2012-2013 County Budget Approved

Ending a year-long process, the 2012-2013 general fund budget for Washtenaw County received final approval from the county board of commissioners at its Nov. 16, 2011 meeting. Commissioners had given initial approval to the $97 million budget at their Nov. 2 meeting.

Most of the focus of Wednesday’s nearly five-hour meeting (as it was on the initial consideration) was on a small subset of budget items: (1) animal control services – formerly a line item for the county’s contract with the Humane Society of Huron Valley (HSHV); (2) coordinated funding of human services; and (3) Head Start.

The board heard from more than two dozen people who spoke during public commentary, most of them voicing support for HSHV, or opposing cuts to coordinated funding for basic “safety net” services like food and housing. HSHV’s $500,000 annual contract with the county expires at the end of 2011. The 2012-2013 budget cuts the funding for animal control services – which HSHV now provides for the county – to $250,000 annually. Negotiations are still underway regarding a contract renewal, but the county has indicated it could issue a request for proposals (RFP) to find an alternative service provider.

Money for coordinated funding will drop by $128,538 – from $1,015,000 to $886,462. Those funds are pooled with other money from the city of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw United Way and Washtenaw Urban County. The pooled funds are allocated to nonprofits in a coordinated way, focusing on six priority areas: housing/homelessness, aging, school-aged youth, children from birth to six, health safety net, and food. [.pdf of 2010-2011 coordinated funding allocations]

Despite considerable discussion at the board table, only one amendment was ultimately passed. The item involved the practice of hiring back staff on a temporary basis after they’ve retired – a practice that the budget document prohibited “unless authorized by a specific Board of Commissioners project or the County Administrator.” Dan Smith proposed striking “County Administrator,” to ensure that the board has control over those decisions. The issue will come to the fore as roughly 100 of the county’s 1,300 employees are expected to retire in the coming weeks – the practice of hiring retired staff on a temporary basis is likely to be used to manage the transition.

Some commissioners felt Smith’s amendment would equate to micromanaging the administration. Conan Smith proposed a substitute amendment, requiring the county administrator to report to the board on a monthly basis about the temporary rehiring of retirees. That amendment passed on a 9-1 vote, with dissent from Wes Prater. Rolland Sizemore Jr. was absent.

Conan Smith later proposed an ultimately unsuccessful amendment that would require a vote of the board before relinquishing control of the Head Start program, which the county administrator has proposed. He noted that the county still had time to explore other options, including keeping the federal grantee status but designating a single sub-recipient to administer it. There’s also state legislation that could allow for creating an intergovernmental consortium – perhaps in partnership with the Washtenaw Intermediate School District and the University of Michigan – to fund and operate the program. The amendment failed on a 4-6 vote, with support only from Conan Smith, Ronnie Peterson, Rob Turner and Felicia Brabec. That means the county will likely hand off the local Head Start program to federal administrators at the start of 2013.

The final vote on the overall budget was unanimous. However, several commissioners voted yes to the overall budget, but no on specific line items. Ronnie Peterson, Felicia Brabec and Alicia Ping voted no to cuts for animal control services. Peterson and Brabec also voted no to cuts for Head Start and the coordinated funding of human services. Conan Smith voted no to the line item for the board of commissioners, referring to it only by the line item number. He later said he’d been joking.

This brief was filed soon after adjournment of the board meeting at the county administration building, 220 N. Main St. in Ann Arbor. A more detailed report will follow: [link]