Homeless Issues Emerge on County Agenda

Washtenaw County commissioners push for shelter funding, long-term strategy; also, board acts on police services, autism coverage, brownfield plan for Thomson Block; postpones action on road commission; gets report on 2013 audit

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (April 2, 2014): Responding to several homeless residents who spoke during public commentary, commissioners spent about 90 minutes on April 2 discussing how to address short-term and long-term needs of the homeless.

Yousef Rabhi,  Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8), chair of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners, talked with an advocate from the homeless community before the April 2 county board meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

The board ultimately voted to direct county administrator Verna McDaniel to work with community partners to address immediate needs of the homeless. In general, McDaniel has budgetary discretion to spend up to $50,000 on professional services contracts, and up to $100,000 for any proposed goods, services, new construction or renovation. Later in the week, she allocated $35,000 to the Delonis Center – which is run by the nonprofit Shelter Association of Washtenaw County – to keep its nighttime warming center open through April 30. The warming center had originally been slated to close for the season on April 6.

The resolution also directed the administration to develop a plan by May 7 for updating the county’s Blueprint to End Homelessness, which was adopted in 2004 but appears to be dormant. The process of updating that plan is to be completed by Oct. 1, 2014.

Conan Smith (D-District 9) had initially suggested allocating $40,000 to the shelter to keep the warming center open another month. Other commissioners had concerns about throwing money at the shelter without any input from shelter staff, and without knowing specifically how the money would be used. Because the item hadn’t been included on the agenda, representatives from the shelter staff didn’t attend the meeting.

Some commissioners thought there should be a strategic plan in place before any additional funding is given – and they seemed to assume that such a plan doesn’t already exist. Mary Jo Callan, director of the county’s office of community & economic development, noted that the city of Ann Arbor and several other entities are working on this issue, in partnership with the Shelter Association. The board had received a briefing from the association’s executive director, Ellen Schulmeister, at their Feb. 6, 2014 working session.

The vote on the resolution was 6-2, over dissent from Republicans Dan Smith (District 2) and Alicia Ping (District 3), who both objected to the process. Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) was absent.

Dan Smith called it “completely and entirely inappropriate” to be making policy and budgetary decisions on the fly, in response to a few people who showed up to speak during public commentary. He supported updating the Blueprint to End Homelessness, but thought it was a discussion that should take place at a working session before taking action at a regular board meeting. Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) responded by saying that commissioners are elected to work for the people. When people come to the board, it’s important to address their concerns in a serious manner, he said.

Because of the length of the meeting, some men who were staying at the shelter missed the 9:30 p.m. curfew. Typically, anyone showing up after that time isn’t allowed inside. Greg Dill, the county’s director of infrastructure management, contacted the shelter staff and made arrangements for the men to be accommodated.

In other action, commissioners gave initial approval to a two-year pricing proposal – for 2016 and 2017 – to provide police services to local municipalities through contracts with the county sheriff’s office. Some commissioners expressed concern about the financial sustainability of this approach to funding police services, and cited the need for new revenue sources for public safety. Sheriff Jerry Clayton was on hand to present the pricing proposal, and supported suggestions to seek a new funding source. As he’s done in the past, Clayton characterized the issue of public safety as one that encompasses economic development, human services and other aspects of the community.

Commissioners also gave initial approval to a new brownfield redevelopment plan for the Thompson Block in Ypsilanti’s Depot Town, and took final action to add autism coverage to the health care benefits for employees. They postponed action on a resolution related to the county road commission until May 7, following an April 17 working session that will focus on that issue. The board also was briefed on the 2013 audit and comprehensive annual financial report (CAFR), and received an award for financial reporting from the national Government Finance Officers Association.

During communications, Felicia Brabec (D-District 4) reported that the review of applications is underway for the current cycle of coordinated funding, a partnership to fund social service agencies that involves the county, city of Ann Arbor, and several other entities. For this cycle, 105 applications were received, representing $8.7 million in requests. The amount of available funding this year from all partners is $4.4 million. “So it’s a difficult, difficult process,” she said. Funding recommendations will be brought to the board in May.

On April 2, the board also honored five local businesses and institutions with “healthy workplace” awards, and recognized the Ann Arbor Community Center for 91 years of service.

Funds for Homeless Shelter

This year, the issue of homelessness has been highlighted during public commentary at several county board meetings. That was again true on April 2.

Washtenaw County owns the Delonis Center building at 312 W. Huron in Ann Arbor, but does not operate the shelter. Operations are handled by the nonprofit Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, led by executive director Ellen Schulmeister. Schulmeister had briefed commissioners about services for the homeless at their Feb. 6, 2014 working session. Her briefing had come in response to advocacy from several homeless advocates at the board’s Jan. 22, 2014 meeting, when commissioners had also discussed the need to do more.

The county budget included $51,230 for the Delonis Center in 2013 and that amount was increased to $160,000 this year as part of the regular budget approval process late last year. The county funding is set to increase again to $200,000 in 2015 and remain at that level through 2017. The Shelter Association’s annual budget is $2.583 million.

The Delonis Center was built to house 50 beds, but there have been 75 beds since 2009. In addition, the Delonis Center operates a warming center in its dining room, for a maximum of 65 people – although during the harshest weather, more are accommodated. The warming center is open from mid-November through April 6. There is no drug testing, but people are given a breathalyzer test and are not admitted into the shelter if their blood alcohol level is over .10 – above the legal intoxication level of .08.

Funds for Homeless Shelter: Public Commentary

Several people spoke to advocate for the homeless at the April 2 meeting. Diane Chapman noted that the warming center would be closing on April 6, and she wasn’t sure the weather was good enough for that to happen yet. She said she personally has had to rescue people to prevent them from freezing, so she was asking commissioners to help. It’s not a good thing to put people on the street right now.

Felicia Brabec, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Felicia Brabec (D-District 4) talks with advocates for the homeless during a break in the April 2 county board meeting.

Ray Gholston introduced himself as a resident of the Delonis warming center. He said he was outraged at the planned closing of the warming center on April 6. “This is a potential crisis,” he said, which would result in dozens of people put out onto the streets, and some could possibly die because of exposure to the elements. Basic shelter is not just a right for the privileged few, he said. It is a human right for everyone. Even prisoners of war get food, clothing and shelter, he noted – the United Nations mandates it. How much money does it take to roll out a cot and give a man a blanket? he asked. There are animal shelters, and if dogs and cats were on the street, there would be outrage and anger, he said. Some people on the streets are U.S. veterans who’ve served honorably, he said – look at how they’re being repaid.

Gholston told commissioners that he has a full-time job. “I’m not some bum. I work for a living,” he said, but he can’t afford to rent an apartment in Ann Arbor. How is he supposed to keep up his appearance and hygiene for his job, if he has to sleep on the streets? If the warming center is closed, people will be sleeping on private property, he said, and urinating and defecating in the streets. “This is a shame,” he said. America isn’t a third-world nation, but it could turn into one. He requested that the board do anything in its power to extend the availability of the warming center. He hoped they’d use their humanity to do the right thing.

Elizabeth Kurtz reminded commissioners that a group of people had approached the county board in January about issues related to the warming center. [She was referring to the Jan. 22, 2014 meeting.] As a result, she said, some people from the warming center met with commissioner and board chair Yousef Rabhi; county administrator Verna McDaniel; Mary Jo Callan, director of the county’s office of community & economic development; and Ellen Schulmeister, executive director of the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County. During the meeting, Kurtz said, everyone agreed that there would be continuing dialogue about improving the warming center and addressing homelessness issues. At no point, no human being should be forced to sleep outside in the elements, she said.

Kurtz felt that the board had ignored these issues and had not given them the attention they deserve. She said the homeless community won’t rest until they have access to the human rights they’re entitled to. She read a statement that urged the board to force the Delonis Center to keep the warming center open, or to make other accommodations for people who are using it, such as hotel rooms or temporary trailers. The statement also referred to Kurtz herself, stating that she was “kicked out of the warming center for a non-criminal offense” and asking that she be allowed to return.

Christopher Ellis said he didn’t want to cast aspersions on the shelter. The staff does a humane job, and without it he wouldn’t have survived the winter. But he questioned the morality of closing the warming center on April 6. It should be looked at, he said.

Funds for Homeless Shelter: Board Discussion

Responding to the public commentary, board chair Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) thanked the advocates for the homeless, and said he felt he’d had a lot of opportunities to talk with them about these issues. He thought he’d been open and honest with them about the barriers. He agreed that the community needs to care for everyone, but it’s important to realize that this is part of a broader picture that includes affordable housing and resources to find jobs. He hoped that the tax base problems caused by the down economy would be turning around, but there haven’t been as many resources to address the issue because of that.

The Delonis Center is a great partner, Rabhi said, in leveraging county tax dollars with private funding and other sources. It’s a complex issue with many moving parts, he said, which includes wage disparity and access to economic opportunity.

Mary Jo Callan, Conan Smith, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Mary Jo Callan, director of the county’s office of community & economic development, and Conan Smith (D-District 9).

Conan Smith (D-District 9) asked to amend the April 2 agenda so that the board could formally discuss the issues that had been raised.

Because this issue had not originally been on the agenda, no one from the Delonis Center was on hand to answer questions. So later in the meeting, Mary Jo Callan – director of the county’s office of community & economic development – was asked to provide some context. Callan reminded commissioners that the former shelter, which was demolished several years ago, was an 80-bed facility. The current shelter was originally recommended to be 200 beds, but ultimately was built with 50 beds and opened in 2003. More beds were added later, bringing the total to about 75 beds.

The Shelter Association also has a rotating shelter of 25 beds that’s housed by local religious groups. There’s also a warming center, which began with just chairs set up in a room for about 50 people. In 2009, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority purchased bedding for the center, so that clients could sleep in the floor, Callan said.

This winter, there’s been an increase in the number of people seeking services from the shelter – some nights, as many as 80 people. The warming center and the rotating shelter operate from November 18 through April 6, Callan said. The intent is that during the harshest winter months, people are provided with safety and warmth.

There are about 4,500 homeless people in Washtenaw County, Callan reported. There’s a growing lack of affordable housing, both locally and nationwide. She noted that the Urban Institute recently issued a report indicating that for every 100 people in Washtenaw County who are earning 30% or less than the area median income, there are 18 units of affordable housing.

Callan said Schulmeister wasn’t able to rush to the April 2 meeting when this issue arose, but she’s very interested in the board’s discussion. Although the Shelter Association tries to be as responsive as possible, Callan added, as a single nonprofit, it’s difficult to address homelessness in the entire community.

Noting that the cold weather isn’t over yet, Conan Smith said he didn’t want to wait two weeks to make funding available for what might be an emergency situation. “You know me – I’m not a throw-the-money-at-a-problem kind of person,” he said, adding that he wants to understand the root cause and what’s at play. But this is a situation that might need the county to throw money at the problem in the short term, Smith said.

The county doesn’t have the capacity for a year-round warming center, Smith added, but he hoped there was a way to address the next several weeks, until the weather warms up. He also wanted to know what resources are needed for longer-term solutions.

Yousef Rabhi, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8).

Rabhi replied that the board needs to be respectful of the Shelter Association as an organization. It’s a separate nonprofit, and receives money from other sources, not just the county. So any solutions should be developed in conjunction with them, he said. For him, the closure of the warming center was a new issue, Rabhi added – he hadn’t realized until recently it was closing on April 6. There needs to be a long-term strategy, he said, because this would arise again in future years. But he acknowledged that there’s a spectrum of need, including short-term problems.

Felicia Brabec (D-District 4), who serves on the sustainable revenues for supportive housing services task force that was created in 2007, reported that the task force is looking at long-term solutions, including a potential millage and an endowment.

Conan Smith then put forward a proposal to allocate $40,000 as emergency funding to the shelter for an additional month. His rationale was based on his recollection that Schulmeister had said it cost about $10,000 a week to operate the warming center.

Andy LaBarre (D-District 7) said he hoped commissioners would keep this discussion in mind as the county moves forward with the disposition of the Platt Road property. As chair of the board’s working sessions, he reported that the issue of homelessness would be a topic for the first working session in May.

LaBarre clarified with Callan that from November 18 through April 6, a nighttime warming center was open. During the day, it opens up if temperatures are 10 degrees or colder. Responding to another query from LaBarre, Callan said the other major public funders for the shelter are the city of Ann Arbor and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.

Callan told commissioners that the shelter staff are interested in being as flexible as possible. “I also want you all to know that the shelter staff has been working overtime literally for months,” she said. It’s a very complex, crowded, difficult place to be. So the feasibility of keeping it open would depend on whether it’s tenable from the staff’s perspective, she said. It’s been a very difficult season for everyone, Callan added – both the people who need services, and the people who provide those services.

Rabhi wondered if extending the warming center for a month would actually address the issues that have been raised. April 30 is an arbitrary end date, too, he noted. That’s a struggle for him.

Alicia Ping (R-District 3) asked what the $40,000 would be used for. Is it for operations? Conan Smith said he was responding to the request for keeping the warming center open past April 6. Ping responded, saying that this is a bigger issue than just the next few weeks. She pointed out that the 10-day forecast called for temperatures in the 50s. “I don’t know that this is the right use of our money to keep the warming shelter open when clearly it is warming up.”

Ping also noted that the county isn’t in charge of the shelter. The county could provide funding, but the shelter can do anything it wants with that. Smith pointed out that the county owns the Delonis Center building.

Brabec noted that even though highs are forecast in the 50s, the lows will still be in the 30s. It highlights the struggle of needing to address short-term needs while also looking for long-term solutions. The $40,000 might help address the short-term need for residents, she said. It can run on parallel tracks.

Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) wouldn’t support spending money unless there was also a long-term strategy in place before then, involving other partners who should also make an investment. Callan replied that more communications and connections could be made, but there’s also a lot happening regarding emergency shelter, rapid re-housing, supportive housing, and affordable housing. She suggested scheduling another working session on these issues.

People in the shelter are being housed, Callan said, “but that is an uphill battle.” Social equity and a dearth of affordable housing are issues in this community, she said, as is a lack of living-wage employment. “The most basic social service is a job,” she said.

Conan Smith, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Conan Smith (D-District 9).

Rabhi agreed that the broader discussion needs to include the issue of a living wage. He noted that earlier in the day, President Barack Obama had talked about the need to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10. Even at that, Rabhi noted, people wouldn’t necessarily be able to afford housing in Ann Arbor, but it’s a good step. He planned to bring a resolution to the April 16 meeting in support of raising the minimum wage.

Rabhi also talked about the need to include regional partners, including other county governments in southeast Michigan.

Conan Smith said he didn’t expect the conversation to end when the warming center closes, but he hoped to provide funding to give people the flexibility of addressing short-term needs. He didn’t want to be inactive, when people had asked for a response.

Brabec suggested directing the county administrator to work with regional partners and return to the board with a plan, including both emergency shelter and also a longer-term strategy. Smith cautioned against spending $40,000 so that people earning $70,000 or more could come up with a plan, saying he trusted the county administrator not to do that. He wanted the $40,000 to directly help people who are homeless.

Ping opposed allocating any dollar amount, but noted that county administrator Verna McDaniel already has discretion to allocate funding if she chose to – up to $100,000.

C. Smith then made a formal motion – a resolution directing the county administrator to work with regional partners to address short-term sheltering issues and to bring a plan back to the board for longer-term housing issues by no later than May 21. LaBarre proposed amending the motion to replace “housing” with “shelter.”

Rabhi noted that the board is asking staff to come up with a solution “to a problem that we have not been able to solve in the history of mankind.” He hoped that the goal for the proposed resolution is to tell commissioners what tools are available to move forward, and to put the issue in context. McDaniel replied that it wouldn’t be possible to find a solution, but it would be realistic to propose a strategy.

Noting that the county’s Blueprint to End Homelessness was created in 2004, Rabhi recommended that the board dedicate 2014 to updating that blueprint and making it relevant for today. It could be another 10-year plan with a strategy for moving forward. He suggested asking staff to develop that by the fall, while addressing short-term needs in the meantime.

Rabhi then proposed a substitute resolution:

Resolved that the Board of Commissioners directs the Administrator to work with the County’s Community Partners to address the short term needs of the homeless in Washtenaw County;

Be it Further Resolved that the Administrator develop a plan for the Board of Commissioners to engage in a comprehensive update to the Blueprint to End Homelessness;

Be it Further Resolved that this strategic plan be presented no later than May 7, 2014, the strategic plan shall include a context of the last decade’s investments in housing and homelessness in Washtenaw County, a current picture of where the county is at today and a strategy for updating the plan over the course of 2014;

Be it Further Resolved that the Board of Commissioners will conclude this process by October 1, 2014.

Conan Smith withdrew his resolution, and LaBarre withdrew his proposed amendment to Smith’s resolution.

Dan Smith (R-District 2) criticized the approach, calling it “totally inappropriate.” April 6 has been looming for months, and the county has been doing a lot of work on this issue for a long time, he noted. “To make public policy based on the number of people who show up and speak at the podium is entirely inappropriate.” There are other agenda items, and staff and members of the public had been waiting over three hours for the board to conduct its business, he observed. And yet, the board takes something that’s not on the agenda and spends 90 minutes discussing it, then coming up with a proposal “on the fly.”

D. Smith said he had no problem taking up this issue in the future, including updating the Blueprint to End Homelessness. It’s also an appropriate topic for a working session, he said. But Smith said he wouldn’t support this resolution.

Rabhi replied that the board works for the people of Washtenaw County, and when people come forward with a concern, it’s important to address it in a serious manner. “That’s what we owe to the citizens who elected us to serve on this board,” Rabhi said.

Outcome: The resolution passed on a 6-2 vote, over dissent from Dan Smith (R-District 2) and Alicia Ping (R-District 3). Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) was absent.

Funds for Homeless Shelter: Coda

Later in the week, McDaniel allocated $35,000 to the Delonis Center, which has agreed to keep the warming center open through April 30. The funding will come from the county’s unearmarked reserves.

Road Commission

The April agenda included a resolution regarding the county road commission. The resolution, if passed, would leave the county road commission as an independent entity. The resolution also states that the county board does not support making the road commission’s board an elected body. [.pdf of board resolution]

The resolution is in line with recommendations of a board subcommittee that was appointed in October of 2013 to look at the future of the road commission. At its final meeting on March 1, 2014, the subcommittee voted to recommend that the road commission remain an independent operation, and not be absorbed into the county government.

Andy LaBarre, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Andy LaBarre (D-District 7).

That subcommittee vote came over dissent from Conan Smith of Ann Arbor (D-District 9), who argued that consolidating the road commission into the county would allow for more flexibility and accountability in oversight. Currently, the road commission is overseen by a board with three members appointed by the county board of commissioners to six-year terms. Smith thought that asking voters to approve a countywide road millage – when the revenues aren’t allocated by an elected body – would be a tough sell. It would be especially tough to sell to voters in the city of Ann Arbor, who already pay a millage for street maintenance within the city.

But others on the subcommittee were in line with the strong support from township officials for keeping the road commission independent. Most township boards in the county have passed resolutions supporting the current structure, citing their strong relationships with the road commission staff and board.

The subcommittee did not make any recommendations on whether to expand the road commission from three to five members. The three county commissioners who served on the subcommittee – Conan Smith, Dan Smith (R-District 2) and Alicia Ping (R-District 3) – had agreed that the question of expansion was primarily a political one, and should be taken up by the county board. Subcommittee members indicated that they’d be willing to discuss it further, if directed to do so by the county board.

Regarding the question of whether road commissioners should be elected positions, the subcommittee unanimously passed a resolution recommending not to pursue that option. The sense was that elections would be dominated by urban voters who are heavily Democratic, but who would be electing commissioners to oversee road projects in rural communities.

The three current road commissioners are Doug Fuller, Barbara Fuller, and Bill McFarlane, who was appointed by the county board at its March 19, 2014 meeting. At that time, board chair Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) voiced support for expanding the road commission board to five members.

These issues come in the context of a state law that opened the door to possible consolidation of the road commission into the county. In 2012, the Michigan legislature enacted amendments to Section 46.11 of Public Act 156 of 1851, which allows for county boards of commissioners to transfer the powers of the road commission to the county board. There’s a sunset to that section of the law, however. Unless extended by the legislature, it will expire at the end of 2014.

At the April 2 meeting, Conan Smith (D-District 9) moved to postpone the item until the board’s May 7, 2014 meeting. It’s the first board meeting that follows an April 17 working session, when issues related to the road commission will be discussed.

Outcome: On a voice vote, commissioners voted to postpone the road commission item until May 7. Dissenting was Alicia Ping (R-District 3).

Thompson Block Brownfield Plan

A brownfield redevelopment plan for the Thompson Block in Ypsilanti’s Depot Town area was on the agenda for an initial vote. [.pdf of Thompson Block brownfield plan]

Fred Beal, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Fred Beal, president of JC Beal Construction Inc. and co-founder of Beal Properties LLC.

The plan covers 400-408 N. River St. and 107 E. Cross St., an historic property that has been declared ”functionally obsolete and blighted.” That qualifies the project as a brownfield under the state’s brownfield redevelopment financing act (Public Act 381), which allows the owner to receive reimbursements for eligible activities through tax increment financing (TIF). Approval also will allow the developer to apply for Michigan Business Tax Credits. The property is currently owned by Thompson Block Partners LLC, led by Stewart Beal of Beal Properties. Beal’s father, Fred Beal, attended the April 2 meeting but did not formally address the board.

Beal plans to create 16 “luxury lofts” in the structure’s second and third floors, and up to 14,000 square feet of commercial space in the remainder of the site. The project is estimated to cost about $7 million.

The resolution on the April 2 agenda also would end a previous brownfield plan for part of the same site, which was approved in 2008. A fire in 2009 delayed the project. The new plan now covers the 107 E. Cross, which was not part of the original plan, and includes public infrastructure improvements, such as streetscape enhancements along North River Street.

The Washtenaw County brownfield redevelopment authority approved this plan at its March 6 meeting. Subsequently, the plan was approved by the Ypsilanti city council on March 18. The city council’s action included approving an “Obsolete Properties Rehabilitation” certificate, which freezes local millages at the current, pre-development level for 12 years. Because of that, the project’s TIF capture will apply only to the state’s school taxes.

The project can get up to $271,578 in eligible cost reimbursed over a 12-year period, for activities including brownfield plan and work plan preparation, limited building demolition, selective interior demolition, site preparation and utility work, infrastructure improvements, architectural and engineering design costs, asbestos and lead abatement, and construction oversight.

The intent of the state’s brownfield redevelopment financing is to support the redevelopment of urban sites that will increase the municipality’s tax base. Tax increment financing allows an entity to capture the difference between the taxable value before a project is undertaken, and the value of the property after it’s developed.

A public hearing on this proposal was also held at the April 2 meeting. Only one person – Tyler Weston, a real estate agent representing Thompson Block Partners – spoke briefly, telling the board that the financing would help the project.

Thompson Block Brownfield Plan: Board Discussion

Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) praised the project, saying it’s an example of Beal’s commitment to the community. It’s in the heart of Depot Town and has had a lot of challenges, he noted. Rabhi serves on the county’s brownfield redevelopment authority board, which had recommended approval of this proposal.

Responding to a query from Felicia Brabec (D-District 4), Nathan Voght of the county’s office of community & economic development explained that the brownfield is the only TIF legislation that doesn’t allow for an opt-out – every taxing entity participates equally. But in this case, because of the “Obsolete Properties Rehabilitation” certificate, local millages will be frozen for up to 12 years, so there won’t be any increment available for TIF financing – with the exception of the state’s school taxes.

Brabec also asked about the differences between this proposal and the one approved in 2008. Voght noted that the 2009 fire damaged the entire structure, so the need for demolition changed. The overall eligible costs decreased from about $307,000 to about $271,000.

Outcome: Commissioners gave initial approval to the brownfield plan. A final vote is expected on April 16.

Police Services Contract

A two-year pricing proposal for contracts to provide police services to local municipalities was on the April 2 agenda for initial authorization from the county board.

Jerry Clayton, Greg Dill, Washtenaw County sheriff, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Sheriff Jerry Clayton and Greg Dill, the county’s director of infrastructure management.

On July 6, 2011, commissioners had authorized the price that municipalities would pay for a contract sheriff’s deputy through 2015. The price in 2012 – $150,594 per “police services unit” – was unchanged from 2011, but has been rising in subsequent years by about 1% annually. The complex, politically-charged process of arriving at those figures in 2011 involved more than a year of discussion between the sheriff’s office, other county officials and leaders of local municipalities that contract for these services.

The board’s decision in 2011 was based on a recommendation from the police services steering committee. That same group is recommending the next pricing changes as well, based on the cost of a police services unit (PSU). The PSU price for 2014 is $153,621. For 2015, the PSU price will be $155,157. In the following two years, the PSU price is proposed to be $156,709 in 2016 and $158,276 in 2017.

Those figures are based on a 1% annual increase in direct costs to contracting municipalities. That rate of increase for PSUs is included in revenue projections for the county’s four-year budget, which the county board passed at its Nov. 20, 2013 meeting. The budget runs from 2014-2017, and includes revenue projections based on contracts for 79 PSUs.

According to a staff memo, there will be an addition to the 2016 and 2017 prices for in-car printer replacement, after the total cost of ownership is determined. The memo also notes that the pricing is based on salaries stipulated in current union contracts with the Police Officers Association of Michigan (POAM) and the Command Officers Association of Michigan (COAM). Those contracts run through 2014, and new contracts are currently being negotiated. The memo states that ”no assumptions were made for salaries or fringes change in this cost metric in anticipation of any union negotiations.” [.pdf of staff memo]

The county – through the sheriff’s office budget – pays for the difference between the price charged for each PSU, and the actual cost to provide those services. In 2011, that difference was $25,514.

In 2016, the cost per PSU is expected to be $195,104 – a difference of $38,395 compared to the price being charged to municipalities. In 2017, the cost per PSU is estimated at $199,188 – a difference of $40,912. [.pdf of cost estimates]

On April 2, sheriff Jerry Clayton described the cost model, explaining that it includes direct costs like salaries and benefits, which are paid by each contracting entity. It also includes indirect costs and overhead, which those entities partially pay. The county covers a portion of the indirect costs and overhead. The county also picks up the difference between the cost estimates and the actual cost, he said. In 2011, for example, the actual cost for delivering services was about $2,000 more than what was estimated per PSU. In 2012, the difference was about $4,500 more per PSU than estimated.

Because the sheriff’s office has about 400 positions – full time, part time and seasonal – there will always be openings, Clayton said. And because of that, his office has been able to offset those higher-than-expected costs by leaving some positions unfilled. But through budget cuts over the last few years, that flexibility becomes more challenging, he said.

Clayton said he supports the 1% increases in 2016 and 2017, but noted that it doesn’t account for possible changes to the POAM and COAM contracts. The result of those contract negotiations could have a big effect on the final price, because of the direct cost, he said.

He urged commissioners to think about how to find a sustainable revenue stream to support public safety countywide. Clayton noted that in the previous budget, the sheriff’s office came under its expenditure targets without compromising service, and also exceeded revenue. So the office has met its obligations as it relates to the overall county budget, he said. “But the ability to do that moving forward becomes a little more challenging.”

Police Services Contract: Board Discussion

Felicia Brabec (D-District 4) agreed that the county needs a sustainable revenue source for public safety. She asked if it was a trend that the difference between cost estimates and actual costs is increasing. SiRui Huang, finance manager for the sheriff’s office, said she thought 2013 would be close to the estimate, because there was a reduction in the fringe benefit rates.

Ronnie Peterson, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6).

Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) described the county as growing, which results in demand for services. He wondered when they would revisit the methodology used for policing the county, and the policy for contractual agreements with local municipalities.

Clayton replied that the financial architecture that’s in place to establish cost and price is sound. But the most recent analysis of recommended staffing levels for public safety in the county was done in 2000, he said. It established ideal staffing levels and minimum staffing levels. One of the recommendations from that report, which hasn’t been implemented, is to mandate the minimum staffing levels in some jurisdictions.

In theory, the county could mandate those minimal levels before it enters into a contract with the jurisdiction, he explained. If the jurisdiction indicates that it can’t afford the minimal level, then the county could decide not to enter into a contract to provide police services. Clayton said he didn’t recommend this approach, but it was an option that had been recommended.

When the study was done 14 years ago, the population of Washtenaw County was about 300,000, Clayton noted. Now, it’s closer to 350,000.

Peterson indicated that as the economy improves, he thought the county’s population would grow even more. The cost to the county’s general fund of providing public safety is increasing, but the county has to pay the price for the economic health of the community, Peterson said. There needs to be more discussion of this issue, he said.

Peterson said he’d like to see the “magic” of the current proposal work, but he didn’t see how it was a sustainable model.

Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) asked about the cost difference again, wondering if it would be consistent with the previous difference of about $25,000. Huang noted that the difference is estimated to increase in 2016 and 2017, but she restated that it doesn’t take into account any possible reductions that might occur based on current union negotiations. So the cost might change, she said.

Rabhi told Clayton that he wasn’t going to challenge this proposal strongly, adding that Clayton has been a great sheriff for the whole county. Rabhi noted that the cost difference, paid by the general fund, is borne by all county taxpayers – including those who live in jurisdictions that also have their own police departments, like Ann Arbor. That’s another issue to discuss in the future, Rabhi said, in addition to the funding sustainability. Whether you live in Ann Arbor or Bridgewater Township, public safety is important, he said, “and we need to find a way to fund it in a fair way, countywide.”

As the sheriff’s office is asked to bear more of the financial burden, Rabhi said, that makes it more fragile as a governmental unit. It’s important to look for new potential funding sources for public safety, he concluded.

Conan Smith (D-District 9) said the board should be grappling more with the issue of funding for public safety, especially considering that public safety accounts for more than 60% of the general fund budget. [That amount includes funding for courts, the prosecutor's office and other criminal justice units – not just the sheriff's office.]

Kent Martinez-Kratz, Stefani Carter, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Kent Martinez-Kratz (D-District 1) and Stefani Carter, a local attorney who was filling in for corporation counsel Curt Hedger.

Smith noted that the proportion of cost that’s being paid for by the sheriff’s office is increasing faster than the proportion paid for by the contracting entities. He wondered why that’s the case.

Clayton reiterated his point that it’s not a sustainable situation. He pointed out that while it’s not sustainable for the sheriff’s office, it’s also a problem for the contracting jurisdictions, which can’t afford to take on additional expenses. For some jurisdictions, the contract for police services accounts for almost 70% of their general funds. So raising the price for those jurisdictions isn’t really an option.

Public safety is key to other issues in the county, including human services and economic development, Clayton said. The county has reached the point where they need to consider creating other funding sources to sustain police services countywide. He noted that the sheriff’s office also provides services to jurisdictions that already have their own police departments, like Ann Arbor and Pittsfield Township. The sheriff’s office provides a safety net, he said, but there’s a limit to what they’re capable of in terms of resources, “and I think we’re there.”

C. Smith praised Clayton for making giant strides in integrating the sheriff’s office with nearly all aspects of the county, and for framing the issue differently for the board and the public. “I don’t see this as a city versus township fight,” Smith said. “I see this as a common struggle to provide public safety and quality of life for all of us.” The conversation should focus on what outcome the county is trying to achieve, he added, and how they fund that outcome.

Smith said he’d like to consider a countywide police force approach, whether that’s supporting the existing police forces or expanding the services that the sheriff’s office provides.

Clayton stressed that if other jurisdictions want to keep their police departments, that’s what they should do. He joked that it will save a lot of headache if that’s clear – the sheriff’s office isn’t trying to take over anything. C. Smith said he understood that Clayton was sensitive to that, but he thought it was a conversation they needed to have. It doesn’t make sense to “hyperlocalize” services in a lot of cases, Smith said.

There can be a happy medium, Clayton replied, in terms of collaborating. So that’s another option, and one that the sheriff’s office has pursued.

Dan Smith (R-District 2) agreed that public safety is a countywide issue, and praised Clayton and his staff for their work.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously gave initial approval the police services contract proposal. A final vote is expected on April 16.

2013 Audit

Two representatives from the accounting firm Rehmann, which conducts the county’s audit, attended the April 2 meeting: Nate Baldermann and Mark Kettner. They gave part of a presentation on the county’s 2013 audit and comprehensive annual financial report (CAFR). [.pdf of 2013 CAFR] [.pdf of 2013 audit summary]

Mark Kettner, Nate Baldermann, Rehmann, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Mark Kettner and Nate Baldermann of the accounting firm Rehmann.

Baldermann, a principal at Rehmann and former board member of the Michigan Government Finance Officers Association, began by presenting the board with a certificate of achievement for excellence in financial reporting, for the county’s 2012 CAFR. The award is given by the national Government Finance Officers Association. Baldermann noted that this is the 23rd consecutive year that the county has received this award. Out of about 2,000 local governments in Michigan, only 102 are receiving this award.

Kelly Belknap, the county’s finance director, gave an overview of the staff process involved in developing the CAFR, which reflects thousands of individual financial transactions. She gave highlights from a 2013 year-end financial presentation that staff had made at the board’s March 19, 2014 meeting, showing that the county had ended 2013 with a $3.92 million surplus for its general fund.

The complete audit, which consists of multiple documents, totals over 400 pages, Belknap noted.

Pete Collinson, the county’s accounting manager, gave a summary of the CAFR, which is over 200 pages. Over the years, the requirements have grown in complexity, he noted, and that’s reflected in the amount of information that’s included in the CAFR. At the same time, the finance staff has been reduced, he said, so the auditors have been helping assemble it.

Collinson highlighted some upcoming changes, including GASB 67, which takes effect this year and will be reflected in the next CAFR, and GASB 68, which takes effect in 2015. In 2014, the main change will be more disclosures in notes to the financial statements, he said. But in 2015, the county’s unfunded actuarial accrued pension liability will be booked as a liability in the county’s statement of net position, which will be a significant change, he said. The county’s finance staff have been working closely with their auditors and actuaries to plan for that, Collinson said.

Mark Kettner of the accounting firm Rehmann also gave a few remarks, noting that the auditor’s letter is included in the CAFR. The new term is “unmodified,” he said, which means it’s a clean statement. It’s an opinion just on the financial statements, he said – it’s not an opinion on the county’s financial controls. And it’s not an opinion on the county’s financial position, Kettner said, “although your financial position is pretty good, all things considered – coming off the last five or six years we’ve gone through.”

Kettner referred to a meeting – an “exit conference” – that he held with county administrator Verna McDaniel, board chair Yousef Rabhi and financial staff. There were a few areas for improvement, he said, because it’s a large organization. But there was nothing that he felt he needed to tell the board that night, Kettner added. The county is doing great, he said.

2013 Audit: Board Discussion

Dan Smith (R-District 2) asked about a section of the auditor’s letter:

We did not audit the financial statements of the Washtenaw County Road Commission, which represents 77.4% of the assets and 90.5% of the revenues of the aggregate discretely presented component units. Those statements were audited by other auditors whose report was furnished to us, and our opinion, insofar as it relates to the amounts included for the Washtenaw County Road Commission, is based solely on the report of the other auditors.

He asked Kettner to explain what that means, and why the audit refers to the road commission at all.

Kettner replied that the county government is considered the primary government for purposes of the audit. But the audit also is required to include all of the “component units” of county government, which are shown on pages 66-67 of the CAFR. In addition to the road commission, those units are: the department of public works, the office of the water resources commissioner, the hazardous materials response authority, and the brownfield redevelopment authority. The financial notes describe these operations in more detail.

Component units are separate legal entities, with a majority of their governing boards appointed by the county board of commissioners, or with the county board taking some level of financial accountability. For example, the county board must authorize any debt that’s issued by these other component units.

Dan Smith, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Dan Smith (R-District 2) talks with auditors from the accounting firm Rehmann before the start of the April 2 meeting.

Kettner noted that some of these component units conduct separate audits – that’s the case with the road commission. If Rehmann, as the primary unit’s auditor, takes responsibility for these separate audits, then it’s not mentioned in the auditor’s letter, Kettner said. But if the firm is not taking responsibility – “and there’d be no reason that we’d want to,” he said – then it’s mentioned in the letter, along with a perspective in terms of the financial significance of that unit. That’s why the letter includes the percentages reflecting the road commission’s assets.

Smith pointed out that even though the county board is responsible for the road commission’s debt, county commissioners don’t see the road commission’s budget or approve it. The road commission’s funding comes from the state, through Act 51, he noted. He observed that the GASB accounting standards are national, and probably don’t recognize the rather unique place that Michigan’s road commissions hold compared to all other states.

Kettner replied that although Rehmann doesn’t review the road commission’s financial statements annually, there is a periodic evaluation. The CAFR includes a description of the road commission, he said. That description states: “The Road Commission may not issue debt or levy a tax without the approval of the County Board of Commissioners. The Road Commission deposits its receipts with and has investments through the County.”

Noting that it’s outside of Kettner’s purview, Smith pointed out that the road commission has been the topic of discussion by the county board in Washtenaw County as well as across the state, as the result of state legislation passed in 2012 that allows for the possibility of county governments to absorb road commission operations. [For background on that discussion, see Chronicle coverage: "No Major Change Likely for Road Commission."]

Referring to the auditor’s management letter, Smith highlighted a statement that Michigan state statutes require local governments shall not spend in excess of amounts appropriated in a budget. But in many cases, Smith noted, there isn’t much of a penalty for violating those statutes. What’s the mechanism for enforcing that?

Kettner replied that page 81 of the CAFR lists the instances in which county units spent money in excess of appropriations during 2013. For an entity the size of Washtenaw County, he said, it’s unrealistic to expect that there would never be an item that’s over budget. Sometimes these items don’t show up in the CAFR because the county board amended the budget after the fact. In 2013, many of the excess expenditures were relatively minor, Kettner said. The largest one – $1.75 million over a budgeted $3.27 million in the accommodations ordinance tax line item – reflects a decision by the county board to distribute additional funds from the accommodations tax. The board voted to do that, he explained, but they didn’t do the technical step of voting to amend the budget.

Felicia Brabec, Verna McDaniel, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Felicia Brabec (D-District 4), chair of the ways & means committee, and county administrator Verna McDaniel.

There were about a half dozen items that Kettner said were relatively significant, and “we don’t want to see those again.”

Smith noted that to him, the words “shall not” in the state statute seemed like pretty strong wording, but there’s nothing to enforce it. Kettner replied: “That’s how the state writes those laws, you know.” The auditing firm submits its report to the state, Kettner explained, and that includes an audit procedures report form. The form includes boxes that must be checked if there’s an issue, he said. That will result in a letter from the state, asking how the county plans to address it.

Smith then asked how the audit and CAFR will look when GASB 68 takes effect. Kettner referred to page 119 of the CAFR, which contains a table of the county’s pension system. One column lists the unfunded actuarial accrued liability for the system, which in 2012 was $126.28 million. In 2015, when GASB 68 is implemented, the county will have to add that liability as part of the county’s statement of net position – page 41 of the CAFR. That liability will result in a deficit for the county’s unrestricted net position. For the 2013 CAFR, the unrestricted net position shows a positive $32.826 million.

However, Kettner stressed that this change will not affect the general fund budget. “You’re going to continue making your contributions to fund those pensions as you always have,” he said. But the financial statements will be more meaningful by adding that liability to the statement of net position.

There were no questions from other commissioners.

County Jail Bonds

Commissioners were asked to give initial approval to authorize the re-funding of up to $16.5 million in outstanding capital improvement bonds, which were originally issued in 2006 to fund expansion of the county jail.

John Axe, Axe & Ecklund, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

John Axe, the county’s bond counsel, brought reading material to the April 2 meeting.

According to a staff memo, $16.9 million in principal remains of the original $21.675 million bond sale. The county’s bond counsel, Axe & Ecklund, is advising the re-funding because of lower interest rates, and estimates a net savings of about $869,000 over the life of the bond issue. The new issue would be called “County of Washtenaw Capital Improvement Refunding Bonds, Series 2014.” [.pdf of refunding resolution]

Kent Martinez-Kratz (D-District 1) asked the county’s bond counsel, John Axe, about interest rates. Axe told the board that current interest rates on the bonds are between 4% and 4.3%. He estimated that the re-funding interest rates would be between 2.2% and 3.8%. The bonds would be sold in June.

Axe said he hoped the savings would be even higher than the estimated $869,000.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously gave initial approval to the bond re-funding. A final vote is expected at the board’s April 16 meeting.

Autism Coverage

At the board’s March 19, 2014 meeting, commissioners had given initial approval to add an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) rider to existing active employee and retiree benefits. It would allow the county to provide health insurance coverage for the treatment of autism, and was on the April 2 agenda for a final vote.

Adding the rider would cost the county an estimated $182,589 this year, according to staff – to be paid to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. To cover that cost, each county department will be charged on a per-employee basis. In addition, the county will pay for claims made by employees for this benefit, with the assumption that most if not all claims would be reimbursed by the state.

Ellen Rabinowitz, public health, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ellen Rabinowitz, Washtenaw County’s interim public health officer. She is also executive director of the Washtenaw Health Plan.

At its Jan. 22, 2014 meeting, the board received a staff presentation about the possibility of offering such coverage. Colleen Allen, CEO of the Autism Alliance of Michigan, attended that meeting to answer questions and advocate for coverage. The board created a committee to explore the cost to the county for providing employee health insurance coverage for autism. Committee members were LaBarre, Felicia Brabec (D-District 4), and Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6). The committee’s charge was to: (1) investigate the cost and sustainability of coverage of autism spectrum disorders; and (2) recommend a policy providing and funding coverage if the state reimbursement fund is exhausted.

The federal Mental Health Parity & Addiction Equity Act of 2008 mandates that any group plan with 50 or more members – like Washtenaw County government – must offer both medical and mental health benefits. Under more recent federal health care reform, there’s been an expansion of benefits, and mental health benefits are considered a mandatory part of basic health care, starting this year. However, autism isn’t included as part of that mental health mandate.

On the state level, in October 2012 a state of Michigan mandate took effect stating that all fully insured plans must provide coverage for the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The county is not a fully insured plan, however. Because the county is self-funded, it was exempt from this state mandate.

The costs of treatment are estimated to be about $60,000 a year to cover a child with autism. The state of Michigan has made coverage a priority, and has started setting aside funds to reimburse organizations that provide coverage. In fiscal year 2012-13, $15 million was made available, with an additional $11 million in fiscal 2013-14. Of that, only about $500,000 has been expended on reimbursements. The program is handled by the Michigan Dept. of Insurance and Financial Services.

The state program provides for reimbursement of up to $50,000 per year per child between the ages of 0 to 6, up to $40,000 per year from ages 7-12, and up to $30,000 per year for ages 13-18.

County staff have estimated that offering the coverage would result in up to a 5% increase in medical expenses, or up to $1 million annually. This year, medical expenses are budgeted at about $20 million. The county is expected to be fully reimbursed by the state of Michigan for the amounts that are allowed under the autism program.

Autism Coverage: Public Commentary

Ryan Schuett, a Washtenaw County employee whose daughter has been diagnosed with autism, thanked commissioners for acting quickly. He talked about the effect that the autism spectrum disorder has on employees. “Speaking humbly, I’m tired – very tired,” he said. In 2013, he worked over 1,000 hours of overtime to cover out-of-pocket costs associated with his daughter’s treatment. He averages between 64-72 hour workweeks, while also trying to be a good father and husband.

As an emergency dispatcher, he deals with other people’s problems while putting his own aside, Schuett said. He enjoys his work, and even more so when he knows he works for an institution that stands beside him. The treatments for his daughter are life-changing, he said. But because of the treatment costs, he has sometimes had to make the decision not to provide it. The board’s decision has made it possible for him not to seek employment elsewhere, Schuett said. Autism is affecting more people nationwide, and isn’t going away. He again thanked commissioners for helping the families of employees.

Autism Coverage: Board Discussion

Felicia Brabec (D-District 4) said she was pleased to see this move forward. It was very poignant that they’d be voting on it that day, she noted, because April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day. It’s a much-needed benefit, she said.

Dan Smith (R-District 2) pointed to numerous county liabilities that are laid out in the comprehensive annual financial report (CAFR), which the board had been presented earlier in the evening. Those are significant, he noted, and the unfunded liabilities will continue to hamstring the board’s ability to be nimble and responsive.

He said he wasn’t happy to see the autism coverage brought forward for a final vote at this time. He supports adding the coverage, but thought it should be part of the board’s regular budget reaffirmation process later in the year. “However, given that it is World Autism Day, I think it would be a little uncouth to vote against this at this point,” he said.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously gave final approval to adding autism coverage.

First-Quarter Entitlement Grant Update

A report from the county’s office of community & economic development was included in the April 2 agenda, updating the board on the roughly 30 state and federal formula grants administered by the OCED. The grants are awarded based on state or federal allocation formulas. In 2014, those formula grants total about $9.6 million. [.pdf of entitlement grant update]

There was no presentation or discussion of this item.

Recognitions & Proclamations

Several resolutions honoring local individuals and businesses were on the April 2 agenda. Here are some highlights.

Recognitions & Proclamations: Public Health Week

The agenda included a resolution proclaiming April 7-13 as Public Health Week. Ellen Rabinowitz, the county’s interim public health officer, was on hand to present the Washtenaw Healthy Workplace Awards to five local businesses. Each institution has taken great strides to promote healthy behaviors in their work places, she said.

The awardees are:

  • National Kidney Foundation of Michigan
  • Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority
  • Manchester Community Schools
  • Manpower Inc. of Southeast Michigan
  • City of Ann Arbor

Recognitions & Proclamations: Ann Arbor Community Center

Reverend Yolanda Whiten, president and CEO of the Ann Arbor Community Center, was presented with a resolution honoring the center for 91 years of service. She has served in that position since 2007.

Reverend Yolanda Whiten, Ann Arbor Community Center, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Reverend Yolanda Whiten, president and CEO of the Ann Arbor Community Center.

From the resolution: “Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners hereby honors and expresses its sincere appreciation and deepest respect to The Ann Arbor Community Center for continuing to achieve its mission: ‘Influenced by a rich African American heritage, the Ann Arbor Community Center is a catalyst for transformation within the city and its greater community. With a primary focus on youth, adults and families, the Ann Arbor Community Center provides programs and services that promote self-reliance, social and economic well-being, diversity and community involvement.’”

Several supporters of the community center attended the meeting and gave Whiten a round of applause.

Communications & Commentary

During the April 2 meeting there were multiple opportunities for communications from the administration and commissioners, as well as public commentary. In addition to issues reported earlier in this article, here are some other highlights.

Communications & Commentary: Same-Sex Marriage

During public commentary, Sandi Smith – president of the Jim Toy Community Center board – thanked the board for its help in opening the county clerk’s office for four hours on Saturday, March 22. “It was an amazing experience,” she said. Over 70 couples got married, including some who’d been waiting 20-30 years, she said. “Trust me – you’ll all be on the right side of history on this,” Smith said.

Federal judge Bernard Friedman had issued a ruling on Friday, March 21, 2014 in the case of Deboer v. Snyder. In that ruling, Friedman found that Article I, Section 25 of the Michigan Constitution – which limits the benefits of marriage to unions between one man and one woman – did not advance any legitimate state interest. So the ruling had the effect of making same-sex marriages legal in Michigan.

But the day following the decision, on March 22, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued a temporary stay on Friedman’s ruling. Michigan’s Gov. Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette are appealing Friedman’s decision.

Smith noted that county clerk Larry Kestenbaum was obviously very instrumental in allowing same-sex marriages to take place on the morning of March 22. Smith also thanked county administrator Verna McDaniel, sheriff Jerry Clayton, the clerk’s office staff – including Ed Golembiewski – and the facilities staff, who had to clean up afterwards. She hoped that it would never have to be repeated again, because she hoped the right to marry would soon be open to everybody.

Verna McDaniel, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

County administrator Verna McDaniel.

Responding to Smith’s commentary – and noting that Smith and her partner, Linda Lombardini, are his friends – Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) said he was proud of what the county could do in moving this issue forward. It warmed his heart. He noted that during U.S. president Barack Obama’s speech at the University of Michigan earlier that day, Obama had told the audience not to jeer at things they don’t like, but to organize. In that context, Rabhi said Michigan needs a new attorney general – someone who’ll stand up for the people in Michigan and not waste taxpayer dollars in appealing a ruling that provides for marriage equality. Everyone who loves each other should be able to get married, he said. He thanked Smith and Lombardini for their activism.

Conan Smith (D-District 9) said Kestenbaum deserves the most credit. Kestenbaum had asked the board “to do something that was real easy,” Smith said. He noted that it was a tough vote that the board had debated, but it was Kestenbaum’s leadership that made it happen, he said.

By way of background, the county board – at its Feb. 19, 2014 meeting – had approved what’s essentially a fee waiver for the expedited processing of a marriage license, which ordinarily takes three days. The resolution passed by the board on Feb. 19 allows the county clerk, consulting with the county administrator, to establish a “fee holiday” on the day preceding a period during which the office’s vital records division would be closed for four or more days, or when an unusual number of marriage license applicants are expected to appear. During a “fee holiday,” the charge for immediately processing a marriage license is 1 cent.

Last year, Kestenbaum had publicly indicated that he intended to waive fees for same-sex marriages, in anticipation of a court ruling that would allow such marriages. Subsequently, however, his authority to waive fees was challenged, and he learned that the county board would be required to grant that authority.

On Feb. 19, Kestenbaum had told the board that he expected various legal challenges to same-sex marriage bans to wind their way through the federal court system without a specific ruling affecting Michigan, and that his office would be unlikely to see a sudden influx of requests for same-sex marriage licenses.

Communications & Commentary: Coordinated Funding

Felicia Brabec (D-District 4) reported that the process of reviewing applications for coordinated funding is underway.

The county is one of several partners in the coordinated funding approach. Other partners include the city of Ann Arbor, United Way of Washtenaw County, Washtenaw Urban County, the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, and the RNR Foundation. It began as a pilot program in 2010, and has been extended twice since then. The most recent extension was approved by the county board at its Nov. 6, 2013 meeting, and authorized the allocation of children’s well-being and human services funding for 2014 through 2016. That resolution also authorized the continued management of those funds through the county’s office of community & economic development (OCED), using the coordinated funding approach – with some modifications.

The coordinated funding process has three parts: planning/coordination, program operations, and capacity-building. The approach targets six priority areas, and identifies lead agencies for each area: (1) housing and homelessness – Washtenaw Housing Alliance; (2) aging – Blueprint for Aging; (3) school-aged youth – Washtenaw Alliance for Children and Youth; (4) children birth to six – Success by Six; (5) health – Washtenaw Health Plan; and (6) hunger relief – Food Gatherers.

During the current funding cycle, 105 applications were received, representing $8.7 million in requests. That compares with 76 in the previous funding cycle, Brabec noted, for requests of $6.6 million. The amount of available funding this year from all partners is $4.4 million. “So it’s a difficult, difficult process,” she said. Brabec is one of 18 volunteer reviewers, plus four staff.

The recommendations will be brought to the board in May.

Communications & Commentary: Misc.

During public commentary, Thomas Partridge referred to U.S. president Barack Obama’s speech at the University of Michigan campus earlier in the day, where Obama advocated for raising the federal minimum wage. Partridge called on lawmakers to provide adequate resources for affordable housing and public transportation. He called attention to the May 6 election, when voters in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township will be voting on a new public transit tax for expanded services. He said all public bodies in Washtenaw County should work to weed out corruption. He criticized Gov. Rick Snyder and other Republicans, and urged voters to elect progressive Democrats this year.

Present: Felicia Brabec, Andy LaBarre, Kent Martinez-Kratz, Ronnie Peterson, Alicia Ping, Yousef Rabhi, Conan Smith, Dan Smith.

Absent: Rolland Sizemore Jr.

Next regular board meeting: Wednesday, April 16, 2014 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 event listings 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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  1. By Herb
    April 15, 2014 at 7:19 am | permalink

    The more resources provided to Delonis the more addicts, bums and criminals attracted to Ann Arbor. Detroit provides an endless supply. Others come from surrounding counties, out state and from all over the country and world.

  2. By Steve Bean
    April 15, 2014 at 9:00 am | permalink

    The bond re-funding timing is pretty good. interest rates are likely to fall further between now and June. It raises the question, though, of why the county didn’t consider doing this back in 2012 or 2013 when rates were even lower. If there are any other such opportunities, it would be good to do so before rates head back up again, which is likely to begin this summer, going much higher than the highs of last year.

  3. April 16, 2014 at 7:41 am | permalink

    Thanks for the careful coverage of the BOC’s discussion of the sheriff’s policing charges. This has long been one of the most difficult issues for county government. Two points made here: the cost to individual municipalities is going up by several thousand dollars per officer; and the county’s general fund is being used to pay for an increasing gap between that cost and the actual expense.

    You accurately reflect the point that munis like Ann Arbor, Pittsfield Township, and the City of Ypsilanti pay for their own police protection and their taxes are also being used to pay for county police officers. But I suspect that it can be shown that many of the small rural townships are also making a net contribution in taxes, not reflected in the coverage that they receive. (I don’t see any discussion of the general fund-paid countywide deputies authorized in recent years.)

    The elephant in the room is always Ypsilanti Township. They use a disproportionate share of the deputy ranks because the sheriff is essentially providing an urban police force for them. Two effects: the rest of the county will be subsidizing Ypsilanti Township to an increased degree, and the increases in PSU cost will still be a significant budget item for the township. I wonder how those contract talks will go. Ypsilanti Township has a history of trying to strike a more favorable bargain.

    Good luck with finding a new funding source. I’d hate to see all other county general fund priorities subsumed to pay for this one.

  4. By Herb
    April 16, 2014 at 7:06 pm | permalink

    [This comment has been removed to the orphaned comments page.]