Washtenaw County 2014-17 Budget Adopted

The Washtenaw County board of commissioners has adopted the 2014-2017 general fund budget, an unprecedented long-term document that some commissioners believe will improve strategic investments and organizational stability. At their Nov. 20, 2013 meeting, commissioners made several amendments, but did not substantively change the originally proposed budget submitted by county administrator Verna McDaniel. Initial approval had been given at a six-hour meeting on Nov. 6, 2013. The Nov. 20 meeting lasted about two-and-a-half hours.

The $103,005,127 budget for 2014 – which represents a slight decrease from the 2013 expenditures of $103,218,903 – includes putting a net total of 8.47 full-time-equivalent jobs on “hold vacant” status, as well as the net reduction of a 0.3 FTE position. The recommended budgets for the following years are $103,977,306 in 2015, $105,052,579 in 2016, and $106,590,681 in 2017. The budgets are based on an estimated 1% annual increase in property tax revenues. [.pdf of original draft budget summary] [.pdf of draft budget summary revised as of Nov. 20, 2013]

The vote was 7-1, with dissent by Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) – though he cited three elements of the budget that he wanted to support: the community impact statements, outside agency funding, and position modifications. Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) was absent. Dan Smith (R-District 2), who had dissented in the initial vote on Nov. 6, stated that he still had several concerns with the budget, but he voted for it because the budget supported many important activities throughout the county. He noted that although it spanned four years, the board is required to approve the budget each year, so “technically it’s a one-year budget.”

A budget amendment had been put forward on Nov. 6 by Dan Smith, with the board postponing action on it until Nov. 20. That amendment had proposed adjusting projections to increase revenues by $449,813 over the four-year period, and allocating $100,000 per year in additional funds to the sheriff’s office. Early during the Nov. 20 budget discussion, Smith withdrew the amendment without discussion.

Several new amendments were made during deliberations on Nov. 20. An amendment proposed by Conan Smith (D-District 9) directs the administration to conduct a study of county staff “to assess the capabilities of the organization to meet the community outcomes and processes.” Another amendment directs the administration to conduct a “citizens experience study” that would help inform board priorities.

Alicia Ping (R-District 3) proposed an amendment to shift $500,000 from the facilities operations fund to a contingency fund for parking. That contingency fund will serve as a placeholder as the county renegotiates parking contracts with the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority.

Most of the 8.47 FTEs that are proposed to be kept unfilled are in the sheriff’s office. On Nov. 6, sheriff Jerry Clayton had addressed the board, telling commissioners that his office can’t continue to absorb budget cuts without affecting services. On Nov. 20 he did not formally speak to the board, though he was in the building. After the meeting, board chair Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) told The Chronicle that discussions are underway with the sheriff, and that there will be a budget amendment brought forward – likely in early 2014 – that will address some of the concerns raised by Clayton.

As he has on previous occasions, Peterson argued against the four-year budget approach, preferring to maintain the current two-year budget process. He said that if he’s re-elected in 2014, he’ll fight to overturn the four-year budget and institute a one- or two-year budget instead. The board’s leadership – including Rabhi and Felicia Brabec (D-District 4), chair of the board’s ways & means committee – believe a four-year budget will improve long-term planning and stability, and could be transformational to the way that the county does business.

They also want the board to be engaged in a continual process of monitoring the outcomes related to budget investments. To that end, on Nov. 20 the board also voted to adopt a set of “community outcomes” to guide that investment, as well as a framework for developing future budgets that reflect those desired outcomes. [.pdf of community outcomes resolution] Those outcomes are more detailed “impact statements” tied to budget priorities that the board approved on July 24, 2013. The budget priorities are:

  • Ensure a community safety net through health and human services, inclusive of public safety;
  • Increase economic opportunity and workforce development;
  • Ensure mobility and civic infrastructure for Washtenaw County residents;
  • Reduce environmental impact;
  • Internal labor force sustainability and effectiveness.

By way of example, the five community impact statements for the priority of “ensure a community safety net” are:

  • Children in Washtenaw County will have access to care, support, and developmental tools they need to be ready to ensure success throughout graduation, college, or employment.
  • Washtenaw County residents will have ready and affordable access to health care in order to achieve optimal health and increase life expectancy for all residents.
  • Washtenaw County residents will have affordable and safe housing and transportation options.
  • Washtenaw County residents will be food secure and have ample access to healthy foods that are locally sourced.
  • Washtenaw County residents will be safe and secure at home and in their community.

The revised budget document incorporates a summary of this “community impact investing.” It directs the county administrator to bring a recommendation for implementation, including details on staffing and a budget, by Jan. 22, 2014 for board approval. Peterson expressed concerns that the funding for this process wasn’t yet clear. At this point, no resources have been identified for that purpose.

County administrator Verna McDaniel had initially presented the budget at the board’s Oct. 2, 2013 meeting. A public hearing was held on Oct. 15, 2013 but it was held after midnight and no one spoke. A second hearing was held on Nov. 20, but no one spoke at that, either.

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