County Gets Stimulus Funds for Worker Aid

Part of $3.6 million used to hire 600-plus youth this summer

Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners Administrative Briefing (April 8, 2009): Hefty funding from the federal stimulus package means as many as 1,000 local youth will get summer jobs and hundreds of adults will get job training and employment services, county commissioners were told at their Wednesday administrative briefing. Of the $3.6 million awarded to Washtenaw County, $1.95 million will be used to fund jobs for low-income youth between the ages of 14 to 24. The county now needs to find employers with suitable job openings, said Verna McDaniel, deputy county administrator.

Commissioners also discussed their plan for this Saturday’s retreat, which will focus on setting budget priorities.

Stimulus funds for local workforce

At their April 15 meeting, commissioners will be asked to approve the receipt of $3,638,720 from the federal stimulus act, to be managed by the county’s Employment Training and Community Services (ETCS) department. Nearly $2 million of that will be spent on funding between 600 to 1,000 jobs this summer for teens and young adults from low-income families.

Trenda Rusher, ETCS director, is contacting schools and existing programs that serve the county’s youth, trying to get the word out about the availability of funding for jobs, according to McDaniel. The No. 1 priority is to find placements for eligible youth, she said.

In addition, $855,634 is allocated for services targeting dislocated workers, such as people laid off from the auto industry, and $461,622 will fund other adult workforce programs run by ETCS. These programs are currently funded by nearly $4 million in federal money awarded last summer via the state’s No Worker Left Behind program. Out of the stimulus funding, $363,872 will be used to cover administrative costs.

Annual equalization report

Next Wednesday’s meeting will also include some much-anticipated financial news: Raman Patel, the county’s equalization director, will present the board with an annual equalization report, which tells how much money the county will be collecting in taxes this year. The report is crucial because the county is already four months into its current fiscal year, and if tax revenues turn out to be lower than projected, the board will have to make cuts in order to balance the current budget. This possibility has been discussed frequently over the past few months, as one challenge in a generally bleak budget outlook.

April 11 budget retreat

Grappling with those budget challenges is the focus of Saturday’s retreat, held from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. at the county’s Rolling Hills Park Lodge. The retreat is open to the public and will be facilitated by Scot Graden, superintendent of Saline Area Schools.

Commissioner Kristin Judge, who’s taking the lead in organizing the retreat, said the goal is to emerge with a set of budget priorities, which will help guide the board as they make what will inevitably be difficult choices to slash the budget. Of its roughly $100 million general fund budget, the county could face deficits of up to $28 million for 2010-11, unless revenues are higher than projected or the board makes deep cuts in expenses. County administrator Bob Guenzel has described this as the worst financial situation he’s seen in his 36 years with the county.

Judge said they’d start the retreat by revisiting the county’s “guiding principles,” which are listed on a framed poster in the conference room where Wednesday’s briefing was held. They are:

  1. Ensure long term fiscal stability for the County.
  2. Reduce the cost of conducting the County’s business.
  3. Enhance customer service.
  4. Provide the necessary knowledge, skills and resources to County employees to carry out these principles.
  5. Ensure adequate provision of mandated services.
  6. Focus on the root causes of problems that affect the quality of life of County citizens by aggressively pursuing prevention strategies
  7. Provide leadership on intragovernmental, intergovernmental and intersectoral cooperation and collaboration aimed at improving services to County citizens.

Judge said they’ll use those principles to help identify general budget priorities. They won’t talk about cuts to specific programs or departments, she said – that will come later, during their regular board meetings. Rather, discussion at the retreat will aim at developing broad priorities that can help guide the board and administration when the time comes to make specific recommendations about budget cuts.

Commissioner Mark Ouimet asked what success would look like at the end of the retreat. “If we come out of there alive,” quipped Rolland Sizemore Jr., the board chair. Judge said she hopes they’ll emerge with 7 to 14 budget priorities. Commissioner Jeff Irwin said success or failure depends on how broadly they cast their priorities – too broad, he said, and it won’t provide meaningful guidance to the administration. “It’s more art than science,” he said.

Ouimet asked who was attending. Of the 11 commissioners, Judge said Conan Smith can’t attend, and it’s unclear whether commissioners Barbara Levin Bergman or Ronnie Peterson will attend, either.

Sizemore said that even if they all don’t attend, the retreat will be useful. “We may not get as far as Kristin thinks we’re going to get, but it’s a start.”

Judge also said she hoped the board would come together as a group and talk through some of their feelings about their priorities for the county. Ouimet asked what she meant by “feelings,” and Judge allowed that she was using her “counselor talk” (she has a masters degree in counseling), and that he could think of it as opinions. However, she said, part of the point is to bond as a board, since they’ll have some tough decisions to make together. “I think we need to do some of that warm and fuzzy stuff,” she said. “So come with a positive attitude!”

During the public comment part of Wednesday’s briefing, Caryette Fenner, president of Local AFSCME 2733, said that even if the board emerged with just one priority, that would give some guidance. Fenner represents the largest union of county workers – with more than 850 members – and said she plans to attend Saturday’s retreat as an observer. Irwin said he’d be interested in hearing her thoughts at the retreat, when there will be time for public comment as well.

Misc.: Feel-good reports

As board chair, Sizemore said he and Ouimet, who serves as vice chair, wanted to do more positive things at future board meetings, since they’re dealing with such negative budget news at the Ways & Means Committee. [Ways & Means meetings, chaired by commissioner Conan Smith, immediately precede board meetings. Much of the board's work is conducted during these sessions, which are typically longer than the regular board meetings that follow.] Sizemore asked staff to come up with some “fast, feel-good reports” that they could present to the board. Deputy county administrator Verna McDaniel and Joanna Bidlack, management analyst with the county administrator’s office, said they’d work on that.


  1. April 9, 2009 at 6:37 pm | permalink

    I appreciate commissioner Judge’s approach in organizing this effort and am glad that a facilitator will be involved. To offer an alternative to Jeff’s comment, it’s more a process than an art, and the process can be more successful when performed within a context or framework: a set of goal(s) and guiding principles. If the county has a mission statement, that would be worth a look as well.

    Unfortunately, the guiding principles listed above are likely to lead to confusion, largely because they aren’t actually principles, but instead are a mixture of objectives, strategies, and tactics, lacking overarching goals or any principles as useful reference points or guides. Sizemore’s anticipation of a struggle might reflect experience with their limited value in past efforts.

  2. By Vivienne Armentrout
    April 10, 2009 at 12:47 pm | permalink

    I think Commissioner Irwin described the situation accurately. The BOC has struggled in the past with this “priority” issue. The aim is not an exercise in rationality (=process) but to achieve some sort of consensus (=politics =art) on where the county administration will use its shrinking resources. I’m guessing that Commissioner Sizemore’s comment reflects the lack of that consensus. The question of how the county will support the cost of police services remains the obvious main obstacle to agreement on how revenue dollars from all county communities is to be allocated, when some communities benefit from that allocation more than others.

    Here’s another problem with “priorities”. If they are ranked (priority #1, etc.) – say there are 5 priorities, do you allocate all dollars to #1 as needed to fulfill it completely, leaving #5 and maybe #4 and #5 high and dry? Or do you attempt to fulfill all 5 priorities more or less equally if not ideally?

    The County Guiding Principles have been around for more than 10 years and have served well, whether as a mission statement, a vision, or indeed a set of priorities. I think using them as a starting point is a good exercise.