Budget Items Dominate County Board Session

Mixed news on 2012 budget; Planned Parenthood funding criticized

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (May 16, 2012): Budget issues threaded through most topics raised at the recent county board meeting. Some were obvious, like the first-quarter budget update, and some less direct, like the stalled effort to develop a policy for animal control services.

Alicia Ping, Wes Prater

Republican Alicia Ping and Democrat Wes Prater currently serve Districts 3 and 4, respectively, on the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. They will face each other in the Nov. 6 general election due to redistricting of the board that takes effect in the next election cycle. They’ll both vie for the new District 3. The filing deadline for candidates was the day before the board’s May 16, 2012 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

The 2012 budget update covered the first three months of the year, but also looked at projections for the full year. Overall revenues for the general fund are now projected to be about $1.165 million more than budgeted  in 2012 – thanks in large part to about $2.5 million more in property tax revenues than originally anticipated, but offset by revenue shortfalls in other areas. Total revenues for the 2012 general fund are expected to reach $99.9 million.

But expenditures for the general fund are $893,527 more than budgeted, primarily due to $669,000 in higher-than-expected costs in the sheriff’s office from greater use of part‐time temporary workers and overtime, operating supplies, and jail medical/food contracts.

The 2012 budget had anticipated a surplus of $1.889 million, but the administration is now projecting a surplus of just $272,238. That surplus is intended to carry over into the 2013 fund balance – so the county faces a $1.617 million shortfall in the amount it had budgeted for the fund balance contribution in 2013. Currently, the county has a $14.5 million fund balance.

Tina Gavalier, the county’s finance analyst, told commissioners that she’ll have a much clearer picture of the budget outlook when she gives a second-quarter update at the board’s Aug. 1 meeting. She listed out several areas that the administration intends to monitor closely, including medical costs, state revenue-sharing, personal property tax reform, and actuarial valuations for the retirement plan and retiree health benefits.

The board also took an initial vote to set the 2012 county general operating millage rate at 4.5493 mills – unchanged from the current rate. 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 (0.2353 mills and 0.236 mills) and for the natural areas preservation program (0.2409 mills). That brings the total county millage rate to 5.6768 mills, which is also unchanged from 2011. One mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of a property’s taxable value.

This is an annual procedural action, not a vote to levy new taxes, and it’s typically passed without discussion. But this time Wes Prater raised concerns about a $29 million fund balance for the parks and recreation department, saying it was too high and wondering whether it indicated that the tax levy for parks should be lowered. Several other commissioners – including those who serve on the parks & recreation commission (which oversees those funds) – defended the fund balance, noting that several major capital projects are in the works that will tap that money.

In another budget-related action, commissioners gave final approval to the Urban County’s annual plan for July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2013 with a $3.59 million budget. The Urban County is a consortium of local municipalities that receive federal funding for projects in low-income neighborhoods. In a separate vote, the board approved adding Webster Township to the consortium, which includes the city of Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and several townships.

Two residents spoke during public commentary, objecting to funding for Planned Parenthood that was included in the annual plan. That particular funding had already been approved last year by the board, as part of a coordinated funding model that pools includes money from the county, the Urban County, Washtenaw United Way, and the city of Ann Arbor to fund several dozen human services nonprofits.

Two commissioners commented on issues related to animal control services during the May 16 meeting. Barbara Bergman noted that there had been a “failed meeting” of a task force on May 9 – only she and board chair Conan Smith had attended from the board, although the task force is open to all commissioners. [See Chronicle coverage: "Low Turnout for Animal Control Task Force."] The intent is to set policy that will guide a request for proposals that the county plans to issue later this year, for its next contract to provide animal control services. Those services are currently handled by the Humane Society of Huron Valley (HSHV), in a contract that expires at the end of 2012. [A subsequent task force meeting on the morning of May 23 drew five of the 11 commissioners, and will be reported in a separate Chronicle article.]

A separate work group on animal control services is being led by the sheriff’s office. That group is tasked with developing a methodology to determine the cost of providing animal control services. It includes representatives from HSHV, the county, and other municipalities that have animal control ordinances. Commissioner Rob Turner, who serves on the group, reported that the HSHV has agreed to work with the county’s finance department to come up with a cost breakdown for the services it currently provides.

The May 16 meeting also included a brief swearing-in ceremony for Felicia Brabec, who won a May 8 special election to represent District 7. Brabec had been appointed to the board last October following Kristin Judge’s resignation.

First-Quarter Budget Update

Tina Gavalier, Washtenaw County’s finance analyst, gave a first-quarter financial update that contained mixed news. The county’s fiscal year is based on a calendar year – the update covered the first three months of 2012, through March 31. [.pdf of chart showing general fund projections]

County administrator Verna McDaniel introduced the presentation by saying that the main message is “stay the course.” While the good news is that property tax revenues are higher than expected, those revenues are still in decline, she noted, and the county must continue to monitor its expenditures.

Gavalier began by observing that the first-quarter projections tend to be very conservative, because not very much information is available yet.

First-Quarter Budget Update: General Fund Revenues

Revenues for the general fund are now projected to be about $1.165 million more than budgeted – thanks in large part to about $2.5 million more in property tax revenues than originally anticipated. Total revenues for the 2012 general fund are expected to reach $99.9 million. [The board had received the news about the higher property tax revenues at its April 18, 2012 meeting, when the county equalization report was presented.]

Gavalier highlighted some of the revenue variances for specific units. Revenues for the sheriff’s office are projected to be about $949,000 less than budgeted. About two‐thirds of that amount – or roughly $660,000 – is due primarily to the delayed implementation of the county’s dispatch consolidation with the city of Ann Arbor. [At its Dec. 5, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council approved a $759,089 annual contract with the county, which was supposed to start in March of 2012. It's now expected to begin this summer.] Other items that contributed to the shortfall include no revenue so far for towing contract administration fees (contract amendments are now in progress) and lower-than-projected concessions revenue for the corrections service center lobby coffee shop and other food venues.

Projected revenues for the Washtenaw County Trial Court also are falling short of budgeted amounts by about $226,000. Gavalier said that’s due to lower-than-budgeted court equity funds that are disbursed by the state. A projected shortfall of about $135,000 in the 14A District Court is due to lower court fees and fines, attributed to a declining trend in case filings. Now, the District Court’s 2012 revenue from fees and services is expected to align with 2011 and 2010 actual amounts of about $2 million.

First-Quarter Budget Update: General Fund Expenditures

Gavalier then said she wanted to remind commissioners of amendments they made to the budget in late 2011 and early 2012. At their Dec. 7, 2011 meeting, commissioners voted to reinstate $128,538 in funds for human services nonprofits – administered via the coordinated funding model – that had previously been cut from the budget. On Jan. 18, 2012, the board voted to approve the consolidated dispatch between the county and city of Ann Arbor, and authorized the creation of 15 full-time positions. That vote increased the budget – on both the revenue and expenditure sides – by about $1.4 million. Also, at their Feb. 15, 2012 meeting, commissioners approved a $165,000 expenditure increase as part of a new contract with the Humane Society of Huron Valley, for animal control services through 2012.

First-quarter Washtenaw County general fund budget projection

First-quarter Washtenaw County general fund budget projection. (Links to larger image)

Turning to overall expenditures, Gavalier reported that expenses are $893,527 more than budgeted for the general fund. That’s primarily due to $669,000 in higher-than-expected costs in the sheriff’s office from greater use of part‐time temporary workers and overtime, operating supplies, and jail medical/food contracts. She said the board will be asked later this year to approve a $200,000 reserve for inmate hospital care, which will require a budget adjustment.

Gavalier noted that the general fund expenditure projections include an assumption that there will be a lump sum expense reduction of $2.481 million for the year – an amount that’s not specific to any particular department, but that will be gained from across the organization. So far, $1 million in reductions have been identified, due to the high number of retirements last year (118) with 97 of those coming in the last quarter of 2011. The savings come from several unfilled positions following those retirements, as well as from lower salary and fringe benefit costs for new employees replacing the retirees.

However, some of those savings have been offset by increases in part‐time temporary costs and increased fringe benefit costs. A high number of medical claims were made over the last five months of 2011, Gavalier reported. Since there’s typically a six-month processing delay for those claims, most are being paid in 2012. Changes in the county’s employee medical plan are expected to contribute to the lump sum reductions later this year, she said. Overall, only about $282,000 in net lump sum reductions have been realized so far this year.

Other highlights on the expense side include about $238,000 so far this year in tax refunds – the total budgeted amount for refunds in 2012 is $1.5 million. Also, the Washtenaw Trial Court is expected to exceed the cost reductions it had planned for 2012 and show a surplus by year’s end.

The 2012 budget had anticipated a surplus of $1.889 million, but the administration is now projecting a surplus of just $272,238. That surplus is intended to carry over into the 2013 fund balance – so the county faces a $1.617 million shortfall in the amount it had budgeted for the fund balance contribution. Currently, the county has a $14.5 million fund balance.

First-Quarter Budget Update: Non-General Fund Items

Gavalier gave an overview of several county operations that are not supported by general fund revenues. Units that are projected to be on budget include facilities management, Friend of the Court (due to trial court consolidation and cost containment efforts), the office of community & economic development, the prosecuting attorney’s office, and the office of veteran’s relief.

Projecting a surplus are building inspection operations and risk management – assuming there are no major settlements or disasters. Regarding the building inspection unit, that unit owes about $780,000 on an amount it previously borrowed from the county’s capital reserve. Any contributions to the unit’s fund balance over $51,000 must be used to repay the debt. Because the building inspection fund balance stood at about $162,000 at the end of 2011, about $111,000 will be returned to the capital reserve fund.

Finally, two units – public/environmental health, and programs supported by the Act 88 millage – have projected shortfalls but had budgeted to use their respective fund balances in 2012 to cover the overages, Gavalier said.

First-Quarter Budget Update: Issues to Watch

Gavalier listed out several areas that the administration intends to monitor closely. Medical costs are difficult to project, because the trend of claims is evolving under the new medical plans for employees. The budget was developed based in part on projected costs provided by Blue Cross Blue Shield, Gavalier noted. But because the county is self‐insured, it pays the actual costs of its employees’ medical claims. July will be the first month that the county will start to see how claims have adjusted under the new medical plans, she said. So the third quarter of this year – from July through September – will show a better reflection of actual savings.

Another area to watch relates to state revenue-sharing and the state’s new economic vitality incentive program, intended as a replacement to revenue sharing. Gavalier reminded commissioners that the county’s revenue-sharing reserve fund will be depleted in 2013. Currently, Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed budget includes a partial allocation for 2013 – of just under $1.2 million – with specific compliance incentives and defined eligibility requirements outlined in order to receive those funds. The state Senate and House of Representatives are deliberating on funding amounts and criteria, she said.

Personal property tax (PPT) reform legislation is another uncertainty, Gavalier said. There will be an impact, but the magnitude is uncertain. Currently, PPT revenue for the county is $5.6 million. Current versions of bills to repeal the PPT  include reductions in tax revenue starting in 2013 of about $390,000 for industrial and commercial properties, with additional reductions phased in each year through 2022.

Gavalier also reported that the county’s annual actuarial valuations for its retirement plan (the Washtenaw County Employees Retirement System, or WCERS) and retiree health benefits (the Voluntary Employees Beneficiary Association, or VEBA) will be completed this summer. With 118 retirements in 2011, there will certainly be a cost impact to those plans, she said. The valuations might also increase the cost of fringe benefits for active employees too.

In addition, the county expects to complete a cost allocation plan (CAP) by this summer, Gavalier said, outlining how much each department will be accessed. CAP is an amount charged to each county department for things like the county attorney and administration. CAP amounts have been waived or frozen in recent years, but will be adjusted for the 2012-2013 budget cycle.

First-Quarter Budget Update: Board Discussion

Several commissioners had questions, while also praising Gavalier for the clarity of her presentation. Felicia Brabec asked about last year’s 118 retirements, and wondered if there are any estimates yet on the impact to the county’s retirement plans. County administrator Verna McDaniel said it’s difficult to guess at this point.

Dan Smith asked about the items that factored in to the projections – how many have already occurred, and how many are just anticipated? As an example, he cited the consolidated dispatch operations, which they know will happen later this year. Gavalier said the picture will become much clearer as the year progresses. She noted that commissioners will get a second-quarter budget update at the board’s Aug. 1 meeting. ”I will be more confident in August when I present than I am right now,” she said.

Barbara Bergman, Leah Gunn, Ronnie Peterson, Rob Turner

From right: Commissioners Rob Turner, Ronnie Peterson, Leah Gunn, and Barbara Bergman.

Smith then pointed to the anticipated 2012 surplus of $272,238, which is about $1.6 million less than the amount budgeted for the year. He asked whether Gavalier expected the surplus to increase. Yes, she replied, as the finance department gets a handle on medical expenses. She said she suspected the surplus would get larger.

Rob Turner wanted to know details about why the dispatch consolidation was delayed. It has an impact on the budgets for both the county and city of Ann Arbor, he noted. Could it be delayed even further? He also wondered what’s being done to address any roadblocks.

McDaniel noted that aggressive hiring is underway for the new dispatch positions, and she promised to bring the board a more detailed report at a future meeting.

Wes Prater asked about the $2.4 million budgeted lump sum reduction – he wondered where those cuts will be made. Gavalier replied that the reduction was built into the 2012 budget based on assumed savings from labor negotiations that hadn’t wrapped up by the time the budget was passed in late 2011. Savings in medical expenses are assumed to be a large part of that reduction, but until claims based on the new medical plans start coming in later this year, the administration won’t know exactly how much will be saved.

Prater also highlighted the projected personnel costs for 2012, which are an estimated $2.15 million higher than budgeted – a projected $65 million, compared to the budgeted $62.85 million. What accounts for those higher costs? Prater asked.

Gavalier reported that a big portion of those costs relate to overtime and part-time employees at the sheriff’s office. As the county works to fill positions that were vacated because of retirements, they’re using overtime and part-time staff as an interim measure. She again stated that although the general fund isn’t hitting its original budgeted surplus, a surplus is still projected for the year – just a smaller one than anticipated at this point.

Outcome: This was a presentation only – no board action was required.

Annual Millage Rate

Commissioners were asked to give initial approval to the 2012 county general operating millage rate at 4.5493 mills – unchanged from the current rate. 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 (0.2353 mills and 0.236 mills) and for the natural areas preservation program (0.2409 mills). That brings the total county millage rate to 5.6768 mills, a rate that’s also unchanged from 2011.

This is an annual procedural action, and not a vote to levy new taxes. With a few minor exceptions, the county board does not have authority to levy taxes independently. Millage increases, new millages or an action to reset a millage at its original rate (known as a Headlee override) would require voter approval.

Annual Millage Rate: Board Discussion

Commissioner Wes Prater expressed concern that the county parks & recreation department was building up a fund balance that he felt was higher than necessary. He noted that the fund balance stands at $29.795 million, according to the county’s comprehensive annual financial report (CAFR).

Prater wondered whether perhaps the entire millage for parks & rec did not need to be levied. The department shouldn’t act like a bank, he said, and he suggested that the parks & rec director could be asked to explain it. [Bob Tetens, director of parks & recreation, typically attends all meetings of the board, but was not at the May 16 meeting because of family commitments.]

Several commissioners defended the use of millage proceeds. Dan Smith noted that he serves on the parks & recreation commission, along with commissioners Barbara Bergman and Rolland Sizemore Jr. He assured Prater that the department has a detailed plan for specific projects that will benefit residents throughout the county. It was a plan that came to the county board as part of the budget process last year, he said. The fund balance is large now because the department is getting ready for several major capital projects, Smith added, including a new enlarged “spray and play zone” at Independence Lake Park.

Barbara Bergman

County commissioner Barbara Bergman of Ann Arbor also serves on the county parks & recreation commission.

[The parks & recreation department developed a five-year master plan in 2010 – see Chronicle coverage: "County Seeks Input on Parks Master Plan." For more recent actions, see Chronicle coverage of the parks & recreation commission meetings in April and May of 2012.]

Bergman pointed to new projects as well as maintenance, and noted that the county board doesn’t have a say in spending the millage: “It’s not our money.” The voters approved those millages, she said. The parks & rec commission isn’t acting as a bank, Bergman added – they are acting as stewards.

Yousef Rabhi also cited the parks & recreation department’s role as “conscientious stewards.” He pointed to The Chronicle’s coverage of the May 8, 2012 parks & rec commission meeting, where commissioners had discussed shifting more of an emphasis from acquisition to stewardship. As someone who works in this area, Rabhi said, he felt it was a wise conversation to have. [Rabhi is currently workday coordinator for the city of Ann Arbor's natural area preservation program.]

Leah Gunn noted that the millage supports both parkland and natural areas, and projects like the possible recreation center in downtown Ypsilanti. Voters have been very supportive, she said, and the millage should be maintained as it is.

Prater responded by saying he wasn’t trying to claim money for the county’s general fund or anything else. He just wanted to take a look at the funding. If everything is as other commissioners have described, he said, then it’s well documented and those documents should be easy to provide. He again pointed to the $29 million fund balance, and said he didn’t believe in keeping fund balances so high. It’s not good business, he concluded.

Outcome: The initial vote to set the annual millage rate passed unanimously, but Wes Prater indicated that he wanted more information about parks & recreation before he’d support final approval. The board also voted to set a public hearing for the millage rate at its June 6 meeting. Commissioners are expected to take a final vote on the millage at that time.

Urban County Annual Plan

Two items on the May 16 agenda related to the Washtenaw Urban County.

Commissioners were asked to approve the Urban County’s annual plan for July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2013 with a $3.59 million budget. A public hearing on the plan had been held at the board’s May 2, 2012 meeting. The annual plan describes how the Urban County expects to spend the federal funding it receives from the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), HOME Investment Partnerships Program (HOME) and Emergency Shelter Grant (ESG) programs, operated by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). [.pdf of 2012-2013 draft annual plan] [.pdf of list of planned projects]

The board also authorized Webster Township to join the Urban County. The Washtenaw Urban County is a consortium of local municipalities that receive federal funding for projects in low-income neighborhoods. Current members include the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, and the townships of Ypsilanti, Pittsfield, Ann Arbor, Bridgewater, Salem, Superior, York, Scio, and Northfield. Webster Township will be among an additional seven municipalities that will become part of the Urban County as of July 1, 2012. Other new members will include the city of Saline, the village of Manchester, and the townships of Dexter, Lima, Manchester, and Saline.

“Urban County” is a HUD designation, 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.

The Washtenaw Urban County executive committee meets monthly and is chaired by county commissioner Yousef Rabhi. The program is administered by the staff of the joint county/city of Ann Arbor office of community & economic development.

Urban County: Public Commentary

The annual plan includes a list of funding for human services nonprofits, awarded through the relatively new coordinated funding model, a two-year pilot program that runs through June 2013. Partners include the Urban County, Washtenaw County, the city of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw United Way, and the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation. The model focuses funding on six priorities that have been identified for the entire county: housing/homelessness, aging, school-aged youth, children from birth to six, health and food.

For 2012-2013, about $4.1 million in funds are being awarded to 63 programs – these funds were approved by the county board in late 2011 as part of their two-year budget planning process. Only a portion of the funds are provided via the Urban County. [.pdf of nonprofit funding]

Among the programs to be funded are two awards to Planned Parenthood of Mid and South Michigan: $14,400 for family planning for low-income women, and $53,040 for prenatal care services. That funding was the target for some of the public commentary at the May 16 meeting.

Paul Dobrowolski of Saline and Brigid Kowalczyk of Ann Arbor both spoke against funding for Planned Parenthood. Dobrowolski, who had also spoken in opposition to the funding a year ago, again asked that the programs not be given taxpayer dollars and that the grants be ended immediately. He argued that Planned Parenthood had plenty of other funding, and that the organization was being misleading about the types of services it provides. He also noted that 41% of clients for prenatal care come from outside of Washtenaw County. He urged commissioners not to support funding for Planned Parenthood.

Kowalczyk noted that a package of bills introduced in the state legislature aim to prevent women from being coerced into having an abortion. Many women feel coerced, she said, and there are examples of people – including NFL quarterback Tim Tebow and opera tenor Andrea Bocelli – whose mothers had been urged to abort them, but didn’t. Women don’t want health care that doesn’t respect life, Kowalczyk said. A better way is to fund organizations like Family Life Services, Hope Clinic and St. Joseph Mercy Hospital that provide alternatives to abortion, she said, and assist women through their pregnancies. Women deserve better, she concluded, and future county taxpayers should be welcomed with joy and expectation.

Thomas Partridge of Ann Arbor also addressed the Urban County annual plan during public commentary. He praised the amount of federal funding that was being received, but said the plan leaves unanswered the question of whether this funding is adequate for affordable housing, transit, health care and other needs of low-income residents. He called for more state assistance to support the most vulnerable population in the county.

Urban County: Board Discussion

Two commissioners responded to the criticism of Planned Parenthood funding. Barbara Bergman spoke at length about the need to preserve choices for women. She noted that her beloved granddaughter is adopted, and expressed gratitude that her granddaughter’s birth mother had chosen to deliver her. No one wants abortion, Bergman said, but until there’s adequate sex education and universal health care, she hoped women would have the options they need.

Yousef Rabhi urged anyone who’s driving down Washtenaw Avenue past the intersection at Hill to check out The Rock, which Planned Parenthood has recently painted.

Other questions about the plan were more general. Felicia Brabec noted that the Urban County works from a five-year strategic plan, and this coming year will be the last year of the current plan. She wondered what direction the next five-year plan would take.

Brett Lenart, housing and infrastructure manager at the office of community & economic development, replied that later this year the staff will start developing the next five-year plan, with broad goals that will guide specific projects. The goals will likely be similar to the current plan, he said, with a focus on affordable and supportive housing. The staff is also aware that it can’t take the county’s existing housing stock for granted, so that will likely be an element of the next strategic plan too, he said.

Alicia Ping asked when the next opportunity would be for other municipalities in the county could join the Urban County. Those decisions are made in three-year cycles, as mandated by the federal government. The next round will be open in mid-2015, Lenart said.

Wes Prater asked who pays for the matching funds related to the Urban County plan – $220,010 in in-kind costs from the county, plus a $172,306 local match. Lenart explained that matching funds for HOME grants typically come from the value of taxes that have been waived, as well as from donations of labor and materials toward projects. Matching funds for HUD’s emergency shelter grants come from the county’s human services funding. Other coordinated funding sources also count as matching funds.

Outcome: The annual plan for the Washtenaw Urban County was unanimously passed, as was the addition of Webster Township to the consortium.

Bond Re-Funding

Two resolutions related to re-funding of bonds previously issued by Washtenaw County were on the May 16 agenda. One of the actions – advised by the county’s bond counsel, John Axe with Axe & Ecklund of Grosse Pointe Farms – consolidates two previous bond issues and is expected to save $889,000 over the life of the bond repayments.

Yousef Rabhi, Curtis Hedger, Greg Dill

From left: County commissioner Yousef Rabhi, corporation counsel Curtis Hedger, and Greg Dill, infrastructure management director.

In 2004, the county board had approved a bond sale of $6.365 million to fund energy efficiency improvements in county facilities. Chevron Energy Solutions was hired to oversee that effort, which is known as the Chevron project. About $4.69 million in principle is owed on that bond. [Commissioners were last updated on this project at their June 2010 working session.]

In 2005, the board approved a bond sale of $11.475 million to re-fund a 1999 bond issued for projects that included capital improvements for the juvenile detention center, buildings at 110 N. Fourth and 200 N. Main, and the environmental services building on Zeeb Road. About $7.835 million in principle is still owed on that bond issue.

Because of current low interest rates, Axe has advised the county board to authorize the sale of a single re-funding bond issue not to exceed $12.35 million. Commissioners gave initial approval to that action, as well as to a separate resolution authorizing continued disclosure on the re-funding bond issue, as required by the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC). The re-funding bonds will be called the County of Washtenaw Capital Improvement Re-funding Bond Series 2012.

Axe attended the meeting, but was not asked to the podium to answer questions.

Outcome: Without discussion, commissioners approved both bond-related items. A second, final vote is required and will likely be on the board’s June 6 agenda.

Sugar Creek Drain Bond

On the agenda was an item giving final approval to pledge the county’s full faith and credit for up to $270,000 in bonds to fund an extension of the Sugar Creek drainage district. The financing request came from water resources commissioner Janis Bobrin, whose office is managing the project. It had been given initial approval at the board’s May 2 meeting.

The project – which in total is budgeted at $349,899 – is being done at the behest of the Washtenaw County road commission. It entails relocating a portion of the county drain, including a section of 1,850 feet adjacent to Platt Road between Judd and Stoney Creek roads in York Township. A second phase includes removing sediment and vegetation, as well as making wingwall repairs, at the drain crossings of US-23, McCrone Road, and Gooding Road.

The Sugar Creek drainage district covers parts of York Township, Augusta Township and the city of Milan. The bonds will be repaid in part by assessing property owners in the district – 70% of the cost of the bonds will be paid in this way. [.pdf map of drainage district] The remainder of the funds will come from York and Augusta townships, the city of Milan, Washtenaw County, the Michigan Dept. of Transportation, and two railroads – Ann Arbor Railroad and Norfolk Southern Railroad. The county’s share of the cost is $24,203 – half of that will be paid by the county road commission.

A contract for the work has been awarded to Mead Brothers Excavating of Springport, Mich., the lowest responsible bidder.

Outcome: Without discussion, commissioners gave final approval to the Sugar Creek drainage district bonds.

Project LIFT Funding

Commissioners were asked to authorize the application for a $1,348,853 federal grant from the U.S. Dept. of Labor to fund Project LIFT, a jobs training and service program for juvenile ex-offenders run by the county sheriff’s office. The program aims to serve 100 youth. [.pdf of program description]

A staff memo noted that while Washtenaw County

… has the best employment rates compared to its neighbors, it also has the highest rate of criminal recidivism in the state, with 80% of released prisoners being re-imprisoned 2-3 years later. In addition, many at-risk youth reside in communities that serve as a revolving door for offenders returning to society from our jails and prisons. With community-based reintegration in Washtenaw County still in its infancy, there is a need to engage youth before they are introduced to the criminal justice system as adults, within their own communities, that will deter them from criminal behavior.

According to the staff report, the sheriff’s community action team estimates there are 12-13 gangs active in Washtenaw County, with 9-10 gangs active in one neighborhood alone. The largest gang has an estimated 25 members.

There was only one question on this item, from commissioner Felicia Brabec. She pointed to information in the staff memo, which stated that the Washtenaw County Trial Court had identified 900 young people aged 18-21 who have been convicted in juvenile court, but have never been convicted of an adult offense. Of those, Project LIFT would only serve 100, and Brabec wanted to know what selection criteria would be used.

No one from the sheriff’s office was on hand to answer Brabec’s question, so county administrator Verna McDaniel promised to follow up and get that information.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously authorized application of federal funds for Project LIFT. A final vote is expected at the board’s June 6 meeting.

District 7 Swearing-In

County clerk Larry Kestenbaum was on hand to swear in Felicia Brabec in a short ceremony near the beginning of the May 16 meeting.

Felicia Brabec

At the county board’s May 16 meeting, Felicia Brabec was sworn in as District 7 commissioner after winning a May 8 special election. County clerk Larry Kestenbaum (foreground) officiated.

Brabec won a May 8 election against Republican Richard Conn to represent District 7 (Pittsfield Township) on the 11-member county board. It had been the only election for the county board, for a term that will run through the end of 2012. (County commissioners typically serve two-year terms.)

The unusual timing of the race stemmed from the October 2011 resignation of former District 7 commissioner Kristin Judge. The board appointed Brabec to replace Judge at its Oct. 19, 2011 meeting. Brabec had been encouraged by Judge to apply for the vacancy, and was one of two people interviewed for the position. [See Chronicle coverage: "County Board Meets District 7 Candidates"] There was a special primary election for the seat on Feb. 28, followed by the special general election on May 8.

Redistricting of the county board, which takes effect in 2013, will reduce the number of districts in the county from 11 to 9. Candidates for the new districts will compete in an Aug. 7 primary and November general election. The district currently represented by Brabec will become the new District 4. [map of new county board districts]

Both Brabec and Conn will likely be facing off again in the November general election. They are the only candidates who filed to run in their respective partisan primaries, to be held on Aug. 7. For a full list of county board primary candidates, see Chronicle coverage: “Last-Minute Filings: Washtenaw County Races.” And for some fallout caused by confusion regarding the new districts, see “Borregard Off Ballot in County Board Race.”

Communications & Public Commentary

There are various opportunities for communications from commissioners as well as general public commentary. These are some highlights.

Communications: Animal Control Services

Two commissioners commented on issues related to animal control services. Barbara Bergman noted that there had been a “failed meeting” of the animal control services task force on May 9 . Only she and board chair Conan Smith had attended from the board, although the task force is open to all commissioners. The meeting was canceled when it became clear that no other commissioners would attend. [See Chronicle coverage: "Low Turnout for Animal Control Task Force."]

Smith did not attend the May 16 board meeting, so Bergman asked Alicia Ping – the board’s vice chair, who was running the meeting in Smith’s absence – to convey to Smith that a new meeting time should be set “PDQ.” The board needs to address policy issues related to animal control services so they don’t get “cut off at the knees,” Bergman said. “Frankly, I’m a little angry.”

When Ping mentioned that Smith had previously passed out a schedule of meeting times, Bergman indicated that Smith no longer planned to hold those sessions, in light of the low turnout for the first one. [Subsequent email from Smith confirmed dates for additional meetings – on May 23, June 13, July 25, Aug.22 and Sept. 12. A report of the May 23 meeting will be provided in a separate Chronicle article.]

Rob Turner, during his liaison report, gave an update on a work group, led by sheriff Jerry Clayton, that’s tasked with developing a methodology to determine the cost of providing animal control services. The work group includes representatives from HSHV, the county, and other municipalities that have animal control ordinances.

A meeting was held on May 15, where Turner said the group heard a presentation by HSHV. He said he conveyed the county board’s charge to the group – that the goal is to develop a cost structure, similar to the process of developing the cost structure for a police services unit, which was approved by the board in last summer. [See Chronicle coverage: "Washtenaw OKs Price for Police Services"]

Initially, HSHV representatives said they didn’t think they could do it, Turner reported. But they know that they have to do it, he said, and they’ve agreed to work with the county’s finance department to come up with a cost breakdown. It’s a difficult task, he said, and he’ll report back to the board after the next work group meeting.

The work group and task force are part of a broader process that began last year when the county board – as part of developing the 2012-2013 budget – decided to cut funding for animal control services, which it has handled through a contract with the Humane Society of Huron Valley (HSHV). The board subsequently approved a contract with the HSHV at its Feb. 15, 2012 meeting. That contract expires at the end of 2012, and the county plans to issue a request for proposals (RFP) later this year to solicit bids for the next contract.

Communications: Public Commentary

In addition to the public commentary reported above, Thomas Partridge of Ann Arbor spoke during both opportunities for the public to address the board. He noted that he is a candidate in the Democratic primary for the state House of Representatives in District 53. [Partridge will run against incumbent Democrat Jeff Irwin, a former county commissioner who's seeking his second two-year term in the House.] Partridge called for renewed energy and a new set of attitudes for providing services to those in need – attitudes of respect, integrity, and reaching out to residents rather than standing back or even retracting from them. The first priority should be affordable housing, he said.

Present: Barbara Bergman, Felicia Brabec, Leah Gunn, Alicia Ping, Ronnie Peterson, Wes Prater, Yousef Rabhi, Dan Smith, Rob Turner.

Absent: Rolland Sizemore Jr., Conan Smith.

Next regular board meeting: Wednesday, June 6, 2012 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. [check Chronicle calendar listing to 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 commentary is held at the beginning of each meeting, and no advance sign-up is required.

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