County Board Acts on Labor, Budget Issues

On agenda: CUB deals, union contracts, economic development tax

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Sept. 7, 2011): Coming off their pared-back summer schedule, county commissioners faced a heavy agenda at their first meeting in September, with several items related to budget and labor issues.

Andy LaBarre, Rob Turner, Barbara Bergman

At left: Andy LaBarre talks with county commissioners Rob Turner (R-District 1) and Barbara Bergman (D-District 8). Bergman is not planning to run for re-election in 2012, and LaBarre is expected to be a candidate in her district, which is being reconfigured as part of a countywide redistricting set earlier this year and implemented for the 2012 elections. LaBarre, a former aide to U.S. Rep. John Dingell, attended Wednesday's meeting in his role as vice president at the Ann Arbor Ypsilanti Regional Chamber of Commerce, to support the proposed economic development tax.

After an executive session early in the meeting, the board approved a contract with the Michigan Nurses Association-Unit II, representing two county employees. It’s the second of 15 union agreements being negotiated as part of the 2012 and 2013 budget cycle, with the hopes of securing about $8 million in concessions over the two-year period.

Throughout the evening, hallway conversations took place among various county administrators who were involved in labor talks that same night. And later in the meeting, the board voted to set a special meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 13 at 4 p.m. to discuss proposed labor agreements. It was expected that additional deals would be announced at that time.

One of those deals was confirmed on Monday, Sept. 12, by county administrator Verna McDaniel. She reported that the county’s largest union – AFSCME Local 2733, representing 644 employees – has ratified a new contract that will coming to the board for approval on Tuesday.

Commissioners dealt with a range of other budget-related items at last week’s meeting. They gave initial approval to budgets for the public health and CSTS (community support & treatment services) departments, which include about a dozen job cuts and a raft of new and increased fees. And two taxes – to support services for indigent veterans, and for economic development and agriculture – received initial approval from the board. Nine people spoke during public commentary and a public hearing on the economic development tax, all urging the board to support it. However, three of the 10 commissioners present voted against it. Final votes on both millages will be taken at the board’s Sept. 21 meeting.

An item that drew the most discussion among commissioners was a resolution to suspend the county’s use of Construction Unity Board (CUB) agreements, pending the outcome of litigation that’s challenging the validity of the state’s Public Act 98. The resolution passed, but with four commissioners dissenting. The dissent came from two differing perspectives, however. Two Republican commissioners – Dan Smith and Alicia Ping – objected to an amendment that affirmed the value of these agreements. Two Democratic commissioners – Kristin Judge and Conan Smith – voted against suspension because they wanted to keep the CUB agreements in place. A final vote on that issue will occur on Sept. 21.

Commissioners dispatched with several other agenda items, giving initial approval to: (1) appoint Jeffrey Jentzen as the new medical examiner; (2) authorize the issuance of $2.7 million in bonds to help pay for a $3.2 million facility operated by the Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority; and (3) amend a contract regarding the distribution of the county’s accommodation tax.

Several items were also brought up as communications from commissioners and the administration. Among them, commissioner Rob Turner gave an update on the situation in Sylvan Township, which has been struggling with $12.5 million in bonds issued to build a water and wastewater treatment plant intended to serve future development. It’s expected that the township won’t be able to make its May 2012 bond payment. Township officials are putting a millage proposal on the November 2011 ballot to raise funds to repay the county, which will be asked to cover the future bond payments. Information forums for township residents are planned for later this month and early October.

CUB Agreements

On the agenda was a resolution to suspend the county’s use of Construction Unity Board (CUB) agreements, pending the outcome of litigation that’s challenging the validity of the state’s Public Act 98.

CUB agreements are negotiated between local trade unions and contractors, and require that contractors who sign the agreement abide by terms of collective bargaining agreements for the duration of the construction project. In return, the trade unions agree that they will not strike, engage in work slow-downs, set up separate work entrances at the job site or take any other adverse action against the contractor.

However, Act 98 of 2011 – which became effective July 19, 2011 – prohibits municipalities from including in a construction contract anything that would either require or prohibit contractors from entering into agreements with collective bargaining organizations. The act also prohibits discrimination against contractors based on willingness or non-willingness to enter into such agreements.

The law is being challenged in federal court by the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO and the Genesee, Lapeer, Shiawassee Building and Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO. They are seeking to rule the law invalid, alleging that it is pre-empted by the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution and the National Labor Relations Act.

CUB Agreements: Commissioner Discussion

Conan Smith, the board’s chair, began by saying that he appreciated the county’s legal strategy, but he believed their CUB agreements as written do comport with the law signed by Gov. Rick Snyder. He’d be voting against the resolution, he said.

Kristin Judge agreed with Smith, and asked that the resolution be removed from the other resolutions on the consent agenda – which are typically voted on as a group – so that the vote on suspending CUB agreements could be taken separately.

Leah Gunn argued that the county can’t afford another lawsuit. [Her statement was likely an allusion in part to a years-long legal battle with three townships over the cost of police services. At its July 6, 2011 meeting, the board voted to approve the recommendation of a court-ordered facilitator, and the two remaining townships in the case later paid the recommended amount owed to the county. Legal fees for the county were over $1 million, and weren't part of the agreement.]

It’s in the county’s interest to suspend the CUB agreements, Gunn said, then reinstate them at some later date, when it’s “safe” to do so.

Barbara Bergman agreed with Gunn, saying that everyone has to sacrifice and the county shouldn’t deliberately become the target of a possible lawsuit. This doesn’t make her anti-union, she said, but it does make her anti-frivolous-lawsuit.

Rob Turner voiced support for the construction trades, and said he’s been following this legislation closely. Until the court makes a ruling, it’s not a good fiduciary decision to continue CUB agreements. He said he’d be against terminating the agreements, but would vote to suspend them temporarily.

Wes Prater also weighed in to support the CUB agreements in principle. A ruling in federal court will clarify the situation so that there won’t be a slew of cases in state courts to contend with, he said.

CUB Agreements: Amendments

Yousef Rabhi spoke passionately about the state law, saying that “what the governor has done is wrong – flat wrong.” Going after workers flies in the face of work that’s been done over decades to protect workers, he said. The board can take a stance about how they feel regarding the law, he added, but they have to comply with it.

In that context, Rabhi proposed two amendments:

(1) Be it further resolved that Washtenaw County continues to support the values that a CUB agreement embodies and asserts the effectiveness of such agreements in ensuring a fair and cooperative workplace.

(2) Be it further resolved that upon such time as it is permitted under State and/or Federal law or otherwise ruled legal by State and/or Federal Courts, it is understood that the County will reinstate its CUB agreement policy.

While they need to live within the laws that are enacted, Rabhi said, everyone needs to be vigilant about what’s happening in Lansing. And in 2012, he added, it’s important to vote for people who won’t do this kind of thing – because after the state laws are passed, the county can’t do anything about it.

Gunn, who had moved the original resolution, offered to accept the amendments as friendly, but Alicia Ping objected. [Under Robert's Rules of Order, friendly amendments require approval by the entire board. If any commissioners object, an amendment can't be considered friendly and needs to go through the entire formal voting process.]

Several commissioners then expressed support for the amendments. But Dan Smith said while he didn’t have a problem with the second amendment, he felt that the first amendment changed the tone of the resolution considerably. The resolution proposes a pragmatic solution to an immediate problem, he noted, and it was important to avoid the expense of a lawsuit. However, the first amendment takes a stance on the value of a CUB agreement, and he didn’t want to include that. This was not the time to debate the policy of CUB agreements, he said.

Outcome on amendments: The amendments were approved on an 8-2 vote, with dissent from Dan Smith (R-District 2) and Alicia Ping (R-District 3).

After the vote, Dan Smith said that as amended, he’d now have to vote against the resolution, though he was previously satisfied with it. Ping agreed, adding that she didn’t like CUB agreements but that she had an even bigger problem – she didn’t think the state should tell local governments how to do business. Legislators in Lansing should take care of their own business “before interfering with ours,” she said.

Judge said she was concerned about possible litigation regarding existing CUB agreements on county projects. She also wondered whether the county could simply not enter into construction contracts, which would result in no CUB agreements being necessary.

Curtis Hedger, the county’s corporation counsel, reported that according to the law, CUB agreements that pre-date the enactment of the law can remain in place. He said there are several county projects waiting to go out for bids – including some with the office of the water resources commissioner, and county parks & recreation – pending the board’s vote on CUB agreements.

Outcome on main resolution at Ways & Means Committee meeting: On a 6-4 vote, commissioners gave initial approval to suspend the county’s use of Construction Unity Board (CUB) agreements. Voting against the resolution were Kristin Judge (D-District 7), Alicia Ping (R-District 3), Dan Smith (R-District 2) and Conan Smith (D-District 10). Ronnie Peterson was absent. 

All resolutions are voted on twice by the board: first at the meeting of Ways & Means, a committee of the entire board; and finally at the regular board meeting. Ways & Means and regular board meetings are held back-to-back, but typically a resolution that’s passed at the Ways & Means meeting is considered at the regular board meeting two weeks later.

However, for some items that the administration or board wants to expedite, votes are taken the same evening at both meetings. That was the case with the resolution on the CUB agreements, which was on the agenda for both the Sept. 7 Ways & Means meeting and the regular board meeting.

Hedger noted that in order to pass the resolution on a final vote that same night, eight votes were needed at the regular board meeting.

Outcome at the regular board meeting: The resolution suspending CUB agreements passed by a 6-4 vote. Dissenting were Kristin Judge (D-District 7), Alicia Ping (R-District 3), Dan Smith (R-District 2) and Conan Smith (D-District 10). Ronnie Peterson was absent. Because it did not receive an 8-vote majority, the resolution requires another vote at the Sept. 21 board meeting.

Labor Issues

Two items during the Sept. 7 meeting related to ongoing labor negotiations for the upcoming 2012-2013 budget.

The county hopes to see about $8 million in labor concessions for the two-year budget cycle, to help address a projected $17.5 million deficit. There are 17 unions representing the county workforce, but two bargaining units – the Police Officers Association of Michigan (POAM) and the Command Officers Association of Michigan (COAM) – earlier this year reached agreements that aren’t part of the $8 million goal. The POAM and COAM deals are for a four-year period through 2014.

Labor Issues: Nurses Union

Early in the meeting, commissioners held an executive session to discuss a collective bargaining agreement with the Michigan Nurses Association – Unit II, a union representing two county employees. When they emerged, a resolution to approve the agreement was added to the agenda.

The contract is effective from Sept. 7, 2011 through Dec. 31, 2013, with no wage increases in 2012 or 2013. The agreement also includes several changes, including:

  • Co-pays will increase. For example, co-pays for emergency room visits will increase from $50 to $250. An office visit co-pay will be $40.
  • Union members will now pay $150 per month in a medical premium sharing for certain preferred provider organization (PPO) programs.
  • As of Jan. 1, 2012, all employees under this contract will contribute 9% to their retirement plan.
  • Employees will take 10 annual “banked leave” days – similar to unpaid furlough days.
  • Longevity pay will be eliminated for new hires after Jan. 1, 2012. [Longevity pay is a benefit provided to union employees based on years of service with the organization (generally after 5 years of service). Employees would receive between 3%-9% of their prior year’s wages, paid out either in a lump sum payment or bi-weekly throughout the year.]

In addition, tuition reimbursement, a $1 per day reimbursement for employees who use their own vehicles for work, and the “excessive vacation payout” program will be eliminated as of Jan. 1, 2012. Step increases (automatic pay increases) will also be eliminated from Jan. 1, 2012 through Dec. 31, 2013.

The contract includes a “me too” clause that would provide parity if another union contract is negotiated for higher wages or benefits. There’s also a “reopener” contingency – if the county sees at least a 2% revenue gain by the end of 2012, the contract could be reopened to consider wage increases.

The agreement is estimated to save the county about $24,300.

It’s the second of the 15 union agreements being negotiated as part of the 2012 and 2013 budget cycle. Commissioners had previously approved an agreement with the Michigan Nurses Association – Unit I, representing 13 public health nurses and nurse coordinators in the county’s health services department. That agreement is expected to achieve an annual savings of $132,000.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously gave both initial and final approval to the collective bargaining agreement with Michigan Nurses Association – Unit II.

Labor Issues: Special Meeting

Near the end of their Sept. 7 meeting, board chair Conan Smith introduced a resolution setting a special meeting of the board for Tuesday, Sept. 13 at 4 p.m. to discuss proposed labor agreements. The meeting will be held in the boardroom of the county administration building at 220 N. Main St. in Ann Arbor. It’s expected that the board will be asked to vote on additional collective bargaining agreements at that time.

Outcome: Without discussion, commissioners approved the special meeting for Sept. 13.

Act 88 Economic Development & Agriculture Tax

Commissioners were asked to give initial approval at Wednesday’s meeting to authorize the levy of 0.05 mills in December 2011 for support of economic development and agriculture. That represents an increase over the 0.043 mills that were previously levied for Act 88. The board also held a public hearing on the issue.

If given final approval at the board’s Sept. 21 meeting, this will be the third consecutive year that the tax has been levied. The millage – authorized under the state’s Act 88 – would cost homeowners $5 for each $100,000 of their home’s taxable value. Act 88 predates the state’s Headlee Amendment. That means the millage can be approved by the board without a voter referendum.

The anticipated $688,913 in millage proceeds will be allocated to several local entities: Ann Arbor SPARK ($230,000), SPARK East business incubator ($50,000), the county’s dept. of community & economic development ($131,149), Eastern Leaders Group ($100,000), promotion of heritage tourism ($65,264), Food System Economic Partnership (FSEP – $15,000), Washtenaw 4-H, operated by the Michigan State University Extension program ($82,500) and Washtenaw Farm Council 4-H Youth Show ($15,000).

Commissioners were given a report outlining activities that Act 88 revenue has supported to date in 2011. [.pdf of Act 88 activities report]

Act 88 Economic Development & Agriculture Tax: Commentary, Public Hearing

A total of nine people addressed the board regarding the Act 88 millage, all in support of it.

During the meeting’s first opportunity for public commentary, three people spoke on the issue. Leigh Greden, a former Ann Arbor city councilmember who now serves as Eastern Michigan University’s executive director of government and community relations, told commissioners that he couldn’t stay for the public hearing later in the meeting, but he wanted to ask them to support the Act 88 millage. He noted that he was co-chair, along with county administrator Verna McDaniel, of the Eastern Leaders Group (ELG), which gets funding from Act 88. He characterized Ann Arbor SPARK as a national model for generating jobs, and described projects supported by the ELG and the Ypsilanti Downtown Development Authority to improve the city. He concluded by noting that the community supports the millage, as evidenced by resolutions of support from the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti city councils and DDAs, and the Ann Arbor Ypsilanti Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Paul Krutko, president and CEO of Ann Arbor SPARK, thanked the board for funding the organization for the past two years with Act 88 proceeds, and said he felt fortunate that he was able to assume his job earlier this year as head of SPARK. When he previously worked in Silicon Valley, Krutko said, people there were aware of the Ann Arbor area and of SPARK’s economic development efforts. He handed out a description of SPARK’s accomplishments, saying “I think these results speak for themselves.”

Saline mayor Gretchen Driskell began by observing that the only reason the Saline city council doesn’t have a resolution of support the millage is that they haven’t yet passed one – that’s expected to happen at the council’s meeting on Sept. 12, she said. Noting that she serves on SPARK’s executive committee, Driskell said that in addition to job creation, SPARK helps retain jobs in the county, too. The organization’s budget also is leveraged to bring in crucial funding from other sources, she said.

Conan Smith, Jennifer Fike

County board chair Conan Smith talks with Jennifer Fike, executive director of the Food System Economic Partnership (FSEP), which receives support from a millage levied by the county.

Six others spoke during a public hearing on the Act 88 millage later in the meeting. Jennifer Fike, executive director of the Food System Economic Partnership (FSEP), thanked commissioners for their previous funding of the program. Based in Washtenaw County, FSEP serves a five-county area and focuses on economic development via the local food system.

Fike described several FSEP activities that have taken place over the past year, including: (1) support for a Washtenaw County “food hub;” (2) work with the University of Michigan food purchasing to promote the use of more locally produced food in dining halls; (3) support of the Tilian Farm Development Center; and (4) expansion of the Ann Arbor Public Schools farm-to-school program. She then read a statement of support from FSEP board member Sharon Sheldon, who’s also an administrator with the Washtenaw County public health department. Fike wrapped up her commentary by inviting commissioners to the Homegrown Festival on Saturday, Sept. 10 from 6-11 p.m. at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market.

Tim Colbeck, director of the Ypsilanti Downtown Development Authority, noted that the DDA board had passed a resolution of support for the millage. He described how the city had leveraged the 2011 Act 88 funds, partnering with the Eastern Leaders Group to support renovations and facade improvements in downtown Ypsilanti. The funds were very significant for the city, he said, especially because it brought positive change to a “dis-invested” downtown area. He urged commissioners to continue to support the millage.

Andy LaBarre, vice president of government affairs & administration for the Ann Arbor Ypsilanti Regional Chamber of Commerce, spoke briefly, referring commissioners to a letter they had recently received from chamber president Diane Keller. [.pdf of letter from Keller] In the letter, Keller stated the chamber’s general support for the millage, but suggested that the county be more transparent about how appropriations are made to groups that receive funding. The letter also reiterates the chamber’s support for cooperation among governmental units and consolidation, where appropriate.

Ypsilanti city councilmember Pete Murdock said he was representing Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber and other councilmembers in support of the Act 88 millage. It’s about “jobs, jobs, jobs,” he said, adding that the Act 88 funding helps create jobs. He urged commissioners to renew the millage.

Lynn Rich of the Washtenaw Farm Council described activities at the annual 4-H Youth Show. He noted that this year there had been over 600 participants and about 7,000 exhibits at the event, held during the last week in July. He asked commissioners to continue their support.

Thomas Partridge noted that he had been elected president of his high school student body and president of the 4-H club in the same year that John F. Kennedy was elected U.S. president. Partridge endorsed the Act 88 millage, with some reservations. The county and its civil servants should support economic development activities directly, rather than outsource those activities to outside organizations like Ann Arbor SPARK, he said.

Act 88 Economic Development & Agriculture Tax: Commissioner Discussion

Rob Turner, who also is owner of Turner Electric Service in Dexter, noted that he has two new customers and two existing customers that have all benefited from SPARK’s services, and had created jobs.

Rolland Sizemore Jr. asked whether there were job-shadowing opportunities at SPARK for local high school and college students. If not, there should be, he said, indicating that it’s important to mentor local youth and keep them in this area after they graduate. Krutko replied that since he was relatively new to SPARK, he wasn’t familiar with all of the organization’s programs. However, he added, they are emphasizing the retention of young talent.

Outcome: Commissioners voted 7-3 to give initial approval to levy the Act 88 millage. Dissenting were Alicia Ping (R-District 3), Wes Prater (D-District 4) and Dan Smith (R-District 2). They did not indicate during deliberations why they were voting against the millage. When Prater voted against it a year ago, he said the tax shouldn’t be levied unless it was authorized by voters. This is the first time Ping and Smith voted on the measure – they were first elected to the board in November 2010. A final vote is expected on Sept. 21.

Indigent Veterans Relief Tax

Commissioners were asked to give initial approval to levy 0.025 mills in December 2011 to pay for services for indigent veterans.

The millage would cost homeowners about $2.50 for every $100,000 of a home’s taxable value. It’s expected to raise $344,486 – about $11,000 less than in 2010, due to projected decreases of property values. The county first began levying this millage in 2008. Because the Veterans Relief Fund Act predates the state’s Headlee Amendment, it can be approved by the board without a voter referendum. Services are administered through the county’s department of veterans affairs.

One person – Thomas Partridge – spoke at a public hearing on the millage held at the board meeting. He was supportive of the tax, and saluted all members of the armed forces. There’s inadequate money to fund the growing needs of veterans, he said, especially because of foreign conflicts like the war in Iraq. However, Partridge said he’d like to see the needs of veterans addressed in the broader context of the needs of the general citizenry for affordable housing, health care, education and job training.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously voted to give initial approval for the indigent veterans relief tax. A final vote will be taken at the board’s Sept. 21 meeting.

Public Health Budget

A net of nearly seven full-time positions will be eliminated in the 2011-2012 public health budget that was given initial approval by commissioners at their Sept. 7 meeting.

The $11,839,496 budget, which will receive a final vote at the board’s Sept. 21 meeting, includes a $3,553,575 allocation from the county’s general fund – a net decrease of $583,597 from the previous year. Unlike the county’s general fund budget, which is aligned to the calendar year, the public health budget runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, in sync with the state’s fiscal year.

Though a total of nearly 12 full-time-equivalent positions (a combination of part-time and full-time jobs) will be eliminated in the proposed budget, five positions will be created or reclassified, for a net loss of nearly seven FTEs.

The budget also calls for a raft of new fees and fee increases. Effective Jan. 1, 2012, new fees will be required for a change of restaurant ownership ($250), a temporary food license late fee ($60), a time-of-sale authorization extension fee ($50), and a pollution prevention late reporting fee ($25).

A sampling of the fee increases includes a septic tank only permit (from $52 to $100), a new-build well permit (from $187 to $250), and a swimming pool inspection (from $56 to $150). Cremation permit fees will be increased from $40 to $50. [.pdf of complete 2012 fee schedule for public health]

Outcome: Without discussion, the public health department budget was given initial approval by a unanimous vote. A final vote is expected at the board’s Sept. 21 meeting.

Public Health: Medical Examiner

Dick Fleece, director of the public health department, introduced Jeffrey Jentzen and Bader Cassin to the board at Wednesday’s meeting. On the agenda was a resolution to appoint Jentzen to a four-year term as the county’s medical examiner, and Cassin as deputy medical examiner. Currently, Cassin serves as medical examiner, a role he’s held since 1996, and Jentzen is his deputy. Fleece told commissioners that the change in appointments is part of a transition at the medical examiner’s office.

Dick Fleece, Bader Cassin

From left: Dick Fleece, director of the Washtenaw County public health department, and Bader Cassin, county medical examiner. Cassin will become the deputy medical examiner, pending final approval by the county board of commissioners. He'll be replaced by Jeffrey Jentzen, who currently serves as deputy medical examiner.

The county contracts with the University of Michigan Health System (UMHS) for the medical examiner’s administration, customer service and autopsies – UMHS provides field investigators, administrative support, customer service, and autopsy assistants. Jentzen is a UM professor of pathology. Cassin is a clinical lecturer with UM’s pathology department. Both men attended Wednesday’s meeting.

Of the $3,553,575 portion of the public health department 2011-2012 budget that’s coming from the county’s general fund, $548,052 is allocated for the medical examiner’s office.

Fleece said the department has been having conversations for 2.5 years about making a transition in the medical examiner’s office. He noted that Jentzen had previously been a medical examiner in Milwaukee, dealing with high-profile cases like the serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. Jentzen told commissioners that he realized the importance of the position, and that he hoped to uphold the standards set by Cassin, who had served as an excellent model. Cassin thanked commissioners for their support for the past 16 years.

Concerns were raised about Jentzen earlier this year during public commentary at the county board’s April 6, 2011 meeting. Douglas Smith criticized the county medical examiner‘s autopsy report on Stanley Jackson Jr., who died hours after being Tasered during an August 2010 drug raid in Superior Township. Smith told commissioners there were a number of controversial cases in Milwaukee when Jentzen was medical examiner there.

At Wednesday’s meeting, commissioner Kristin Judge praised Jentzen for his “phenomenal” resumé, and said the medical examiner’s office is another example of silent government working on behalf of citizens. Government isn’t a bad word, she said, adding that she appreciated the work of the office.

Outcome: The board unanimously voted to give initial approval to the medical examiner appointments. A final vote on the appointments is expected at the Sept. 21 meeting.

CSTS Budget

A net loss of five full-time-equivalent (FTE) positions is part of a proposed 2011-2012 budget for Washtenaw County’s community support & treatment services (CSTS) department. The CSTS budget runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, in sync with the state’s fiscal year. The county operates on a calendar year cycle.

The proposed $26,838,557 budget calls for eliminating seven FTEs and putting one position on hold/vacant status, but creating three new FTE positions, for a net loss of five FTEs. In addition, 19 FTE positions will be reclassified.

Though CSTS is a county department employing about 300 people, it receives 98.8% of its funding from the Washtenaw Community Health Organization, a partnership between the county and the University of Michigan Health System. The WCHO is an entity that receives state and federal funding to provide services for people with serious mental illness, developmental disabilities and substance abuse disorders. At this point, WCHO “leases” its employees from the county, and contracts for services through CSTS. Commissioners were briefed on a reorganization of the WCHO at a July 7, 2011 working session. The changes are aimed at limiting the county’s financial liabilities.

Commissioner Yousef Rabhi asked about the reclassifications. CSTS director Donna Sabourin, who had just emerged from negotiations with bargaining units representing CSTS employees, said details were being finalized about the job descriptions for the tentative new labor agreement. She promised to have more information for commissioners soon, but clarified that promotions were not automatic, and required satisfactory job performance as well as a minimum of two years in an employee’s current position.

Outcome: Commissioners gave initial approval to the CSTS 2011-2012 budget, with a final vote expected on Sept. 21.

Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority Bonds

Commissioners were asked to give initial approval to authorize issuance of $2.7 million in bonds, backed by the county’s full faith and credit, to help pay for a $3.2 million facility operated by the Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority (WWRA).

The WWRA plans to use $500,000 from its reserves to fund part of the project. The $2.7 million in bonds would be repaid through special assessments on households in participating WWRA communities – the city of Chelsea, Dexter Township, Lima Township, Lyndon Township, and Manchester Township. Bridgewater Township is participating in the WWRA but will not help fund the new facility. The village of Manchester and Sylvan Township have withdrawn from the WWRA.

County commissioners had been briefed on the proposal at their July 7, 2011 working session. Since then, the WWRA board has approved adding a county commissioner to their board. Rob Turner – a Republican representing District 1, which covers large portions of western Washtenaw – will serve in that role.

Outcome: Without discussion, commissioners gave initial approval to the issuance of bonds for the WWRC facility. A final vote is expected on Sept. 21.

Accommodation Tax Contract Amended

The board was asked to amend a contract regarding the distribution of the county’s accommodation tax.

Debbie Locke-Daniel, Mary Kerr

From left: Debbie Locke-Daniel, president of the Ypsilanti Convention & Visitors Bureau, and Mary Kerr, president of the Ann Arbor Convention & Visitors Bureau, confer prior to the start of the Sept. 7, 2011 county board meeting.

The county treasurer’s office collects a 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 tourism and convention business. The county board had raised the tax from 2% to 5% in December 2008.

In 2010, the tax brought in $3.539 million, a 16.4% increase over the previous year. Year-to-date tax revenues, as of July 31, are $2.127 million. [.pdf of county treasurer's report on accommodation tax collections through July 2011]

The current five-year contract, approved in December 2009, calls for the county to retain 10% of that tax to defray the cost of collection and enforcement, which is handled by the county treasurer’s office. (Until 2009, the county had only retained 5% for this purpose.) The remaining funds are split, with 75% going to the Ann Arbor Convention & Visitors Bureau, and 25% going to the Ypsilanti Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The contract amendment addresses the process for distributing excess funds that might accumulate from the county’s 10%, if that amount exceeds the expenses required to administer and enforce compliance with the tax. Beginning in May 2013, the county will continue to retain 10% of the tax proceeds, plus 10% of any remaining fund balance. But if additional funds accumulate in the fund balance, the excess funds are to be returned proportionally to the two convention & visitors bureaus – 75% to Ann Arbor, and 25% to Ypsilanti.

As of July 31, 2011, the county fund balance for the accommodation tax stood at $779,475.

Although presidents of both bureaus attended Wednesday’s meeting – Mary Kerr from Ann Arbor, and Debbie Locke-Daniel from Ypsilanti – they did not make a formal presentation nor were they questioned by the board. They last gave an update to commissioners at the board’s April 7, 2010 meeting.

Outcome: Without discussion, the board unanimously voted to give initial approval to the contract amendment for allocating funds from the accommodation tax. Final approval is expected at the board’s Sept. 21 meeting.

Urban County Renewal, Expansion

Commissioners were asked to give final approval to continue the county’s participation in the Washtenaw Urban County program – from July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2015 – and to expand the program to include six additional jurisdictions. Initial approval had been given at the board’s Aug. 3 meeting.

Gretchen Driskell, Conan Smith

Saline mayor Gretchen Driskell talks with county board chair Conan Smith. The city of Saline is a new member of the Washtenaw Urban County, which the board voted to expand on Wednesday. Driskell was at the meeting to speak in favor of an economic development tax.

“Urban County” is a designation of the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, identifying a county with more than 200,000 people. With that designation, individual governments within the Urban County can become members, making them entitled to an allotment of funding through a variety of HUD programs, including the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and HOME Investment Partnerships. Those two programs provide funding for projects to benefit low- and moderate-income residents, focused on housing, human services and other community development efforts.

Washtenaw County and the townships of Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Pittsfield, Superior, Northfield, Salem, and Bridgewater received the Urban County designation in 2002. Later, the city of Ypsilanti and Scio Township joined, and in 2009 the city of Ann Arbor – which previously received HUD funding directly – joined as well, roughly doubling the amount of money available in the Urban County’s funding pool.

New jurisdictions that are joining the Urban County for the next funding cycle are the city of Saline, the village of Manchester, and the townships of Dexter, Lima, Manchester, and Saline.

Staff support for the Urban County programs comes from the joint county/city of Ann Arbor office of community development.

Outcome: Commissioners voted unanimously to give final approval to participate in the Urban County and expand its membership.

Sept. 11 Remembrance

During one of his turns at public commentary, Thomas Partridge called for the board to memorialize the week of Sept. 11 each year, to honor the lives that were lost during the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Later in the meeting, commissioner Rob Turner thanked Partridge for his suggestion, and introduced a resolution designating Sept. 11 as a day of reflection and remembrance for the 2001 attacks. Leah Gunn noted that the city of Ann Arbor would be holding a memorial on the morning of Sept. 11 at the downtown fire station near city hall.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously passed the resolution of remembrance for Sept. 11.

Federal Justice Grant

On the agenda was a resolution giving final approval to apply for an Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance grant. Initial authorization had been given by commissioners at their Aug. 3, 2011 meeting.

The $42,587 grant would be awarded to the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office by the U.S. Dept. of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance. The funds would be used to support the sheriff’s community outreach program, according to a staff memo. Specifically, the grant would fund a part-time community engagement coordinator and two of the program’s five peer outreach workers.

No one spoke during a public hearing at the meeting to get input on how the grant will be used.

Outcome: Without discussion, commissioners voted unanimously to give final approval to apply for the Edward Byrne grant.

Insurance Providers

Commissioners were asked to give initial approval to accept proposed quotes for insurance coverage in seven areas, totaling $1,021,275 in premiums.

The Arthur J. Gallagher Insurance Agency has proposed obtaining coverage from several providers for the areas of: (1) property coverage, including boiler and machinery – Chubb Insurance Co.; (2) general liability, law enforcement liability, public officials liability, and auto liability – Genesis Insurance Co.;(3) crime – Great American Insurance Co.; (4) fiduciary liability – Chubb Insurance Co.; (5) lawyers professional liability – Underwriters at Lloyd’s London; (6) judicial liability – Underwriters at Lloyd’s London; and (7) medical professional – Hudson Insurance Co.

Outcome: There was no discussion on this item, which commissioners approved unanimously. The board will take a final vote on the item on Sept. 21.

Information Technology Ranking

This summer, Washtenaw County received 4th place in a national ranking of county information technology departments. The ranking is from the 2011 Digital Counties Survey, conducted by the Center for Digital Government and the National Association of Counties (NACo).

Andy Brush, Conan Smith

At left, Andy Brush of the county's IT staff presents the 2011 Digital Counties Survey plaque to Conan Smith, chair of the board of commissioners. Washtenaw County ranked 4th in the survey of county IT departments nationwide.

The award was presented on July 16 at the NACo annual conference in Portland, Oregon. Kristin Judge, a member of NACo’s justice and public safety steering committee, accepted the award on behalf of the county.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Andy Brush – interim head of the county’s IT staff – presented a plaque to the board in recognition of that achievement. Brush noted that last year, Washtenaw County ranked 9th, and that they’ve been in the top 10 for eight out of the last nine years.

In accepting the plaque on behalf of the board, Conan Smith quipped that he was looking forward to the year when the county would rank No. 3.

Misc. Commentary & Communications

During the evening there are multiple opportunities for communications from the administration and commissioners, as well as public commentary. Here are some highlights.

Misc. Comm/Comm: Sylvan Township

Rob Turner gave an update on the situation in Sylvan Township, including details on how the township plans to pay off debt to the county if the township defaults on bond payments, as it’s likely to do.

Sylvan Township has been struggling with $12.5 million in bonds issued to build a water and wastewater treatment plant intended to serve future development. The plan was to use revenue related to that development – from connection fees to the system – to cover the bond payments. However, the economy soured and development hasn’t materialized. Last year, the county board approved a bond refunding in order to restructure the debt and lower the township’s bond payments. If the township defaults, the county has the right to make a special assessment of township residents to cover those bond payments.

Turner read a statement outlining the chronology of events in the township. [.pdf of Turner's statement] He said the township will be able to make its November 2011 bond payment, but is likely to default on the payment in May 2012. After discussions with the county, the township board recently voted to put a proposal for a 4.75 mill tax on the November 2011 ballot, with proceeds to repay the cost of the bond payments that would be made by the county.

Turner noted that three forums have been scheduled to talk to residents about this proposal: On Sept. 15, Sept. 19 and Oct. 13 – each meeting begins at 7 p.m. at the Washington Street Educational Center Auditorium in Chelsea.

Turner said an agreement would be worked out for the county board to review, outlining the township’s repayment schedule. He hoped the board would support it, and that it would resolve the problem that’s been looming for so long. He apologized to commissioners that this issue had taken so much of his time, noting that he hadn’t been as thorough with some of his other board work recently.

Several commissioners praised Turner for his work. Barbara Bergman told him that no one would ever accuse him of being a slacker. Turner said the people who have really sacrificed are his family, since he’s had to attend many community meetings and hasn’t spent as much time at home. He then thanked his colleagues on the board, saying he doesn’t always agree with them, but he’s grown to respect and care deeply for them.

Misc. Comm/Comm: Road Commission

Kristin Judge highlighted a letter that had been sent to the board by Doug Fuller, chair of the Washtenaw County Road Commission – it was included as an item of communications in the board’s packet for the Sept. 7 meeting. [.pdf of Fuller's letter] The letter, she noted, requests that a representative of the road commission present a report to the board regarding the county’s road conditions.

Yousef Rabhi, who chairs the board’s working sessions, said he’d been asked by the road commission that they be added to an upcoming working session agenda. However, a review by county staff determined that the road commission’s report must be presented at the board’s annual meeting on Sept. 21. That’s been communicated to Fuller, he said, adding that a working session will also be scheduled for a future date.

Misc. Comm/Comm: Police Services

Alicia Ping reported that the county’s police services steering committee (PSSC) met recently for the first time since April. The advisory group is working out contracts with local municipalities that contract with the county for sheriff deputy patrols. Ping said they expect to have tentative contracts for review by the board within the next month or so.

By way of background, a PSSC subcommittee has been meeting this year to hammer out details of the cost and price of the deputy patrols, which has been a contentious – and litigious – issue over the past several years. Most recently, at its June 1, 2011 meeting the board passed a resolution that set the price of a police services unit (the amount that municipalities will be charged) at $150,594 in 2012, with 1% increases each year through 2015.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Rolland Sizemore Jr. complained that he’s heard two different things related to the contracts – that it will cost the county more money if they hire additional sheriff’s deputies, and that it will cost them more money if they lay off deputies. Both things can’t be true, he said, adding that he wanted someone to clarify those conflicting statements.

Misc. Comm/Comm: Opting Out?

Ping noted that among the communications provided in the board’s packet for the Sept. 7 meeting, there were notices of public hearings related to two businesses that are applying for “industrial facilities exemption certificates” in the city of Saline. The certificates would exempt the businesses – McNaughton & Gunn Inc., and Klingelberg-Oerlikon Tec Center – from paying a certain percentage of their property taxes for a period of time. [.pdf of notices]

Ping wondered what the county’s options were if the board wanted to opt-out of the exemption. She noted that the issue had been discussed earlier this year, in the context of the county’s equalization report that was presented at the April 20, 2011 meeting. From The Chronicle’s report:

Wes Prater pointed out that for tax-capture districts in local municipalities, the county has the option of opting-out – in that case, they would continue to receive full revenues. However, there’s a 60-day window to make that decision, and often they don’t get information about it in timely way, he said. As a result, he added, the long-term revenues that the county is missing “is really having an effect on the budget, I think.”

Rolland Sizemore Jr. asked that [Yousef] Rabhi – who’s chair of the board’s working sessions – add that topic for a future session.

[County equalization director Raman] Patel noted that it’s a political decision to be made, and that there’s no uniformity among jurisdictions about how to handle these tax-capture districts.

Prater said it’s been the county’s longstanding policy to do nothing – not to opt out. That’s ok, he said, if that’s what they decide to do. But it’s worth discussing.

Curtis Hedger, the county’s corporation counsel, said he’d look into it and provide information about options that the board might have.

Misc. Comm/Comm: Huron Valley Child Guidance Clinic

Barbara Bergman reported that county CSTS children’s services staff were forced to vacate a building at 2940 Ellsworth in Ypsilanti that they leased from the Huron Valley Child Guidance because of problems with the facility – the building is in bad shape and it wasn’t safe for staff to work there, she said. The county was the sole tenant, she said, and their lease was up at the end of September. She expressed thanks to Huron Valley Child Guidance, and said she hoped the sale of the land would cover what the group owed on it. She also thanked county administration for helping facilitate the move to extra space in the county’s juvenile detention center.

Misc. Comm/Comm: Regional Summit

Conan Smith announced that Washtenaw County has been invited to participate in a southeast Michigan regional summit on Sept. 30. In past years, the summit included Detroit and the counties of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb. This year, Washtenaw and St. Clair counties will be included, and the topics will focus on regional cooperation and transportation. Smith and Kristin Judge will be participating in the planning stages on Washtenaw County’s behalf.

Peter Simms, Curtis Hedger

From left: Peter Simms, deputy county clerk, and Curtis Hedger, the county's corporation counsel.

Misc. Comm/Comm: New Deputy Clerk

Peter Simms was introduced as the new deputy clerk – one of the responsibilities for that job is to take minutes and record votes at the board meeting, and the Sept. 7 meeting was the first one that Simms attended. Jason Brooks, who formerly held that job for several years but is now working in the county administrator’s office, told commissioners that Simms is a recent graduate of the University of Akron. Simms originally hails from Maine, but has moved to the Chelsea area. That news elicited a “Way to go!” from commissioner Rob Turner, whose district includes the city of Chelsea.

Misc. Comm/Comm: Events

Several events were highlighted in various communications during the evening. County administrator Verna McDaniel noted that Sept. 15 is the kickoff event for this year’s Washtenaw United Way fundraising campaign. The lunch runs from 11:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. at Eastern Michigan University’s Student Center.

Commissioner Kristin Judge mentioned three events:

  • The Huron River Watershed Council’s Suds on the River fundraiser on Thursday, Sept. 15. Washtenaw County water resources commissioner Janis Bobrin is one of the event’s hosts.
  • The annual golf outing to raise funds for the Washtenaw County Hazardous Materials Response Team is on Monday, Sept. 26 at the Barton Hills Golf Club.
  • The Michigan Cyber Summit, which Judge has been instrumental in organizing, will be held on Friday, Oct. 7 from 8 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. at the Marriott Eagle Crest Hotel and Conference Center. Keynote speakers are expected to include Gov. Rick Snyder, U.S. Rep. John Dingell, and Secretary Janet Napolitano of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Misc. Comm/Comm: Public Commentary

Ellen Schulmeister, CEO of the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, thanked commissioners for the county’s past support of her organization. She said she wanted to report on the county’s return on investment by telling a story about a woman who came to the Delonis Center, a homeless shelter on Huron Street run by the association. Schulmeister described the services that the center provided to help the woman overcome her barriers to self-sufficiency, and reported that the woman now has a job and is renting her own place. Diana Neering, the shelter association’s chief development officer and director of communications, told another story about the help that they’d given to a 45-year-old mentally impaired man.

In addition to speaking at two of the three public hearings at Wednesday’s meeting, Thomas Partridge spoke during the four opportunities for public commentary. He objected to the state law allowing for medical marijuana, saying that it was turning Ann Arbor into a drug capital of the United States. He noted that many medical marijuana advocates had attended the Sept. 6 Ann Arbor city council meeting. He contended that one of them – Chuck Ream – had made threatening remarks about a woman who had called law enforcement about Ream’s medical marijuana dispensary, which was subsequently raided. It was important to ensure the safety of people who make such complaints, he said.

Partridge also advocated for the recall of Gov. Rick Snyder and other Republicans in the state legislature, saying they had started a “destructive juggernaut.” He urged commissioners to put an override of the state’s Headlee Amendment onto the next available ballot.

Present: Barbara Levin Bergman, Leah Gunn, Kristin Judge, Alicia Ping, Wes Prater, Yousef Rabhi, Rolland Sizemore Jr., Dan Smith, Conan Smith, and Rob Turner.

Absent: Ronnie Peterson

Special board meeting: A special board meeting to discuss labor agreements has been scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011 at 4 p.m. at the county administration building, 220 N. Main St. in Ann Arbor.

Next working sessions: Thursday, Sept. 15, 2011 at 6:30 p.m. at the county administration building, 220 N. Main St. in Ann Arbor. The working session will focus on the 2012-2013 budget. An additional working session is set for Thursday, Sept. 22 at 6:30 p.m.

Next regular board meeting: Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011 at 6:30 p.m. at the county administration building, 220 N. Main St. in Ann Arbor. The Ways & Means Committee meets first, followed immediately by the regular board meeting. [confirm date] (Though the agenda states that the regular board meeting begins at 6:45 p.m., it usually starts much later – times vary depending on what’s on the agenda.) Public comment sessions are held at the beginning and end of each meeting.

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One Comment

  1. September 13, 2011 at 1:21 pm | permalink

    Thank you once again for your comprehensive report on what was clearly a very eventful meeting. I suspect that more than one commissioner will read it to understand what really happened. (No, commissioners, I’m not insulting you; things go by fast at meetings.)