Final 2013 Budget Adjustments Postoned

Following considerable discussion and an unexpected proposal from the floor, Washtenaw County commissioners gave initial approval to authorize a $654,670 increase in 2013 general fund revenues and expenses, bringing the total general fund budget to 103,218,903.

The action was taken at the Aug. 7, 2013 ways & means committee meeting of the county board of commissioners, with dissent by Alicia Ping (R-District 3), Dan Smith (R-District 2), and Conan Smith (D-District 9). [.pdf of 2013 budget adjustment chart] Board approval is required for budget changes greater than $100,000 or a variance of more than 10%, whichever is less.

However, the board ultimately postponed the final vote on the budget adjustments.

The county’s finance staff cited several factors related to the adjustments, including the fact that property tax revenues are $2.3 million higher than anticipated when the budget was approved in December 2012. The county is also receiving $205,344 more in state funding than was originally budgeted, from state liquor tax revenues.

On the expense side, $551,998 will be used to help pay for the trial court’s new records management software system. Those funds come from a refund to the court by the state of Michigan. There will also be an increase of $102,672 in expenses due to a higher substance abuse allocation mandated by Public Act 2 of 1986, and related to the higher liquor tax revenues that the county received. Those funds will go to the county’s designated substance abuse coordinating agency.

McDaniel also noted that the 2013 general fund budget is not expected to need a previously planned use of $2.8 million from the fund balance.

During a second-quarter budget update for 2013, the county’s financial staff reported that the county is now expecting a $245,814 general fund surplus for the year. [.pdf of 2Q budget presentation]

At the ways & means committee meeting, Conan Smith offered an amendment – and an impassioned plea – to restore roughly $1.2 million in funding to three programs that had been previously cut. He felt that restoring this funding was possible in light of $2.3 million in higher-than-expected property tax revenues. The programs that he proposed funding were community corrections ($152,772), public and environmental health ($386,000) and workforce development ($650,000). His proposal, presented from the floor, had been seen by county staff for the first time just a few hours before the meeting started.

County administrator Verna McDaniel pointed out that if Smith’s amendment were approved, the money would be taken from unearmarked reserves in the county’s fund balance. She reminded commissioners that the original cuts had been structural.

A vote on Smith’s amendment failed at the ways & means committee meeting. Initial approval to the overall unamended budget adjustments passed on a 6-3 vote, over dissent from Conan Smith, Dan Smith and Alicia Ping.

When the board considered the 2013 budget adjustments for a final vote at the regular board meeting – which immediately followed ways & means – Smith spoke at length, chastising the other commissioners for not taking action to spend the unanticipated revenues. He noted that the board had identified human services as a priority, but was instead funding things like software and facilities. He then proposed another amendment, this time increasing the proposed spending to about $1.7 million. His amendment proposed allocating funds to community corrections ($152,000); public and environmental health ($386,000); workforce development ($754,000); programs for the elderly, people facing homeless and those in need of utility assistance ($252,000); and housing programs ($199,000).

Other commissioners expressed general support for his sentiments, but cautioned against acting quickly and not giving sufficient strategic thought to these allocations, which they had seen for the first time that night. Smith argued that he had asked that the item be pulled from the agenda prior to the meeting, because he had wanted more time for discussion. He indicated that he would support postponement.

A vote on his amendment failed, with support only from Conan Smith and Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6). Conan Smith then moved to postpone the entire budget adjustment resolution until the board’s Sept. 4 meeting. That motion passed unanimously.

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]