumbents are unopposed in the primary but in most cases face competition in the Nov. 6 general election. Only the board’s two Republican incumbents – Dan Smith and Alicia Ping – are unopposed in the primary and will not face a Democratic opponent in November.

In District 5, incumbent Democrat Rolland Sizemore Jr. decided not to run for re-election. Four Democrats and one Republican have filed for that seat, which represents southeast … [Full Story]

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]