Stories indexed with the term ‘budget deficit’

County Budget: More Structural Change Needed

At the Washtenaw County board’s May 15, 2013 meeting, the county financial staff and administrator Verna McDaniel gave an update on the 2013 budget status as well as a preliminary look at the next four years.

At its May 1, 2013 meeting, the board had approved development of a four-year budget. Looking at that period from 2014-2017, McDaniel told the board on May 15 that she hopes to identify $6.99 million in structural cuts in the first year of that four-year period. That’s a slight increase from the $6.88 million in structural changes that McDaniel targeted in her previous budget briefing, delivered at the board’s Jan. 16, 2013 meeting.

If the $6.99 million in structural changes can be identified in … [Full Story]

County Preps to Overcome Projected Deficit

Washtenaw County government will be working to erase a projected $24.64 million deficit over a four-year period from 2014 through 2017, with a target of eliminating a $6.88 million structural deficit next year. County administrator Verna McDaniel and her financial staff gave a budget briefing to county commissioners at their Jan. 16, 2013 meeting.

The county works on a two-year budget planning cycle. In late 2011, commissioners set the budget for 2012 and 2013. However, because state law mandates that the board must approve the budget annually, commissioners voted in December 2012 on a budget “affirmation” for 2013, making several adjustments to the $102.8 million general fund budget. This year, they’re beginning the two-year cycle anew, planning for 2014-2015, with … [Full Story]

AAPS Mulls Redistricting to Save Costs

Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education regular meeting (Dec. 19, 2012): The board opened its final meeting of 2012 with a reflection offered by board president Deb Mexicotte on the recent shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut and a moment of silence to honor the families and community affected by that tragedy.

Robert Allen, deputy superintendent Ann Arbor Public Schools

Before the meeting started, Robert Allen, deputy superintendent Ann Arbor Public Schools, distributed spiral bound copies of the report from a transportation working group.

The board received two informational reports — one from a cross-governmental working group charged with assessing the viability of continuing to provide non-mandated school transportation, and another one on the district’s partnership with the University of Michigan Depression Center (UMDC).

The transportation report generated significant discussion, as the board examined the working group’s recommendations and considered the impact of making significant reductions to transportation. Even if the district were to eliminate all except mandated transportation for students, that would save only about $5.5 million of the roughly $17 million gap projected in next year’s budget.

A key element of the transportation discussion was a suggestion to consider redistricting – that is, reassigning some students to different school buildings based on where they live. Trustees discussed redistricting in the context of possible steps like eliminating some or all busing and closing schools.

The board directed administration to begin looking into a redistricting process. [Full Story]

AATA Ends Year $260K Over Budget

The Ann Ann Arbor Transportation Authority had budgeted for a nearly $1 million deficit this year, but wound up with an excess of expenditures over revenues that was actually $260,000 more than that. The unaudited figures reported to the AATA board at its Oct. 18, 2012 meeting showed a deficit for the year of $1,255,312. [.pdf of unaudited FY 2012 financials]

Several reasons were given for the additional shortfall, which resulted in only $27,617,099 in actual revenues compared with the $29,418,995 that was budgeted. Those reasons included: $120,842 less in passenger revenue; $269,095 less in local transit tax revenue; $529,214 less in purchase-of-service revenue; and $927,149 less in federal funding. That was balanced somewhat by reduced expenses in some … [Full Story]

AATA To Use One-Time Deficit as Catapult

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Sept. 15, 2011): With four of its seven members in attendance, the AATA board had just enough members present to transact two major pieces of business for the coming year. The board approved its 2012 fiscal year work plan and the budget that will support that plan.

Michael Ford CEO AATA

AATA's CEO Michael Ford presents an overview of the transit master plan to members of a financial group that will be making recommendations on funding options for countywide transportation. (Photos by the writer.)

The AATA fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30. The budget approved by the board calls for expenses of $30,410,616 against only $29,418,995 in revenues, for a deficit in the coming year of $991,621. At the meeting, members stressed that the nearly $1 million deficit was due to one-time expenses associated with the planned transition to a countywide service. They also stressed that even by using unrestricted reserves over the next year to cover the planned deficit, the AATA would still be left with more than three months’ worth of operating expenses in its reserve.

Incurring a deficit this year was characterized as a way to “catapult” the organization forward, allowing it to pursue an aggressive work plan for the coming year, which was also approved at the meeting. Highlights of that work plan include reconstruction of the Blake Transit Center in downtown Ann Arbor. Design for the station is expected to be complete by the end of the year, with construction to start in spring 2012.

In terms of increased service, next year’s work plan includes a focus on: establishing the AATA as a vanpool service provider; establishing service to the Detroit Metro Airport; improving work-transportation connections between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti; and continuing work on commuter rail. Also related to enhanced services, the AATA is also holding rider forums in October to get feedback on proposed increased service on Route #4, between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.

Related specifically to commuter rail, the board received an update at the meeting on the Washtenaw Livingston Line (WALLY) project, a proposed north-south commuter rail connection between Howell and Ann Arbor. The board expressed some caution about the project by passing a resolution that requires the board’s explicit approval for the expenditure of the $50,000 in next year’s budget allocated for station designs.

In other business, the board approved the selection of Plante & Moran as its new auditor. A new auditor rotation policy put in place by the board earlier this year made the previous auditor, Rehmann Robson, ineligible for the contract. The AATA board also approved a contract with an outside vendor to begin offering vanpool service.

In business that could be described as housekeeping, the board opted to keep its same slate of officers for the coming year and to keep the same meeting schedule – the third Thursday of the month. Jesse Bernstein was elected chair last year, and will continue in that role.

Also at the meeting, other members of the financial review group were announced. That group will be analyzing funding options for an expansion to countywide service. Previously, it had been announced that McKinley CEO Albert Berriz and former Washtenaw County administrator Bob Guenzel would co-chair the group. Their first meeting was Friday, Sept. 16, the day after the AATA board met. Berriz stated at that first meeting that the group will meet three more times, and will produce a white paper by the end of this year.

Related to that countywide effort, the initial board for an unincorporated transit authority – a precursor to an eventual formal authority – could be seated by Oct. 20, the date of the AATA board’s next meeting. It would include representatives from Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and other districts throughout the county. [Full Story]

Washtenaw Co. Board Gets Budget Update

Washtenaw County board of commissioners budget working session (June 16,2011): At its June 1, 2011 meeting, county commissioners added five new working sessions to their schedule, all focused on the 2012-2013 budget. The first one was held on Thursday.

Verna McDaniel

Verna McDaniel, Washtenaw County administrator, at the June 1, 2011 board of commissioners meeting. At a June 16 working session, McDaniel updated commissioners on the county's progress in developing a budget for 2012-2013. (Photo by the writer.)

County administrator Verna McDaniel updated commissioners on the budget process, including expedited labor negotiations that began formally on June 9. The county has targeted $8 million in concessions from employee compensation and benefits to help address a projected $17.5 million two-year deficit in 2012-2013.

Also in the works are business plans being developed by the managers of each county department – the goal is to get another $8 million in cuts from organizational changes and departmental reductions. Outside agencies – including human services nonprofits – are targeted for $1 million in cuts.

After her presentation, McDaniel fielded questions that covered a range of issues and concerns. She was asked to provide an update on efforts by former county administrator Bob Guenzel and local health care providers to develop a broad-based health care plan for Washtenaw County. She conveyed few details, but noted that the board would be briefed on the plan – called the Washtenaw Health Initiative – at their Sept. 8 working session.

Related to labor issues, commissioner Dan Smith urged the administration to identify potential layoffs as early in the year as possible. Saying that the board was resigned to the fact that there would likely be layoffs – though they hoped to keep them at a minimal level – Smith said it would be better for affected employees to know sooner rather than later, so that they can plan their next moves. [Full Story]

AAPS Board to Address 2011-12 Deficit

Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education meeting (April 20, 2011): Wednesday’s meeting of the AAPS board of education outlined the district’s planned budget cuts for the 2011-12 fiscal year, which begins July 1. The district needs to cut about $15 million from their budget in response to reductions in education funding they expect to be handed down from the state.

Robert Allen

Robert Allen, interim superintendent of the Ann Arbor Public Schools, addresses the board of education at their April 20, 2011 meeting.

The proposed cuts would eliminate 70 teaching positions, and would likely lead to changes in the district that include larger class sizes, fewer elective options and new roles for teachers. Other proposals include eliminating busing for high school students, cutting salaries and benefits, and creating “shared” principal positions at four elementary schools. On the revenue side, the budget plan calls for expanding the district’s Schools of Choice program and increasing parking fees at Pioneer High School for University of Michigan football and basketball games.

Interim superintendent Robert Allen delivered the presentation, saying that this year’s budget preparations were the most difficult he’s had in his five years working with the district’s finances.

“Although we have made similar cuts, it is even more difficult to make them on the heels of the $18 million we reduced last year,” he said. “We tried to keep the cuts away from the classroom, but at some point that becomes impossible.”

Allen said the district’s structural deficit, which creates an annual hole of $6-7 million dollars, will not go away until it’s dealt with directly. ”We’ve been facing the structural deficit for about 10 years and we can’t address it by cutting,” he said. “We have to fix the structure.”

The deficit could grow even larger – by nearly $6 million – if voters don’t pass a special education millage renewal that’s on the May 3 ballot. At several points throughout the meeting, board members and AAPS staff urged the public to support the millage renewal.

Allen closed his introduction by saying that the district tried to make the cuts in an equitable manner, adding that everyone should maintain efforts to lobby state representatives to come up with a permanent fix for budget woes.

The budget update was an informational item at Wednesday’s meeting and will come back before the board as a briefing item next month before it can be approved. [Full Story]

AAPS Board Gets Briefed on Budget

Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education regular meeting (March 16, 2011): The highlight of last week’s meeting was a presentation from interim superintendent Robert Allen on the many budget and funding issues the district faces in the coming years.

Allen told board members that the district faces a $15 million shortfall in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. That figure assumes the special education millage, on the ballot for May 3, will be renewed. If voters don’t approve the millage renewal, the deficit could grow to nearly $21 million.

During the meeting, board members criticized Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed state budget, which calls for cuts to K-12 education. They cautioned that his focus on business tax cuts would undermine the quality of public education in the state. “I don’t think most people want education ravaged in order to fund a huge business tax cut,” trustee Glenn Nelson said. “We need to shout this story from the rooftops.”

Allen will be giving an expanded report on the budget situation to the public from 6:30-8 p.m. on Monday, March 21 at the Pioneer High School cafeteria annex. The board also discussed setting up a time to meet with state legislators, to discuss their concerns about the state budget proposals.

Also during Wednesday’s meeting, board president Deb Mexicotte reported that the district is close to wrapping up contract negotiations with Patricia Green, the board’s choice to become the district’s next superintendent. She hoped to provide additional details soon, including a potential start date. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor 2012 Budget: Parks, Plans, People

Editor’s note: The Ann Arbor city council has held two retreats to discuss the city’s FY 2012 budget – one in early December 2010 and another in early January 2011. A summary of the material covered in those retreats is provided in previous Chronicle coverage: “Ann Arbor: Engaging the FY 2012 Budget.”

Leading up to the city administrator’s proposed budget in April, the city council is also holding a series of work sessions on the budget. Their typical scheduling pattern is for the weeks between council meetings. That was the case on Jan. 31, 2011 when the council held its budget work session on the community services area, which includes human services, parks and planning. Another session was held on Feb. 7, prior to the council’s regular meeting, regarding the 15th District Court. A report on the Feb. 14, 2011 session, which focused on police and fire, will follow.

Community Services Area Ann Arbor city council budget retreat

At the podium is community services area administrator Sumedh Bahl. Partially obscured by the podium is councilmember Marcia Higgins (Ward 4). Leafing through the budget impact sheets that the council had been given just prior to the meeting is Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2). (Photo by the writer.)

The Ann Arbor city council’s budget work session on Jan. 31, 2011 covered a broad range of topics – from the city’s affordable housing stock, to planning and development, to parks and recreation (including golf courses), to human services funding. All these issues fall under the city’s community services area, which is led by Sumedh Bahl.

In a budget year where maintaining the same level of activity in every department is projected to result in a $2.4 million shortfall, city departments have been given reduction targets between 2.5% and 4%. Targets vary across departments depending on health care costs for employees in those departments.

So at their work session, councilmembers heard from heads of individual departments about the specific ways those targets might be met.

For example, Mary Jo Callan, who’s head of the city/county office of community development, told councilmembers that an unrealized $98,000 federal grant would pose an additional challenge. All other things being equal, Callan would meet the reduction target by reducing the city’s allocation to nonprofit human services agencies by $116,714 – from $1,275,744 to $1,159,030. The budget is planned in two-year cycles, even though it’s adopted just one year at a time, so Callan’s reduction strategy for next year’s FY 2013 budget would be to reduce the nonprofit allocation by an additional $48,700.

The planning department plans to meet its reduction target in part by charging the construction fund for 10% of the historic district coordinator’s time, factoring in projected revenue increases due to increased development activity, and leaving a rental housing inspector position vacant. The rental housing inspection activity would be maintained at appropriate levels by using construction inspectors for rental housing inspections as needed.

The city’s housing commission – which maintains more than 350 units of public housing throughout the city – is not proposing to meet reduction targets, but rather to hire what officials say are two crucially needed positions: a financial analyst and a facilities maintenance manager, which together are expected to cost an additional $154,000 per year.

Parks and recreation would meet their targets in part through savings derived from energy improvements that have been made to various recreational facilities over the past few years.

The council focused some of its session on the city’s golf courses, with a council consensus seeming to emerging that for the next two years, the council will be content to stick with the status quo – operating the Leslie Park and Huron Hills facilities as golf courses, and not changing them to other uses.

But the council was also asked to consider a question on which it could be harder to achieve consensus: Should the city continue to help fund park operations, as it has for the last four years, by tapping the city’s general fund reserve for $287,000 annually? The history of the issue dates back to the parks capital improvements and maintenance millage, which was approved in 2006, and which was followed by the council’s approval of its FY 2008 budget the next spring.

That history is rooted partly in a question that the city’s CFO, Tom Crawford, addressed in a straightforward fashion at the work session: What exactly does it mean for a department to have a budget reduction target of 2.5%?  [Full Story]

County Board Strategizes on 2012-13 Budget

Washtenaw County board of commissioners budget retreat (Feb. 9, 2011): For two hours last Wednesday evening, commissioners continued a discussion on priorities aimed at guiding budget decisions – both long-term and immediate – for county government.

Bill Reynolds

Bill Reynolds, Washtenaw County's deputy administrator, with a framed copy of the county's "guiding principles."

The discussion was another step toward developing a framework that county administrator Verna McDaniel and her staff can use in their budget planning for 2012 and 2013, when the county faces a projected $20.9 million deficit. The session followed a five-hour Jan. 29 retreat. The board also plans to continue their budget talks on Feb. 23, after their regular administrative briefing.

Conan Smith, chair of the board, told the group he hoped they could form an outline of their priorities – not in terms of programs, but at a policy level. He said that focusing on specific programs at this point would limit the administration’s flexibility for future restructuring.

During the two-hour session, commissioners talked about the importance of providing a safety net of services for residents who are most in need – perhaps through a combination of the county’s own services, and partnerships with outside agencies. Though some commissioners expressed concerns about privatizing, there seemed to be consensus about exploring ways to market the county’s infrastructure services – like payroll processing and human resources – to other local municipalities.

They discussed the need for more self-reliance on local resources, as opposed to state and federal funding – while acknowledging the dependence that many county programs have on state and federal grants. The board also talked about the importance of balancing short-term budget needs with long-term investments that could bring more significant structural savings in future years.

Also during Wednesday’s retreat, some commissioners noted the importance of keeping all budget discussions in public view. The retreats – unlike the board’s regular meetings and working sessions – are not televised, though they are open to the public. In addition to county commissioners, the retreats are attended by other elected officials and county staff. [Full Story]

Washtenaw Faces $20M Deficit in 2012-13

Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners meeting (Oct. 6, 2010): Financial concerns emerged in a variety of ways at Wednesday night’s meeting.

Jeff Krcmarik, Martha Friedlander

Jeff Krcmarik, the county's environmental program supervisor, talks with Martha Friedlander, chair of the science department at Greenhills School in Ann Arbor. Friedlander was on hand to receive a county environmental excellence award on behalf of Greenhills, one of several such awards given out at Wednesday's meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Commissioner Conan Smith, who’s leading a budget advisory team, gave a grim update on an anticipated deficit that’s facing the county for 2012 and 2013. Originally projected to be $16 million, the administration now believes the two-year deficit could be $20 million or more, with possible adjustments necessary to address a shortfall in 2011 as well. Declining property tax revenues and uncertain state funding are primary factors.

Smith said cuts made to deal with a $30 million deficit in 2010-11 had brought them down to the bone, and now structural changes will be needed. “Some of what the county does will likely disappear in the process,” he said.

Budget issues also were central to a public hearing on the proposed Act 88 millage, which commissioners have used previously to fund programs related to economic development. It’s a millage they can levy without voter approval. During the public hearing, commissioners heard from supporters of the Food System Economic Partnership (FSEP) and Ann Arbor SPARK – both groups have been funded from Act 88 millage revenues. David Klingenberger of The Brinery, for example, told commissioners that FSEP is helping him build a pickle empire in Washtenaw County. But two people from the Washtenaw County Farm Bureau spoke out against the millage, arguing that property owners are already burdened and that any new tax needs to be on the ballot for voter approval.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, Tom Wieder spoke during public commentary to call for an investigation into per diem spending by commissioner Mark Ouimet. Based on documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, Wieder contends that Ouimet claimed per diem payments to which he wasn’t entitled, and that his spending far exceeded other commissioners. Ouimet responded by saying that if any discrepancy is found in his expense reports, “obviously I’d want to know about it so I can take care of it.”

Ouimet, a Republican from Scio Township, is running for state representative in the 52nd District against Democrat Christine Green. Wieder is listed on a page of endorsements on Green’s campaign website. [Full Story]

Column: Time to Take Down a Tree

Last week, city workers sawed down the last large street tree on our block – an old, rotting maple. I was unduly fond of it. I’ll miss its shade.

Chainsaw Guy

Chainsaw Guy

But it was time for that tree to come down.

The work took just a few hours – it seemed like a well-drilled crew. And because the tree is across the street from our home, I was able to watch.

I’ve written a lot of articles over the past year littered with words like “cut” or some unimaginative variation of it – “trimming costs” or “chopping expenses.” So I couldn’t help but see the dismemberment of this tree as a metaphor for what our local governments – our cities, the county, the schools – are going through.

It’s time for some trees to come down. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Schools Seek Input on Budget

A group of people sitting around a table

One of the tables at the Jan. 7 Ann Arbor Public Schools budget forum, where participants discussed options for cutting expenses and raising revenues. (Photos by the writer.)

Todd Roberts, superintendent of the Ann Arbor Public Schools, didn’t have much good news to deliver at Thursday’s budget forum, the first of four that the district is holding this month. Heavily reliant on declining state funding, AAPS faces as much as a $20.9 million deficit by fiscal 2010-11.

And after voters rejected a countywide schools millage in November that would have brought some financial relief, school officials are faced with difficult decisions as they work to close the funding gap between revenues and expenses.

Despite the season’s first significant snowfall, more than 100 people attended the Jan. 7 forum at Huron High School’s cafeteria, a gathering that included parents, teachers, administrative staff, some school board members, students and others in the community. Leaders of groups that supported the November schools millage proposal, as well as those who successfully led efforts to defeat it, also attended the meeting.

Roberts told the crowd that it’s unlikely the state will see a turnaround anytime soon, and their biggest hope is that revenues for schools at least remain flat. “But that’s certainly not a foregone conclusion,” he added. [Full Story]

Revenue Bump in School Budget Draft

At the first of four budget forums held by the Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) on Thursday night, the 2010-2011 draft budget plan circulated to attendees included over $16 million in proposed cuts, to deal with the district’s projected $20.9 million deficit. But it also included more than $1 million in additional revenue.

Information sign outside Skyline High School Ann Arbor Michigan

The second AAPS district budget forum will be held at Skyline High School on Tuesday, Jan. 12, starting at 6:30 p.m. (Photo by The Chronicle)

Several participants at the forum urged district administrators to look even more aggressively at how to generate additional revenue, whether through philanthropy, partnering with businesses, or other approaches.

So how does AAPS hope to generate extra dollars?

The line items in the budget draft list an additional 150 students in the Targeted Schools of Choice program plus an increase in Options Magnet enrollment of 20 students. Those 170 additional students would generate an additional $1.23 million in revenue, through the per-student allocation to school districts by the state.

At the AAPS Board of Education (BOE) meeting held the night before Thursday’s budget forum, several ways to increase school funding were discussed. Strategies include bringing out-of-district students into AAPS, as well as increasing the number of in-district students who are not currently enrolled in AAPS. BOE trustees heard a presentation Wednesday night on the Options Magnet program as part of that strategy.

Other strategies to increase revenue that were discussed at Wednesday’s board meeting include new partnerships with local community-based organizations, plus a statewide effort to compete for additional federal funding through the Race to the Top program.

Here, The Chronicle takes a closer look at these revenue-generating options outlined at the board’s Wednesday meeting. [Full Story]

Board Tables Economic Development Tax

Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners meeting (Oct. 21, 2009): Action on a tax expected to raise around $600,000 a year for economic development and agriculture-related activities was postponed Wednesday after a move to let county board members vote on separate pieces of the plan – rather than a single package – led to confusion and some consternation.

Commissioner Mark Ouimet asked to have the vote broken into two parts. A Republican representing more rural areas of the county, Ouimet wanted:

  • one vote on money to fund 4-H, horticulture/MSU Extension, an agricultural innovation effort and the Food Systems Economic Partnership;
  • a second vote to fund the economic development agency Ann Arbor SPARK, SPARK East, the Eastern Leaders Group and a new county office, the Economic Development and Energy Department, to be led by Tony VanDerworp.

But Ouimet’s colleagues on the board were unprepared for the change. A number struggled to follow his plan for unbundling items in the single resolution in front of them and what the potential defeat of any portion of the plan would mean. [Full Story]

Column: Limited Edition

In my favorite movie “Animal House,” John Belushi delivers a classic line: “Over? Nothing is over until we say it is. Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell, no, and it ain’t over now!”

With the same level of determination and a lot more smarts, 700 members of AFSCME Local 2733 and members of six other smaller bargaining units gave back contract benefits totaling about $6.6 million to help reduce Washtenaw County’s projected 2010-11 budget deficit. I have lived in Ann Arbor 49 years and do not recall a similar circumstance. Were county services over? Were the jobs of up to 150 union members over? The Locals said “Hell, no.”

It was a big deal. [Full Story]

Near North, City Place Approved

Two men stand together at a podium at the Ann Arbor city council

At the podium, Bill Godfrey of Three Oaks Group and Tom Fitzsimmons of the North Central Property Owners Association both express their support of the Near North housing project on North Main. In the background, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3). (Photo by the writer.)

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Sept. 21, 2009): Ann Arbor’s city council approved both major development projects on its agenda, one of them enthusiastically, the other only reluctantly.

Although there was a smattering of opposition expressed to the Near North affordable housing development during the public hearing on the matter, the 39-unit project on North Main Street ultimately won the support of its closest neighbors. That support was reflected symbolically when developer Bill Godfrey and neighbor Tom Fitzsimmons stood side-by-side at the podium as they each addressed the council, which gave the project its unanimous approval.

The “matter of right” City Place project proposed for the block of South Fifth Avenue just south of William was also unanimously approved by the council, but councilmembers took turns criticizing both the project and the developer, Alex de Parry. The council had previously established a historic district study committee and enacted an associated moratorium on demolition and work in the area where the proposed project is located. Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) compared de Parry’s decision to bring the project forward despite the moratorium to “stamping feet, being upset you didn’t get what you wanted.”

Many members of the audience held yellow 8×11 paper signs calling on councilmembers to support a resolution that would have released council emails sent during their meetings dating back to 2002. However, council rejected that resolution except for a resolved clause that would in the future provide the public with copies of electronic communications among councilmembers during its meetings – by appending them to the official minutes of the meeting that are eventually posted on the city’s website.

The council also put looming financial issues on the radar by passing a resolution that opposes a recent Michigan budget proposal that would cut state shared revenues to the city of Ann Arbor by about $1.2 million. At the council’s budget and labor committee meeting that was held Monday – before the regular council meeting – Tom Crawford, the city’s chief financial officer, floated some possible ideas for meeting that shortfall. [Full Story]

Nonprofits to County: “Don’t Cut Funding!”

Mimi Harris, left, and Randi Friedman came to Wednesdays county board meeting to support funding for human services. They are board members for the Interfaith Hospitality Network, which runs Alpha House, a homeless shelter for families.

Wearing stickers that say "Protect Our Safety Net," Mimi Harris, left, and Randi Friedman came to Wednesday's county board meeting to support funding for human services. The paper plate was one of over 1,100 with messages written by people who receive aid from local nonprofits that are supported by the county. Harris and Friedman are board members for the Interfaith Hospitality Network. (Photo by the writer.)

Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners (Sept. 16, 2009): Leaders of local nonprofits and people who’ve been helped by their services packed the boardroom Wednesday night, urging Washtenaw County commissioners to continue support for the area’s most vulnerable residents.

The meeting marked the first time that county administrator Bob Guenzel made his official budget recommendations to the board, which include cuts aimed at closing a projected $30 million deficit over the next two years. The county funds a range of local nonprofits – this year, a total of $1.7 million was awarded to agencies like Food Gatherers, the Shelter Association, Interfaith Hospitality Network and SafeHouse, among others. The proposed budget calls for 20% cuts in funding for human services nonprofits in 2010 and another 20% in 2011.

Proposed cuts to these nonprofits were the most difficult part of his budget recommendations, Guenzel told the board. “Those dollars have been well spent – they are the safety net.” Yet he didn’t feel he could ask for concessions from employees and squeeze the county’s mandated services without including cuts to nonprofits as well. He reminded commissioners that when he was hired as administrator 15 years ago, the county spent $300,000 to fund local nonprofits. Even with the proposed cuts, he said by 2011 the county will still be awarding about $1 million to these groups.

Commissioners responded to both the emotional public comment session and to the proposed budget recommendations, which they’ll have two months to review before adopting a final budget in November. Several commissioners cited their support for a human services millage. And commissioner Kristin Judge – saying that there were more creative ways to cut expenses – turned in her county-paid cell phone. [Full Story]

County Proposes Cutting At Least 21 Jobs

Several variables affecting the county budget are still unknown – including how much, if anything, the county’s labor unions will concede on wages and benefits. In that context,  Washtenaw County administrator Bob Guenzel is recommending another 21 job cuts to help balance the 2010 and 2011 budgets. The county faced a projected $30 million deficit over those two years. The job cuts are coupled with several efforts to slash expenses and increase revenues, including a proposed economic development millage that would not require voter approval.

Guenzel will formally submit his recommendations to commissioners at their board meeting next Wednesday, Sept. 16. This is the second phase of cuts. Earlier this year, commissioners approved the elimination of 26 jobs and almost $14 million in expense reductions.

In a memo to the Board of Commissioners posted Friday on the county website, Guenzel made clear that there will be additional, difficult decisions to make – and more jobs could be on the line. He described ongoing labor discussions as cooperative, but said that if no deals are struck by Oct. 16, he’ll need to make additional cuts in other areas. More than 80% of the county’s 1,350 employees are represented by 17 different bargaining units, which have contracts in place through at least 2010.

Further ahead, the county is projecting deficits of $27.5 million over two years in 2012-13, with revenues from property taxes continuing to fall and a huge question of whether the state will re-institute a revenue-sharing commitment in 2013. By 2013, general fund revenues are expected to drop to $90 million, compared to $99 million projected for 2010.

We provide a detailed look at the budget recommendations after the break. [Full Story]

County Millage for Human Services?

Five of Washtenaw County’s top elected officials – the sheriff, prosecuting attorney, clerk, treasurer and water resources commissioner – sent a letter to the Board of Commissioners Thursday morning asking the board to consider putting a countywide millage on the ballot in 2010. The millage is aimed at raising money to fund human services programs.

But their main message was this: The county’s basic mandated services – those that are required by law – can’t endure additional funding cuts.

The letter comes at a crucial moment in the county’s budget process, as officials battle a projected $30 million general fund deficit over the next two years. At their Sept. 16 board meeting, county administrator Bob Guenzel will be presenting budget recommendations, which will likely include job cuts. Commissioners – who are also elected – will spend the next two months deliberating, with the goal of adopting a 2010/2011 budget at their Nov. 18 meeting. County administration has tentatively set a public hearing devoted to the budget on Oct. 22. [Full Story]

County’s Budget Crisis Gets Emotional

Nina Johnson, Washtenaw County's human resources manager, prepares awards that were given out to employees during Wednesdays board of commissioners meeting. (Photo by the writer.)

Nina Johnson, Washtenaw County's human resources manager, prepares awards that were given out to employees during Wednesday's board of commissioners meeting. (Photo by the writer.)

Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners (Sept. 2, 2009): Emotions ran high during parts of Wednesday night’s county board meeting, as residents made impassioned pleas for continued funding of programs for the developmentally disabled. Commissioners responded, some with equal passion, with Leah Gunn saying this is the worst year she’s ever faced in her career as a commissioner, and Jeff Irwin breaking down as he described his reaction to hearing constituents’ stories. The county faces a projected $30 million budget deficit over the next two years in its $102 million general fund, and is working on ways to cut expenses.

Commissioners also heard budget presentations from leaders of two departments – Public Health, and Community Support and Treatment Services – and got a brief budget update from county administrator Bob Guenzel, who said that their 2009 general fund projections are on target.

The board also voted unanimously – and with no discussion – to approve a $1.375 million deal that would settle two lawsuits related to the 2006 death of Clifton Lee Jr., who died after a struggle with Washtenaw County sheriff’s deputies in the Ypsilanti Township of West Willow. [Full Story]

Column: Limited Edition

Washtenaw County administrator Bob Guenzel has done about as much as he can do. He has presented and updated the county’s projected 2010-2011 deficit over and over the last six months – best case scenario, worst case scenario, and everything in between. So what are the options? There are few. [Full Story]

Demolition Moratorium for Two-Block Area

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Aug. 6, 2009): Two kinds of moratoria were on council’s agenda for Thursday’s meeting – which had been rescheduled to accommodate the Aug. 4 Democratic primary elections in Wards 3 and 5. The first was a moratorium on new development in districts zoned with the classification of R4C (multi-family residential) or R2A (two-family residential). The second was a moratorium on demolition, attached to the creation of a study committee for a possible historic district in a two-block area just south of William Street on Fourth and Fifth avenues.

Council voted down the more general prohibition on new development in R4C/R2A residential districts, but approved the historic district study committee with its attached moratorium on demolition. It’s a case where the vote tally alone doesn’t tell the whole story – or even an accurate one: Counter to what one might expect, Mike Anglin (Ward 5) voted against the R4C/R2A moratorium, while Leigh Greden (Ward 3) voted for it.

A third major agenda item facing council was also related to new development: the Near North planned unit development (PUD) proposed for North Main Street just south of Summit Street, which is an affordable housing project that includes the nonprofit Avalon Housing as a partner. The council voted to move Near North on to a second reading, when a final decision will be made.

But probably the most important matter considered by council on Thursday appeared on the agenda as an “introduction” by the city’s chief financial officer, Tom Crawford, who spent around a half hour telling the city council why the city’s projected financial condition is worse now than it had been when the FY 2010 budget was adopted in the spring. Crawford’s presentation was characterized during commentary from the public later in the meeting as the “first salvo in a PR campaign” for a city income tax.

A bit of breaking news from Crawford’s report: bonds for the Fifth Avenue underground parking garage were issued on Aug. 5. [Full Story]

4-H Fans, Others Lobby County for Funds

The overflow crowd in the lobby of the county administration building arrived too late for a seat in the boardroom.

An overflow crowd in the lobby of the county administration building arrived too late for a seat in the boardroom, and watched Wednesday's Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners meeting on TV. (Photo by the writer.)

Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners meeting (Aug. 5, 2009): As Washtenaw County grapples with a staggering budget deficit, 4-H supporters – including local farmers, teens and club leaders – packed Wednesday’s county Board of Commissioners meeting, urging commissioners not to cut funding for that program. They were joined by many others who use master gardening, financial counseling and other services of the county’s MSU Extension program, which could see dramatic funding cuts as the county tries to balance its budget.

As The Chronicle previously reported, the county faces a $30 million deficit over the next two years. Last week, county administrator Bob Guenzel released a list of options for cutting another $12 million out of the budget, and eliminating up to 181 jobs. Those options – which he stressed are not his recommendations at this point – target non-mandated services, ranging from Head Start to a variety of mental health programs. On Wednesday, Guenzel gave a formal presentation about the options to commissioners, who will be the final arbiters of any budget decisions. The discussion following Guenzel’s presentation could aptly be summarized by this statement from commissioner Conan Smith: “It sucks.” [Full Story]

County Considers $12 Million More in Cuts

Nearly $12 million in potential cuts over the next two years – affecting up to 181 employees and services to hundreds of residents – are being considered as Washtenaw County leaders struggle to deal with a two-year budget deficit that’s grown to $30 million for 2010 and 2011. Details of the cost-cutting options were released Thursday. County administrator Bob Guenzel will formally present the options at an Aug. 5 board of commissioners meeting – a meeting that’s expected to draw a crowd of county staff and union members.

Hardest hit in this latest round could be mental health services – one option is to cut that part of the general fund budget by $2.4 million and eliminate 91 jobs.

At a July 29 briefing for commissioners, Guenzel stressed that the options he’ll present next week aren’t his final recommendations. No decisions have been made, he said. The extent of the cuts, which commissioners will vote on as part of the overall budget, ultimately will depend on the outcome of ongoing negotiations with union leaders.

The county is talking with most of the 17 bargaining units that represent about 1,000 of the county’s 1,350 workers, asking for concessions – even though union contracts are set through at least 2010. Guenzel plans to update commissioners on the progress of union talks at a closed executive session during their Aug. 5 board meeting. The closed session for union contract negotiations is an exception allowed under the Open Meetings Act.

This is the second phase of budget cuts. Phase 1, approved by the board in July, included $13.69 million in cuts and a reduction of 26 jobs, about half of them already vacant. Guenzel’s final 2010-2011 budget recommendations are expected to go before the board at its Sept. 16 meeting.

After the jump, we’ll provide details for the budget options being considered next week. [Full Story]

Pizza, Payroll and Budget Pain

At a pre-board meeting rally held by

Pizza was served at Wednesday's pre-board meeting rally held by AFSCME Local 2733 in the parking lot next to the county administration building, at the southwest corner of Catherine and Fourth. The union wanted its members to turn out as the county Board of Commissioners considered cuts to the 2010-2011 budget.

Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners meeting (June 3, 2009): Before commissioners met on Wednesday, about 50 people gathered in the parking lot next to the county administration building for a rally organized by AFSCME Local 2733, the largest of the unions for county workers, representing about 700 employees. This wasn’t a marching-while-carrying-picket-signs rally, however. It was more of a eating-pizza-and-talking event, designed to get members to attend the 6:30 p.m. board meeting as a show of support for the unions.

Union workers mingled with commissioners and other county staff to talk about how to deal with a projected $26 million deficit in the county’s budget over the next two years – a topic that was the main item on Wednesday’s agenda for the board of commissioners.

Recommendations made during the meeting by county administrator, Bob Guenzel – which were aimed at balancing the $102 million general fund budget – included cuts to many departments and to funding for local nonprofits, the elimination of 26 positions (including 12 that are already vacant) and a caution that there’ll be more cuts to come.

Discussion of those recommendations by commissioners during the Ways & Means Committee portion of their meeting resulted in approval of four budget-related resolutions. Those resolutions will receive a final vote from commissioners during their regular board meeting on July 8. Meanwhile, the administration hopes to negotiate concessions from the 17 unions that represent roughly 1,000 of the county’s 1,350 work force. All parties agree that the outcome of those negotiations will be crucial. [Full Story]

Opening Up the County Budget


Boxes containing the informational packets (spiral-bound paper copies) for the June 3 county Board of Commissioners meeting, which includes recommendations for budget cuts in 2010 and 2011. Each packet weighs about two pounds.

Walking into the county administration office last week, The Chronicle spotted several hefty unopened boxes stacked on a table. It turns out those boxes contained some of the information we were there to discuss with county administrator Bob Guenzel – proposals for cuts in the 2010 and 2011 budget, which will be formally presented to the county Board of Commissioners at its June 3 meeting.

At that meeting, Guenzel will be recommending an array of cuts – plus more limited ways to increase revenues – aimed at balancing the county’s $102 million annual general fund budget, which faces a $26 million deficit over the two-year period from Jan. 1, 2010 through Dec. 31, 2011. That includes eliminating at least 26 positions (about half of which are already vacant), a proposed price increase in the controversial police services contract, 20% funding cuts to nearly 20 local nonprofits, and the elimination of funding for the proposed north/south commuter rail, among other things.

If approved, some of the cuts could be implemented this year, rather than waiting until 2010. Revenues for 2009 have come in lower than expected and the county also faces a $3.3 million deficit in the current fiscal year, which ends Dec. 31.

The deficit is linked to dramatically falling revenues caused by plummeting property values. The county gets the majority of its general fund revenue from property taxes – the rate of taxation is restricted by state law, and can’t be increased without voter approval.

This is the first phase of an ongoing process to tackle the deficit. The administration plans to propose long-term structural changes as well, which are being developed and will be presented for approval by commissioners later this year. The current recommendations come in four broad categories: employee compensation, organizational changes, departmental reductions and revenue growth. [Full Story]

County Commissioners Review Priorities

Saline schools superintendent Scott Graden, left, served as facilitator during Saturdays retreat. County commissioners, from left: Jeff Irwin, Ken Schwartz, Wes Prater.

Saline schools superintendent Scot Graden, standing, served as facilitator during Saturday's retreat at Rolling Hills County Park. County commissioners, from left: Jeff Irwin, Ken Schwartz, Wes Prater.

No decisions about budget cuts were made at Saturday’s retreat of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners – since organizing it a few weeks ago, they’ve said all along that wasn’t the purpose. Rather, the group of 11 commissioners spent three hours talking through their priorities for the county, a discussion that some commissioners hope will lay a foundation for where to cut expenses as the county deals with a projected $26 million deficit in 2010-11.

The half-day retreat at Rolling Hills County Park was also attended by other elected officials – including sheriff Jerry Clayton, water resources commissioner Janis Bobrin and county prosecutor Brian Mackie – as well as leaders of a few of the 17 unions representing county employees, some county staff and the media. Though some of these people commented during the meeting, for the most part the event was focused on commissioners sharing their thoughts about refining county priorities. The discussion was led by Scot Graden, superintendent of Saline Area Schools and a lifelong Washtenaw County resident.

One piece of news did emerge: county administrator Bob Guenzel, in response to a query from commissioner Wes Prater, said the 2009 equalization report had just been completed and showed that the county’s taxable value was down less than expected. They’d projected a drop of 3%, but the decline in taxable value came in at 2.29%. Though they’d make some adjustments, Guenzel said, “2009 is not our problem.”

Board chair Rolland Sizemore Jr. kicked off the retreat with, “Let’s get it on so I can go home and wash windows.” [Full Story]

It’s All About The Money

Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners (March 4, 2009): County commissioners spent the bulk of their Wednesday night board meeting on two topics, both dealing with finances: 1) Details about $3 million in federal funds coming to Washtenaw County to rehab or demolish foreclosed properties in targeted areas, and 2) an update from county administrator Bob Guenzel about ongoing efforts to deal with a projected budget deficit.

Neither topic is new to commissioners or Chronicle readers: The federal foreclosure funds were discussed at last week’s administrative briefing, and the budget crisis has been on the table since the board’s Feb. 4 meeting. So commissioners were prepared to ask pointed questions on both issues, and they did. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Schools Tackle Looming Deficit

This sign in a hallway at Scarlett Middle School could apply to the Ann Arbor Public Schools budget.

This sign in a hallway at Scarlett Middle School, quoting basketball legend Michael Jordan, could apply to dealing with the Ann Arbor Public Schools budget. Superintendent Todd Roberts and other AAPS officials held a public forum on the budget Tuesday night at Scarlett.

Students outnumbered parents at Tuesday night’s budget forum for the Ann Arbor Public Schools, but only (we suspect) because it fulfilled a civics class requirement. At any rate, the 20 or so people who showed up at the Scarlett Middle School media center all got a lesson in the intricacies of public school funding, and a look at how AAPS plans to deal with an anticipated $6 million deficit in its next fiscal year, with the deficit projected to grow to $12 million by 2011-12.

Approaches include possibly floating a countywide millage as early as this fall, increasing student enrollment through online offerings, and lobbying state legislators for additional dollars and to reform the way schools are funded. [Full Story]