County Holds 1st Hearing on Bond Proposal

The Washtenaw County board of commissioners has held the first of two public hearings on a potential $345 million bond proposal, drawing four people who expressed caution about the possible action. The hearing was held at the board’s June 5, 2013 meeting. A second hearing is scheduled for July 10, when the board will likely take action on the proposal.

The proposed bond issue of up to $345 million, the largest in the county’s history, is intended to cover unfunded pension and retiree healthcare obligations from the Washtenaw County Employees’ Retirement System (WCERS) and Voluntary Employees Beneficiary Association (VEBA) – the defined benefit pension and retiree healthcare plans. Those plans will be closed to employees hired after Jan. 1, 2014.

The proposal had first been mentioned publicly in mid-April, though the administration has been working on it since November of 2012, and commissioners had discussed it in closed session earlier this year as part of the county’s negotiations for new labor contracts. For background, see Chronicle coverage: “County Board Debates $345M Bond Proposal” and “County Budget, Bonding Decisions Loom.”

The original plan called for taking an initial vote on May 15 authorizing the publication of a “notice of intent” for the bond issue, with final approval on June 5. Responding to concerns about the speed at which the process was moving – without the opportunity for sufficient public input – board chair Yousef Rabhi pushed back the timetable. Now, it’s expected that a resolution to issue the notice of intent will come before the board on July 10 for initial – and possibly final – approval. This is a standard step in the bonding process, letting residents know that they have 45 days during which they can circulate petitions to require a vote of the people before any bonds are issued.

The board is also holding a working session on June 6 focused on the bond proposal. Participating in the session will be: John Axe, the county’s bond counsel; Rowan Miranda, associate vice president for finance at the University of Michigan; Jens Stephan, accounting professor at Eastern Michigan University; and Larry Langer of Buck Consultants LLC. The working session begins at 6 p.m. in the boardroom of the county administration building, 220 N. Main in Ann Arbor.

In addition, other forums for public input are scheduled:

  • Saturday, June 15: 4-6 p.m. “Bonding over Coffee” with Yousef Rabhi at Espresso Royale, 214 S. Main St., Ann Arbor.
  • Wednesday, June 26: 4-6 p.m. “Bonding over Coffee” with Yousef Rabhi at Caribou Coffee, 1423 E. Stadium Blvd. (corner of Packard and Stadium).
  • Thursday, June 27: 4:30 p.m., public forum with county administrator Verna McDaniel at the Learning Resource Center, Room A, 4135 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor.

This brief was filed from the boardroom of the county administration building at 220 N. Main St. in Ann Arbor. A more detailed report will follow: [link]