Stories indexed with the term ‘county budget’

Advocates for Homeless Appeal to County

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Jan. 22, 2014): About two dozen people – including members of Camp Misfit and Camp Take Notice – turned out at the county board’s Jan. 22 meeting to advocate for improved services for the homeless.

Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Some of the crowd at the Jan. 22, 2014 Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Speaking during public commentary, several people argued that the Delonis Center‘s warming center should be made available when temperatures are lower than 45 degrees. One woman presented a list of specific requests for expanded services at the homeless shelter, including 24-hour access to shower facilities and increased hours for access to laundry facilities.

There was no formal agenda item on this issue, but several commissioners agreed that the community needs to do more for the homeless. Conan Smith (D-District 9) noted that county had a 10-year plan to end homelessness, “and then we got socked by a terrible economy and made pretty dramatic reductions in the county’s spending.” [The Blueprint to End Homelessness was adopted in 2004 but appears to be dormant.]

The board ultimately voted to direct county administrator Verna McDaniel to address issues related to services for the homeless. They’ll be getting an update at their Feb. 6 working session from Ellen Schulmeister, director of the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, which runs the Delonis Center.

Alicia Ping (R-District 3) cautioned against the county overstepping its bounds, and pointed out that the shelter is run by a separate nonprofit – although the county owns and maintains the building where the shelter is located at 312 W. Huron in Ann Arbor, and contributes some funding. Ping noted that the county also currently pays the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority for several parking spaces used by Delonis Center employees, and suggested that the money might be better spent on direct services to the homeless. The county is continuing to negotiate its parking contract with the DDA.

Also at the Jan. 22 meeting, the board made a range of appointments, including confirmation of Dan Ezekiel, former Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commissioner, to replace Nelson Meade on the county parks & recreation commission. And former state legislator Alma Wheeler Smith was appointed to fill an opening on the southeast Michigan regional transit authority (RTA) board. Richard Murphy – one of two RTA board members from Washtenaw County – was not seeking reappointment. Smith was the only eligible applicant and is the mother of county commissioner Conan Smith, who abstained from the confirmation vote.

In addition, during the Jan. 22 meeting the board created a new committee to explore the cost to the county for providing employee health insurance coverage for autism. The board had received a staff presentation earlier in the evening about the possibility of offering such coverage.

In other action, the board gave initial approval to a proposed ordinance that would allow the county to issue municipal civil infractions for owning an unlicensed dog, with a final vote expected on Feb. 5. The ordinance could take effect 50 days after that, in late March, but county treasurer Catherine McClary indicated that her office would be looking to implement the changes in June or July. Several  commissioners advocated for educational outreach to ensure that residents – especially in rural areas – will be aware of the changes.

The board also gave initial approval to establish a countywide Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program, after hearing from several people during public commentary who supported the effort. A final vote to establish the program is expected at the board’s Feb. 5 meeting. [Full Story]

County Board Sets 2nd Budget Hearing

A second public hearing to get input on the 2014-2017 budget for Washtenaw County was scheduled by the county board of commissioners at its Nov. 6, 2013 meeting. The hearing will be held on Nov. 20, and follows a previous hearing on Oct. 16, 2013. No one spoke at that hearing, which was held after midnight as part of a meeting that lasted over six hours.

County administrator Verna McDaniel and her finance staff had presented the budget on Oct. 2, 2013. The board gave initial approval to the budget on Nov. 6, with some amendments, on a 7-2 vote over the dissent of Dan Smith (R-District 2) and Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6).

The $103,005,127 million budget for 2014 – … [Full Story]

CSTS Budget Approved by County Board

A net gain of 1.7 full-time-equivalent (FTE) positions is part of a proposed 2012-2013 budget for Washtenaw County’s community support & treatment services (CSTS) department. County commissioners approved the CSTS budget at their Sept. 19, 2012 meeting.

The CSTS budget runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, in sync with the state’s fiscal year. The county operates on a calendar year cycle.

The proposed $29,607,596 budget – an increase from the $26,838,557 budget approved for the current fiscal year – calls for eliminating 1 FTE as a result of reclassifying the job, and creating 2.7 new FTE positions. (Last year’s budget had a net loss of five FTEs, and an additional 19 FTE positions were reclassified.)

Though CSTS is a county department … [Full Story]

County Board OKs Public Health Budget

A net increase of 3.5 full-time-equivalent positions will be part of the 2012-2013 department of public health budget that was given initial approval by Washtenaw County commissioners at their Sept. 5, 2012 meeting. A final vote is expected at the board’s Sept. 19 meeting. Voting against the budget were Alicia Ping and Dan Smith, who cautioned against adding new jobs as the county faces a deficit in 2013.

Seven full-time-equivalent positions (a combination of part-time and full-time jobs) are being reclassified in the proposed budget. Last year, the department eliminated a net of nearly seven FTEs. The $10,998,870 budget includes a $3,553,575 allocation from the county’s general fund – unchanged from the previous year. Of that general fund allocation, $548,052 … [Full Story]

County Board Deals with Transit, Budget, Labor

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Aug. 1, 2012): In a move that extends the approval process for a countywide public transportation system, commissioners amended the articles of incorporation for a new transit authority then ultimately approved that document and a related four-party agreement on a 6-4 vote.

Sarah Pressprich Gryniewicz, Leah Gunn

Sarah Pressprich Gryniewicz, left, talks with Washtenaw County commissioner Leah Gunn prior to the start of the Aug. 1, 2012 board of commissioners meeting. Gryniewicz is community outreach coordinator for the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. (Photos by the writer.)

Because the articles were amended, they will need to be reconsidered by the other three parties in the agreement: the city councils of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, and the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, which is spearheading this effort. Those governing bodies are expected to take up the issue at meetings later this month. It will be on the Ann Arbor city council agenda for its Aug. 9 meeting.

Before the county board’s Aug. 1 vote, about a dozen people spoke during a public hearing on the issue, the majority of them in support of the agreement and of expanded public transit in general.

Although amendments had been considered and voted down at the board’s July 11 meeting, on Aug. 1 Rob Turner proposed a new amendment to the articles of incorporation. The original draft stipulated that a two-thirds majority of the new authority’s board would be required to amend the articles of incorporation. Turner’s amendment would have stipulated that a unanimous vote by the new authority’s board would be needed to make such changes. Leah Gunn offered a compromise – a four-fifths majority, or 12 of the new authority’s 15 board members. That amendment to Turner’s amendment passed on a 6-4 vote, with dissent from Turner, Conan Smith, Felicia Brabec and Wes Prater. The vote on the amended amendment itself – requiring the four-fifths majority – passed unanimously.

Turner felt his original amendment offered safeguards for smaller communities. It’s possible for communities to decide to join the new transit authority, only to have the articles of incorporation – the “rules of the game” – changed after they’ve joined, he said. If his amendment had been approved, Turner said he would have supported the four-party agreement and articles of incorporation. He said it no longer seemed like a countywide authority – it seemed like an Ann Arbor system that others could join. That saddened him, he said.

Joining Turner in his final vote against the overall agreement and articles of incorporation were Alicia Ping, Wes Prater and Dan Smith. Rolland Sizemore Jr. was absent.

A range of other items were on the Aug. 1 agenda. Commissioners suspended the county’s use of Construction Unity Board (CUB) agreements, responding to a change in state law. They also gave final approval to a change in the county’s accommodations ordinance, exempting bed & breakfasts, cottages and individuals who occasionally lease out rooms from the 5% accommodations tax. And addressing a need for veterans, the board authorized the county clerk to offer photo IDs that can be used to redeem discounts offered at local businesses.

On an 8-2 vote, commissioners also approved a brownfield financing plan for a $39 million residential development at 618 S. Main St. in Ann Arbor. Before the board’s vote, both Felicia Brabec and Yousef Rabhi praised the development, but said they were voting against it because of concerns about affordability. They did not feel that most young professionals would be able to afford living there, and stressed the importance of having more affordable housing in the downtown area.

The board also heard a report from the county treasurer, and got a second-quarter financial update from staff. Commissioners then approved a $1,263,994 mid-year adjustment to its 2012 general fund budget, bringing the 2012 general fund budget to $101,162,770.

In one of the least controversial items of the meeting, commissioners passed a resolution commending the Washtenaw Community Concert Band – formerly the Ypsilanti Community Band – on its 35th season. Dan Smith, who plays the trumpet, is a member of that group. [Full Story]

Adjustments Made to 2012 County Budget

Washtenaw County commissioners authorized a $1,263,994 mid-year adjustment to its 2012 general fund budget, in a unanimous vote taken at the board’s Aug. 1, 2012 meeting. The final vote followed a second-quarter financial update from the county administration. It brings the 2012 general fund budget to $101,162,770.

The adjustment includes equal increases in revenues and expenditures. The additional revenues come from higher-than-projected property tax revenues of $2,417,690. The main increase in expenditures comes from an increase in personnel costs over the budgeted amount for 2012. The original budget had anticipated labor savings of $2,481,008 – but the bulk of those reductions have not yet materialized. The county did realize more than $1 million in reduced labor costs due to 118 retirements in 2011. However, that savings has … [Full Story]

County Acts on Budget, Health, Policy Issues

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (March 7, 2012): Although the county board isn’t yet in the heart of discussions for its next two-year budget cycle, the specter of that effort provided a backdrop to action at Wednesday’s meeting. The county faces projected deficits of $11.6 million in 2014 and $14.7 million in 2015.

Jenna Bacolor, Michaelle Rehmann, Al Connor

From left: Jenna Bacolor of the county's public health department, Michaelle Rehmann, Farm to Table director for the Food System Economic Partnership (FSEP), and Al Connor of the Michigan Farmers Union. All are involved in helping create the Washtenaw Food Policy Council. (Photos by the writer.)

Two items touched directly on salary and compensation. The board gave final approval to an administrative restructuring that’s estimated to save $326,422 annually, and result in the net reduction of four full-time jobs, which are currently vacant. As he did for the initial vote on Feb. 15, commissioner Ronnie Peterson voted against the restructuring, objecting to a 4% increase that will be given to four top managers in a new cross-lateral team, as a result of their job reclassification. Though the county uniformly gives a 4% raise when any job is reclassified, Peterson argued that the county’s leadership should set an example and that the raises will make it more difficult to ask for concessions in future union negotiations in 2014-15.

Also related to upcoming budgets, commissioner Dan Smith presented a draft proposal that would cut compensation for commissioners in 2013-2014. Overall, the proposal would cut total compensation (salary and benefits) by 5.7% per commissioner – from the current $20,213 to a proposed $19,063. He plans to present a formal resolution at the April 4 meeting. The timing would allow the board to make a decision before the May 15 filing deadline for county board candidates.

Another budget-related item came from the public health department, which proposed fee increases to treat sexually transmitted diseases – one of the mandated services provided by the county. The changes, which were approved unanimously, are being made in response to federal funding cuts and an increase in charges for state services. Though he voted in favor of the increases, Peterson raised concerns about the impact on low-income residents. Dick Fleece, director of the public health department, assured the board that no one would be refused treatment because of the inability to pay.

Public health staff also presented an item with almost no budget impact: A proposal to create the Washtenaw Food Policy Council, with the goal of supporting and coordinating activities in the county’s food system. Partners who’ve been working on this initiative include the Y of Ann Arbor, Growing Hope, Food Gatherers, the Food System Economic Partnership (FSEP), Slow Food Huron Valley, Eat Local/Eat Natural, Michigan Farmers Union, and the Ypsilanti Food Coop. A final vote is expected on March 21.

The board also acted on items related to public safety. They voted to accept a $177,500 state grant from the state’s Economic Vitality Incentive program (EVIP), which provides incentives for local governments to collaborate and combine operations. The grant will help pay for work related to dispatch consolidation between the county sheriff’s office and the city of Ann Arbor.

And in a vote to clear up a procedural move, the board authorized a merger of its countywide 800 megahertz (MHz) emergency communications system with the Michigan Public Safety Communication System. The county’s 800 MHz system is paid for through a 10-year, 0.20-mill tax that Washtenaw County voters approved in May 2006. At the time, the plan called for eventually merging with the statewide system.

During the opportunity for commissioners to raise items of discussion, Wes Prater noted that at the Ann Arbor city council’s March 5 meeting, a four-party agreement to establish a framework for a possible countywide transit system was approved. Prater urged the board to begin discussing the issue, too. [In addition to Ann Arbor, the four parties include the city of Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. Ann Arbor city council was the first entity to approve the accord, doing so after postponing action on it three times and deliberating for over 3.5 hours at Monday's meeting. See Chronicle coverage: "Ann Arbor Council OKs Transit Agreement"]

A working session for commissioners to address the four-party agreement has been set for Thursday, March 22.

Prater also wondered why the board hadn’t received any reports from the county treasurer recently. The treasurer, Catherine McClary, gave a 2010 annual treasurer’s report to commissioners early last year, at their Feb. 16, 2011 meeting, but has not yet submitted the 2011 annual report. Board chair Conan Smith asked county administrator Verna McDaniel to contact the treasurer’s office and request a report. [Full Story]

Head Start Advocates Make Emotional Plea

Washtenaw County board of commissioners working session (Oct. 20, 2011): The fate of Washtenaw Head Start was the focus of the county board’s most recent working session, as advocates for the preschool program filled the boardroom and lobbied for continued support. A proposal to relinquish control of Head Start, which the county has administered and helped fund for 46 years, is part of the 2012-2013 budget.

Head Start supporters

Washtenaw Head Start supporters filled the county boardroom on Oct. 20 at a working session of the board of commissioners. (Photo by the writer.)

Eighteen people spoke during public commentary, many of them staff or parents of children in Head Start – and many with their children in tow. They described how transformative the preschool program has been in their lives, and made passionate appeals for the county to keep administering it.

The county administration first made a formal proposal to the board at a July 21 working session, when county administrator Verna McDaniel and her staff laid out details of a transition. McDaniel noted that the county isn’t in the business of education, and that it made sense to consider moving the program to another grantee – especially in light of a projected $17.5 million general fund deficit that the county was facing in 2012-2013.

If approved by the board, the county would notify the federal Head Start program of its intent to relinquish its grantee status. County support would continue through 2012 – a line item of $528,000 for 2012 is in the proposed general fund budget, part of Head Start’s total $4.8 million budget. But the county would hand off the local Head Start to federal administrators at the start of 2013. Federal officials would then be responsible for selecting another agency to take over the program.

Pat Horne McGee – Washtenaw Head Start’s executive director – received a standing ovation from the audience at the start of her presentation to commissioners. She noted that October is national Head Start awareness month, and that usually she’s there to accept a board resolution of appreciation. Horne McGee then reviewed a 9-page document she had originally distributed to the board this summer, which highlighted the program’s achievements and economic impact, and which proposed alternatives that would allow the county to continue administering the program.

Several commissioners stated their support for Head Start, but noted that the county wasn’t best-suited to administer it. However, Ronnie Peterson protested bitterly over how the process was being handled, accusing others – but not naming anyone specifically – of holding backroom talks with Washtenaw Intermediate School District officials about taking over the program. [The county could have input on the choice, but would not be empowered to decide which agency is selected. The possibility of WISD being the next grantee was discussed at the July 21 working session – Peterson attended that meeting and expressed similar concerns.]

It’s likely that commissioners will continue to discuss the future of Head Start, as part of their ongoing budget deliberations. They have until the end of the year to approve the budget, but only three more regular meetings are scheduled before then.

The Oct. 20 working session also included a very brief presentation about the county’s contracts for outside professional services. This report focuses on the topic of Head Start. [Full Story]

Nonprofit Supporters Lobby for County Funds

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Oct. 19, 2011): Lining Main Street in front of the county administration building, a dozen or so protesters stood in the rain – many with their dogs – holding signs in support of the Humane Society of Huron Valley (HSHV), which faces a dramatic funding cut under the proposed 2012-2013 county budget.

Supporters of the Humane Society of Huron Valley

Supporters of the Humane Society of Huron Valley in front of the Washtenaw County administration building at Main and Catherine, prior to the Oct. 19 board of commissioners meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Inside during their meeting, county commissioners heard from a stream of supporters for various nonprofits, all urging the board to maintain funding for services – from the care of animals to basic safety net services like housing and food. The proposed budget calls for $1.2 million in cuts to outside agencies, including many nonprofits. Funding levels would drop from about $3 million this year to $1.8 million in each of the next two years. The cuts are proposed to address a projected $17.5 million deficit over the next two years.

Much of the public commentary came from HSHV supporters, who argued that the county is already getting more services than it pays for under its contract with the nonprofit, even before cutting annual funding from $500,000 to $250,000. That contract expires at the end of 2011, and leaders from the county and HSHV will be meeting later this month to try to reach an agreement for providing services – including those mandated by the state.

The budget was the focus of much of Wednesday’s three-hour meeting, which started with the appointment of Felicia Brabec to fill the vacant District 7 seat. Commissioners expressed support for the nonprofits they fund, but several argued that cuts are necessary because of the county’s declining revenues. They also pointed to discussions at the state level of eliminating the personal property tax. A recent analysis prepared by county staff estimates that repeal of the PPT would cut county revenues by $5.559 million, and would eliminate a total of $42.961 million in revenues for all local governments in Washtenaw County. [.pdf of PPT report]

Some commissioners urged the public to contact state legislators and oppose the PPT repeal, while others asked that everyone dig into their own pockets and contribute to local nonprofits that face funding cuts. Several commissioners expressed support for putting a human services millage on the ballot as a way to raise money for these safety net services. It would not be possible to add it to the Nov. 8 ballot, but could be considered for 2012. Wes Prater also argued that not enough cuts have been made in the budget – he believes county departments can find additional ways to trim their expenses.

In the only formal action related to the proposed budget, a resolution proposed by Yousef Rabhi reallocated $26,230 in annual dues (or $52,460 over two years) paid to the Michigan Association of Counties, transferring those funds to the Delonis Center, a homeless shelter in Ann Arbor. The resolution was unanimously approved. It followed action at the Ann Arbor city council’s Oct. 17 meeting, when councilmembers appropriated $25,000 from the city’s general fund reserve to keep the Delonis Center’s warming center open this winter. At the council’s meeting, mayor John Hieftje noted that the Delonis Center is a partnership between the city and county, and he hoped the county would uphold its end.

Final decisions on the budget haven’t yet been settled. The board must pass a budget by Dec. 31, and has only three more regular meetings scheduled for the year. The budget must first be voted on by the Ways & Means Committee – a committee of the whole board – then voted on a final time at a regular board meeting.

Though much of the Oct. 19 meeting focused on 2012-2013 budget issues, the board gave final approval to several other items, including: (1) creating a study committee to explore a historic district in Salem Township; (2) renewing a two-year contract with Governmental Consultant Services Inc., a Lansing-based lobbying firm; and (3) authorizing a contract with Sylvan Township related to the township’s bond repayment schedule.

And in non-budget public commentary, Douglas Smith submitted an appeal to the board for a Freedom of Information Act request that had been denied by the county, related to an incident that he says involves a high-ranking member of the sheriff’s office. The board did not respond publicly to his request, other than to clarify with the county’s corporation counsel that appeals are handled by the county administrator. [Full Story]

Board Moves Funds to Homeless Shelter

At its Oct. 19, 2011 meeting, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners adjusted its proposed 2012-2013 budget to eliminate $26,230 in annual dues to the Michigan Association of Counties, and transfer those funds to the Delonis Center, a homeless shelter at 312 W. Huron. Commissioner Yousef Rabhi (D-District 11) made the motion, saying that budget priorities for him are human services, especially the lines items for coordinated funding and the homeless shelter.

Earlier in the meeting, more than two dozen people spoke during public commentary to advocate for a variety of nonprofits that are funded by the county. The 2012-2013 proposed budget calls for $1.2 million in cuts to outside agencies, including several nonprofit groups. [.pdf list of all ... [Full Story]

County Weighs Funding for Nonprofits, Dues

Washtenaw County board of commissioners working session (Oct. 13, 2011): Supporters of the Humane Society of Huron Valley turned out to a special budget-focused working session on Thursday, urging county commissioners to maintain current funding levels for the nonprofit.

Supporters of the Humane Society of Huron Valley

Kate Murphy, left, and Anne Alatalo attended the county board's Oct. 13 working session to voice support for funding the Humane Society of Huron Valley. (Photos by the writer.)

HSHV, which is under contract with the county to provide state-mandated animal control services, is among several outside agencies that the county funds. The proposed two-year budget for 2012 and 2013 includes a total of $1.2 million in annual cuts to outside agencies – the county budget would drop HSHV’s annual funding from $500,000 to $250,000. HSHV’s current contract with the county ends on Dec. 31. Some commissioners expressed dismay, but indicated that in light of other pressing needs – like food and shelter for struggling families – the cuts to HSHV are appropriate.

The other outside agency item that received attention on Thursday was the county’s $125,000 membership with the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, as well as $10,000 for water quality work provided by SEMCOG. Paul Tait, SEMCOG’s executive director, attended the meeting with two other staff members to answer questions and urge commissioners to retain their participation in the regional planning group. None of the six other counties who are part of SEMOG are withdrawing their membership, Tait said.

Several other budget cuts are proposed in this category, including a decrease in funding to the Delonis Center homeless shelter (from $160,000 to $25,000) and the Safe House domestic violence shelter (from $96,000 to $48,000). Money for the county’s coordinated funding of human services – targeting six priority areas, including housing and food – will drop by $128,538 (from $1,015,000 to $886,462).

But most of Thursday’s discussion by the board focused on the two areas that received attention during public commentary: SEMCOG and HSHV. In addition, Chuck Warpehoski, director of the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice, spoke on behalf of 94 co-signers of a letter urging the county to continue funding human services.

The board will also hold a public hearing on the budget at its Oct. 19 meeting, and it’s likely that supporters from other groups will address the board at that time.

Setting the stage for the board’s discussion on Thursday, commissioners got a staff update on the need for basic assistance in the county. It was not encouraging news. [Full Story]

County Postpones Action on Road Millage

Washenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Oct. 5, 2011): The main discussion at Wednesday’s board meeting focused on a proposal for countywide road repair – and the possible mechanism to fund it.

Steve Powers, Verna McDaniel

Ann Arbor city administrator Steve Powers talks with Washtenaw County administrator Verna McDaniel before the Oct. 5 meeting of the county board of commissioners. Powers, who started his job in mid-September and was formerly a Marquette County administrator, told the board he looked forward to building more collaborative efforts between the city and county. (Photos by the writer.)

The proposal debated by the board came from the Washtenaw County road commission. Rob Turner (R-District 1) recommended indefinite postponement. He objected to the idea of levying a millage without voter approval – an action that road commissioners believe is possible under a 1909 law. It’s still on the books but that hasn’t been used in decades.

Ultimately, the board voted to postpone action until their Dec. 7 meeting. The next evening – on Thursday, Oct. 6 – they held a working session on the issue.

In other business, the board gave initial approval to a contract with Sylvan Township, related to its bond repayment schedule, which the township is struggling to meet. The county will be tapping its reserves to help the township cover the bond payments, but the deal is contingent on township voters passing a 4.75 mill, 20-year tax that’s on the November 2011 ballot.

The board also took an initial vote to create a new management position and hire Greg Dill into that job – as county infrastructure management director. The job is part of a broader reorganization of county administration, which hasn’t yet been approved by the board.

Accolades were threaded throughout the meeting, as the county handed out its annual Environmental Excellence Awards to several local organizations. Praise was also served up to Lansing lobbyist Kirk Profit for his work on the county’s behalf. That praise included initial approval of a two-year contract renewal for Governmental Consultant Services Inc. – Profit is a director of the Lansing-based firm.

The board also said an official farewell to Kristin Judge, a Democrat from District 7 who resigned her seat, and was attending her last board meeting. [Full Story]

Proposed County Budget Brings Cuts

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Sept. 21, 2011): County administrator Verna McDaniel and the county’s finance staff formally presented the two-year general fund budget on Sept. 21, showing how the administration proposes to balance the 2012-2013 budget with a mix of labor concessions, fee increases and funding cuts. Previously, an estimated $17.5 million deficit had been projected for that two-year period.

Ronnie Peterson and supporters of Washtenaw HeadStart program

County commissioner Ronnie Peterson, right, talks with supporters of the Washtenaw Head Start program. (Photos by the writer.)

Although the budget calls for a net loss of 32.22 full-time-equivalent jobs, most of those positions are either already vacant or will be handled through retirements, McDaniel said. One significant retirement was recognized during the meeting: Donna Sabourin, executive director of the county’s community support & treatment services (CSTS) department, who’s worked for the county for 20 years. Commissioners awarded her a resolution of appreciation, and also gave final approval to the CSTS budget for the coming year.

But the meeting’s main focus was the proposed general fund budget, which was discussed at length and will be the topic of most board meetings and working sessions at least through November. The county budget is based on a calendar year, from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31, and is developed in two-year cycles.

Among the recommended cuts is a reduction of $1.2 million to local nonprofits and other agencies. For example, funding for the Humane Society of Huron Valley’s contract is proposed to drop from $500,000 in 2011 to $250,000 in 2012 and 2013. The Delonis Center homeless shelter’s funding could decline from $160,000 to $25,000.

The budget also calls for the county to relinquish its status as the federal “grantee” for the Head Start program in Washtenaw County, which would trigger a process to find a replacement entity. The county has administered the program for 46 years. About a dozen Head Start supporters showed up to Wednesday’s meeting, and urged commissioners to continue support for the program.

Though commissioners had several questions and comments about the 2012-2013 budget, several of them expressed even more concern for what’s on the horizon: Projected deficits of $11.6 million in 2014 and $14.7 million in 2015.

Board chair Conan Smith characterized the 2012-2013 budget as a recommendation that’s “ripe for public discussion at this point.” Everything is still on the table, he said. The board is expected to take up the topic again at its Oct. 5 meeting, and a public hearing on the budget is set for Oct. 19. The target date for approving the budget is Nov. 16.

There was no vote taken on the 2012-2013 budget directly, but the board took action on several other budget-related items. Among them, commissioners gave final approval to levy two taxes: for (1) services for indigent veterans; and (2) economic development and agriculture.

The board also passed a resolution in support of developing a regional transportation authority, after a failed attempt to postpone the vote. The resolution is a prelude to a Sept. 30 summit with Detroit and the counties of Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and St. Clair, which will focus on region transit issues.

Two issues of note did not come before the board as expected. A proposed reorganization of county administration was pulled from the agenda at the start of the meeting. It would have replaced the deputy administrator position by giving additional responsibilities to four managers, paying them annual stipends of $15,000 each. The stipends were a sticking point – during public commentary, AFSCME Local 2733 president Caryette Fenner objected to the timing of that pay, in light of recent labor concessions made by employees.

And not on the agenda was an anticipated proposal by the Washtenaw County Road Commission, which was discussed by the board at its Sept. 8 working session. The road commission is presenting a request for a countywide millage to help pay for road repair. It’s a tax that the county board could impose without seeking voter approval. The plan was subsequently submitted to the county clerk on Friday, and could be addressed at the board’s Oct. 5 meeting. [Full Story]

Draft 2012-13 County Budget Proposes Cuts

Washtenaw County commissioners have received a recommended budget for 2012-2013, which calls for a total net loss of 32.22 full-time-equivalent jobs. Most are positions that are already vacant or that will be handled through retirements. [.pdf of draft 2012-2013 budget] County administrator Verna McDaniel and the county’s finance staff gave a presentation on the two-year budget at the board’s Sept. 21, 2011 meeting, showing how the administration proposes to balance the budget. Previously, an estimated $17.5 million deficit had been projected for that two-year period.

Board chair Conan Smith characterized the budget as a recommendation “that is ripe for public discussion at this point.” Everything is still on the table, he said. A public hearing on the budget is set … [Full Story]

County OKs Taxes for Econ Dev, Veterans

At its Sept. 21, 2011 meeting, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners gave final approval to levy two taxes in December 2011: (1) 0.05 mills for support of economic development and agriculture; and (2) 0.025 mills to pay for services for indigent veterans. Because the Michigan statutes that authorize these millages predate the state’s Headlee Amendment, they can be approved by the board without a voter referendum. Initial approval and public hearings on these millages occurred at the board’s Sept. 7 meeting.

The indigent veterans millage was passed with dissent from Alicia Ping. It will cost homeowners about $2.50 for every $100,000 of a home’s taxable value. It’s expected to raise $344,486 – about $11,000 less than in 2010, due to projected … [Full Story]

County’s Public Health Budget Approved

At their Sept. 21, 2011 meeting, Washtenaw County commissioners gave final approval to the county’s 2011-2012 public health budget, which includes elimination of a net of nearly seven full-time positions.

The $11,839,496 budget includes a $3,553,575 allocation from the county’s general fund – a net decrease of $583,597 from the previous year. Unlike the county’s general fund budget, which is aligned to the calendar year, the public health budget runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, in sync with the state’s fiscal year.

Though a total of nearly 12 full-time-equivalent positions (a combination of part-time and full-time jobs) will be eliminated in the proposed budget, five positions will be created or reclassified, for a net loss of nearly seven FTEs.

The budget also calls … [Full Story]

CSTS Budget Approved; Sabourin Retires

The 2011-2012 budget for Washtenaw County’s community support & treatment services (CSTS) department was approved by county commissioners at their Sept. 21, 2011 meeting. The budget includes a net loss of five full-time-equivalent (FTE) positions.

Also acknowledged at the Sept. 21 meeting was the retirement of CSTS executive director Donna Sabourin, who has worked for the county for 20 years. She’s been executive director of CSTS since 2002. The board approved a resolution of appreciation in her honor at Wednesday’s meeting.

The proposed $26,838,557 CSTS budget calls for eliminating seven FTEs and putting one position on hold/vacant status, but creating three new FTE positions, for a net loss of five FTEs. In addition, 19 FTE positions will be reclassified. Though CSTS is a … [Full Story]

AFSCME Deal Sets Stage for County Budget

Washtenaw County board of commissioners special meeting (Sept. 13, 2011): At a meeting called for the sole purpose of dealing with tentative labor deals, the county board approved new agreements with three unions representing county employees, including its largest employee union, AFSCME Local 2733.

Caryette Fenner

Caryette Fenner, president of AFSCME Local 2733, the labor union representing the largest number of Washtenaw County government employees. (Photo by the writer.)

The deals affect 675 union employees, as well as 271 non-union, court non-union and elected officials – or nearly 70% of the county’s total 1,369 employees.

AFSCME Local 2733 represents about half of the county’s employees – 644 people. The Local 2733 agreement was ratified by a 2-to-1 vote earlier this week, but only 325 members voted. Caryette Fenner, president of Local 2733, described it as a typical turnout.

County administrator Verna McDaniel said these three agreements, coupled with those already approved, will yield $7.7 million in savings over 2012 and 2013. The county has a goal of gaining $8 million in labor concessions for that two-year period, to help overcome an estimated $17.5 million deficit.

McDaniel is expected to present a draft budget to the board at its Sept. 21 meeting.

There was no discussion before the board vote, which occurred after the board emerged from a 30-minute closed session to discuss labor negotiations. Commissioner Dan Smith (R-District 2) cast the lone vote against the agreements.

In a follow-up interview with The Chronicle, Smith cited concerns over health care provisions that would cost the county more than he had been led to expect, based on previous agreements already approved by the board for Michigan Nurses Association Units I and II.

And because of “me too” clauses in other union agreements, the more favorable terms negotiated by AFSCME Local 2733 will likely be applied to other union contracts as well.

In addition to the agreement with five bargaining units of AFSCME Local 2733, Tuesday’s approved agreements were with: (1) the two bargaining units of TPOAM (Technical, Professional and Officeworkers Association of Michigan); and (2) one of two bargaining units of AFSCME Local 3052. Also, the same benefits that AFSCME Local 2733 receives will be extended to the non-union, court non-union and elected officials.

The second bargaining unit of AFSCME Local 3052, representing 55 general supervisors, voted down its agreement this week. Nancy Heine, president of AFSCME Local 3052, told The Chronicle that union leaders would be polling their membership on Wednesday to determine what issues caused members to reject the tentative agreement.

In addition, agreements have not yet been reached with four other bargaining units: Two units with the Assistant Prosecutors Association, representing 24 employees; and two units with the Public Defenders Association, representing 13 employees.

Two other bargaining units – the Police Officers Association of Michigan (POAM) and the Command Officers Association of Michigan (COAM) – earlier this year reached agreements that aren’t part of the $8 million goal. The POAM and COAM deals are for a four-year period through 2014. [Full Story]

County AFSCME Union Ratifies Deal

The largest union for Washtenaw County employees, AFSCME Local 2733, has ratified a new contract, according to county administrator Verna McDaniel. AFSCME Local 2733 represents five of the county’s 17 bargaining units. Members ratified their new contract with the county by a 2-to-1 vote.

Local 2733 represents 644 workers. The contract will be presented to the county board of commissioners for approval at a special meeting called for Tuesday, Sept. 13 at 4 p.m. in the county administration building, 220 N. Main St. in Ann Arbor.

In an email to The Chronicle Monday afternoon, McDaniel praised the employees, noting that they had also made concessions during the previous budget cycle. She said the board will be asked to exempt the county employees who … [Full Story]

CSTS Job Cuts Part of 2011-12 Budget

A net loss of five full-time-equivalent (FTE) positions is part of a proposed 2011-2012 budget for Washtenaw County’s community support & treatment services (CSTS) department. County commissioners gave initial approval to the CSTS budget at their Sept. 7, 2011 meeting, with a final vote expected on Sept. 21.

The CSTS budget runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, in sync with the state’s fiscal year. The county operates on a calendar year cycle.

The proposed $26,838,557 budget calls for eliminating seven FTEs and putting one position on hold/vacant status, but creating three new FTE positions, for a net loss of five FTEs. In addition, 19 FTE positions will be reclassified. Though CSTS is a county department employing about 300 people, it … [Full Story]

County Board Work Session Cancelled

A working session of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners – scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 18 – has been cancelled. It had been one of five working sessions added to the board calendar earlier this year, designed to focus on the 2012-2013 budget. The previous board working session, set for Aug. 4, had also been cancelled.

Thursday’s working session was to focus on the planned consolidation of dispatch operations between the county and the city of Ann Arbor. [See Chronicle coverage: "Ann Arbor, Washtenaw: Joint 911 Dispatch?"] According to commissioner Yousef Rabhi, chair of the working session, the sheriff’s office needed more time to prepare the presentation, and none of the presentations scheduled for upcoming working sessions … [Full Story]

Washtenaw County Board Gets Budget Update

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Aug. 3, 2011): A second-quarter budget update and final approval of a major multi-department consolidation were highlights of Wednesday’s meeting.

Dan Smith, Verna McDaniel

Washtenaw County commissioner Dan Smith (R-District 2) and county administrator Verna McDaniel. Smith is vice chair of the board’s ways & means committee, and led the meeting in the absence of the committee chair, Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5). (Photos by the writer.)

The budget update showed the impact of higher-than-anticipated property tax revenues, which had first been announced in April. Because of higher revenues than originally projected, the county now expects to use only $2.9 million from its fund balance during 2011 – previously, the budget called for drawing $5.3 million from the fund balance to cover a shortfall between revenues and expenditures.

Without the $2.9 million transfer from the fund balance, however, there would be a projected $2.5 million deficit for the year, on a general fund budget of roughly $100 million. Among several shortfalls on the expenditure side, about $1.034 million in anticipated non-departmental lump sum reductions have not materialized.

Expenses for attorney fees are higher than budgeted, but the county’s corporation counsel Curtis Hedger noted that there’s at least one case that won’t be costing the county in the future. It was an allusion to the end of a 2006 lawsuit against the county over the cost of police services. Hedger later told The Chronicle that the two townships still involved in the case – Ypsilanti Township and Augusta Township – paid the county this week the nearly $750,000 recommended by a court-ordered facilitator.

There was little discussion about most of the action items that the board approved. Most notably, a final OK was given to creating a new office of community & economic development – the result of merging three county departments. The new unit, to be led by Mary Jo Callan, will employ about 31 full-time workers, compared to 40 that are now employed in the three separate departments: the office of community development (OCD); the economic development & energy department; and the employment training and community services (ETCS) department. Other jobs within the county government have been identified for all but one employee so far. The consolidation will take effect in 2012.

Commissioners also set public hearings for their Sept. 7 meeting to get input on two millages: one levied under the Veterans Relief Fund Act, and another collected under Public Act 88 to be used for economic development purposes. Because Act 88 and the veterans relief act predate the state’s Headlee Amendment, they can be approved by the board without a voter referendum.

The Act 88 millage of 0.05 mill would be an increase from the 0.043 mills currently levied. It would generate an estimated $688,913 annually. In previous years, it has been used to fund several entities, including Ann Arbor SPARK. The veterans relief millage of 1/40th of a mill does not represent an increase, and is estimated to bring in $344,486 to provide services for indigent veterans in Washtenaw County through the county’s department of veterans affairs.

Republicans Dan Smith and Alicia Ping led the back-to-back ways & means committee and regular board meetings on Wednesday – as vice chairs of those respective bodies, they were filling in for chairs Rolland Sizemore Jr. and Conan Smith. Both Democrats were out of town. [Full Story]

County Board Adjusts Budget Mid-Year

At its Aug. 3, 2011 meeting, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners approved a mid-year budget adjustment that increased the general fund budget by $1.42 million. The adjustment also increased the county Community Support and Treatment Services (CSTS) department’s budget by $150,003.

The general fund adjustment reflects an increase of $3,476,225 in property tax revenue for 2011, offset by a $1,034,000 shortfall in anticipated expense reductions. The 2011 budget approved by commissioners in late 2010 included the use of $5,289,000 from the county’s fund balance. In light of increased property tax revenues, only $2,921,391 will be used from the fund balance for the current budget year, which ends Dec. 31. The total 2011 general fund budget is $100,696,000.

The CSTS increase reflects an adjustment in the … [Full Story]

Washtenaw Admin Gives 2nd Quarter Update

Washtenaw County’s finance staff and county administrator Verna McDaniel gave a second-quarter budget update to the county board of commissioners at its Aug. 3, 2011 meeting. Expense reductions haven’t materialized as much as expected, but property tax revenues were higher than anticipated. When commissioners originally approved the 2011 budget in late 2010, they had anticipated using $5.289 million from the county’s fund balance. But because property tax revenues were about $3.5 million higher than initially projected, less of the fund balance will be used.

The county now expects to use $2.9 million from its fund balance during 2011. Without that transfer, there would be a projected $2.5 million deficit for the year, on a general fund budget of roughly $100 million. Among several shortfalls … [Full Story]

Options Weighed for Washtenaw Head Start

Washtenaw County board of commissioners working session (July 21, 2011): As part of a strategy to deal with a projected $17.5 million two-year deficit for 2012-2013, county administrators briefed commissioners about the possibility of eliminating support for Washtenaw Head Start, a program that the county has administered for 46 years.

Pat Horne McGee

Pat Horne McGee, director of Washtenaw County's Head Start program, at the county board's July 21, 2011 working session. (Photo by the writer)

The presentation stressed that Head Start – which serves over 500 preschool children of low-income families in the county – would not be eliminated. Rather, the county would relinquish its status as the program’s federal “grantee,” triggering a process to find a replacement entity. Federal Head Start officials would be responsible for selecting another agency to take over from the county.

The county currently spends about $900,000 each year in support of Head Start, which has a local budget of $4.8 million – the bulk of its funding comes from federal sources. In addition, the county owes $2.68 million in bond payments related to an Ypsilanti facility it built for Head Start in 2002-03.

Seven of the board’s 11 commissioners attended the working session, and several expressed support for exploring the transition. They praised the program, which has been recognized nationally for its performance, but noted that education isn’t part of the county’s core mission. Some suggested that an organization like the Washtenaw Intermediate School District would be a better fit to administer the program.

However, commissioner Ronnie Peterson spoke passionately and at length in defense of the county maintaining its support of Head Start. He said this was the first time he’d heard about the plan, and he criticized the administration for not alerting the board publicly about their intent to jettison the program. County administrator Verna McDaniel noted that she had laid out a schedule of topics for budget-related working sessions at the board’s first budget working session on June 16. Head Start as a general topic had been on that list.

McDaniel pointed out that the board had set priorities and instructed her to review closely all the county programs and services to determine whether the county should continue to offer them, in light of current economic conditions. “At the risk of maybe making some of you uncomfortable, I’m doing just that,” she said. The discussion about Head Start is in that context, she said.

Peterson argued that the board should look at Head Start in relation to other non-mandated programs that receive general fund support. What other programs should be part of the budget discussion? The county funds the Humane Society of Huron Valley, for example, he noted. [Rather than run its own shelter, the county pays $500,000 annually to the HSHV to provide animal shelter services mandated by the state.] Peterson said he loves his pets, but at the end of the day, Head Start is more important. [Full Story]

County Board Seeks Details on Consolidation

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (July 6, 2011): Much of the discussion at this month’s county board meeting focused on the proposed merger of three departments, creating a new office of community & economic development.

Mary Jo Callan, Tony Van Derworp

Mary Jo Callan talks with Tony Van Derworp before the start of the July 6, 2011 Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting. Callan is overseeing the consolidation of three county departments, including the economic development and energy department, which Van Derworp leads.

In the works for over a year, the consolidation would combine the office of community development, the economic development & energy department, and the employment training and community services (ETCS) department. The goal, according to county managers, is to cut costs by eliminating duplicated services in the face of declining revenues, while finding ways to deliver those services more efficiently to residents in need. The number of full-time employees in the merged departments would drop from 40 to 32, though most of those displaced workers will likely be moved to other county jobs. In total, about $500,000 in annual savings is expected from the merger.

While generally supportive of the change, several commissioners asked for additional details, and expressed frustration that they were provided new information – including a business plan – just hours before the meeting began. The proposal was originally on the agendas for initial approval at the Ways & Means committee meeting and final approval at the regular board meeting that same night, but commissioners decided to remove it from the board meeting agenda. They’ll likely consider it for a final vote at their Aug. 3 meeting. The consolidation will also be one of the topics at the July 11 Ann Arbor city council working session – the office of community development is a joint city/county unit.

Two other items that have received considerable – often contentious – discussion at previous meetings were passed with virtually no comment. Both relate to police services that are provided under contract to local municipalities by the sheriff’s office. On the first item, the county board approved the recommendation of a court-ordered facilitator in a lawsuit filed against the county in 2006 over the cost of police services. The recommendation states that Ypsilanti Township and Augusta Township should pay the county $749,427 for police services provided in 2006. The boards of those townships are expected to vote on the recommendation this week. If approved, it could lead to the closure of that legal battle.

On the second related item, the county board gave final approval to the price that municipalities will pay for a contract sheriff’s deputy through 2015. The price in 2012 – $150,594 – is unchanged from this year, but will rise in subsequent years by about 1% annually. The complex, politically-charged process of arriving at those figures 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.

Several other budget-related issues were addressed during the July 6 meeting, including initial approval to an agreement with the Michigan Nurses Association – Unit I, the union that represents 13 public health nurses and nurse coordinators in the county’s health services department. It’s the first of 15 union agreements being negotiated as part of the 2012 and 2013 budget cycle, and is expected to achieve an annual savings of $132,000. In total, the county hopes to see about $8 million in labor concessions for the two-year budget cycle, to help address a projected $17.5 million deficit.

Commissioners also voted to raise the fee for waiving the statutory three-day marriage license waiting period, increasing it from $5 to $50. County clerk Larry Kestenbaum, whose office processes marriage licenses, assured the board that the vast majority of applications are willing to wait the three days, and won’t incur this additional cost for expediting the process. Conan Smith joked that he had hoped Kestenbaum would come forward with a package discount deal – for marriage licenses and concealed weapons permits. [Full Story]

Trial Court Renovation Funding Approved

At its July 6, 2011 meeting, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners approved a resolution that would authorize up to $1 million for the next phase of the Washtenaw County trial court consolidation of services at the downtown courthouse facility, where the juvenile court recently relocated.

Phase two entails renovation of the first floor of the courthouse. Commissioners had previously received a detailed briefing on this project from Donald Shelton, chief judge of the Washtenew County trial court, at their Jan. 19, 2011 board meeting. The downtown courthouse is located at the corner of Huron and Main.

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

Washtenaw County Board Sets Priorities

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (March 16, 2011): The bulk of last week’s county board meeting focused on mostly minor revisions to a document that outlines the board’s strategic priorities for setting the county’s 2012-2013 budget. It’s the culmination of several board retreats held over the past two months.

Conan Smith, Rolland Sizemore Jr.

Washtenaw County commissioners Conan Smith and Rolland Sizemore Jr. confer before the start of the March 16, 2011 board meeting.

The discussion – along with the priorities themselves – highlighted the fact that county government will need to operate with diminished resources, making investments in a more targeted, strategic way. The budget priorities and decision-making principles developed by the board are intended to guide the county staff as they work to eliminate a projected $20.9 million deficit over the next two years.

The document gives guidance to the county administration to support programs that help residents feel safe and secure, that address the basic needs of children and families, and that increase economic opportunities for residents. The administration is also directed to integrate efforts across agencies to meet the county’s strategic priorities, and to ensure fiscal responsibility by focusing on long-term institutional stability.

Board chair Conan Smith, who led this year’s retreats and who drafted the budget priority document, told his colleagues that unless they make hard decisions to address the county’s structural deficit, they’ll be having these same discussions every two years. [The county operates on a two-year budget cycle.] Their decisions will have a human impact, he said – two-thirds of the county’s budget relates to personnel costs, and Smith didn’t think they could find enough non-personnel cuts to overcome the projected deficit.

Philosophical issues also surfaced during Wednesday’s discussion. Democrat Yousef Rabhi objected to a sentence stating that when the county emerges from this economic crisis, it should be smaller. Despite current rhetoric, smaller government isn’t necessarily better government, he argued. But he agreed with Republican commissioner Rob Turner that streamlining the county’s work was important, and that streamlining doesn’t mean the impact of county services will be reduced.

Kristin Judge raised concerns over a clause stating that mandated programs should initially be funded at their minimum serviceability level. She felt the language was too strong, and that the board shouldn’t be asking other elected officials – including the sheriff and judiciary – to start at that baseline level. Smith argued that elected officials, department heads and other staff are best suited to make decisions about which mandated programs and services deserve more funding – the minimum level is just a starting point.

The document is intended to give high-level guidance to the county administration, and at times during the discussion some commissioners expressed frustration that the board was too focused on wordsmithing. At one point, Wes Prater observed that they seemed to be arguing over “not much at all.” [Full Story]

County Board Gets Update on State Budget

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (March 2, 2011): This year’s update from Lansing – delivered by lobbyist Kirk Profit and his colleagues at Governmental Consultant Services Inc. – brought little positive news to county commissioners.

Kirk Profit, Leah Gunn

Kirk Profit of GCSI – a Lansing governmental consulting firm – talks with commissioner Leah Gunn during a break at the March 2, 2011 Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

At his presentation to the board a year ago, Profit foreshadowed that a change in leadership at all levels in Lansing would affect the county. On Wednesday, he outlined more details of that impact, specifically related to the state budget recently proposed by Gov. Rick Snyder, the Ann Arbor Republican who was elected to office last November.

Responding to GCSI’s presentation, commissioners expressed concerns on a range of topics, including legislation giving broader emergency financial management powers to the state, potential changes to collective bargaining, and K-12 education funding. Leah Gunn made the most direct plea, asking Profit to convey a message to legislators: “Just send us money!”

Aside from the state budget update, commissioners dispatched the rest of their agenda with little discussion. Included in their actions was approval of a resolution allowing the United Way of Washtenaw County to secure a necessary state gambling permit for the nonprofit’s March 9 Power of the Purse fundraising event. The permit is needed so that United Way can auction off gift baskets.

The board also approved changes to its annual calendar that eliminated all future administrative briefings from the board’s meeting schedule. The decision to eliminate the administrative briefings – informal meetings that have been held the week prior to the board’s regular meetings, to review the upcoming agenda – was made at their final briefing on Feb. 26. There was no discussion of the issue on Wednesday.

During public commentary, Tom Wieder returned to address the board about per diem payments for commissioners, an issue he originally raised five months ago. He said he couldn’t quite believe that some commissioners still hadn’t repaid the amounts that an independent audit had determined they owed.

The audit showed that nearly all commissioners needed to reimburse the county for some per diems or mileage that they had inappropriately claimed. The amounts ranged from $25 to $14,385 – an amount repaid by former commissioner Mark Ouimet, who was elected to the state House last fall. All but board chair Conan Smith and Barbara Bergman, and former commissioners Jessica Ping and Ken Schwartz have repaid the amounts they owed as determined by the audit. [Full Story]

County Board to Eliminate Admin Briefings

Conan Smith, chair of the county board, began Wednesday’s meeting with an announcement: “This will be the last administrative briefing.”

Washtenaw County commissioners and staff at the Feb. 23, 2011 administrative briefing

Washtenaw County commissioners and staff gather around a conference table at the Feb. 23 administrative briefing.

Administrative briefings have been held for about a decade, taking place a week before the board’s regular meetings, which are scheduled for the first and third Wednesday of each month. They are public but informal, held in a small conference room at the county’s downtown Ann Arbor administration building – not in the boardroom. The meetings, which usually last no longer than an hour, are focused on reviewing the upcoming agenda for the back-to-back Ways & Means Committee meeting and regular board meeting the following week.

Several commissioners say they benefit from the discussions that emerge at these briefings. But Ronnie Peterson, who has never attended because of his objections to the format, has been a vocal critic, calling them “backroom” meetings where deliberations occur that he believes are too far out of the public eye – even though they conform to the Open Meetings Act.

He raised the issue again at the Feb. 16 board meeting, which resulted in a lengthy debate about whether administrative briefings and the board’s budget retreats are sufficiently accessible to the public. The outcome of that debate was a vote at the Feb. 16 meeting to hold future retreats after the board’s regular working sessions – both would be televised. However, an attempt to relocate and televise administrative briefings failed, with support only from Peterson, Kristin Judge and Wes Prater.

On Wednesday, Smith – who on Feb. 16 argued for keeping the administrative briefings unchanged – said that after discussions with county administrator Verna McDaniel, they had decided to eliminate the briefings in favor of a weekly agenda-setting meeting with staff and just three commissioners: Smith, as board chair; Rolland Sizemore Jr., chair of the Ways & Means Committee; and Yousef Rabhi, chair of the working sessions. Because the meeting will not involve a quorum of commissioners, it will not be required to be open to the public. [Full Story]