Stories indexed with the term ‘financial audit’

Homeless Issues Emerge on County Agenda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tax Question Focus of Transit Board Meeting

Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority board meeting (Feb. 20, 2014): The audience for the board’s regular monthly meeting was the largest in at least five years, as 35-40 people attended to show support for the main item on the agenda.

CEO of the AAATA Michael Ford

Michael Ford, CEO of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, just before the start of the Feb. 20, 2014 AAATA board meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

That main item was a board vote to place a millage request before voters on May 6, 2014. The request – on a 0.7 mill tax that would be levied to pay for additional services over the next five years – would need a majority of votes across the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township to be approved.

The millage is supposed to pay for a set of service improvements over a period of five years. Those improvements include increased frequency during peak hours, extended service in the evenings, and additional service on weekends. Some looped routes are being replaced with out-and-back type route configurations. The plan does not include operation of rail-based services.

The AAATA has calculated that the improvements in service add up to 90,000 additional service hours per year, compared to the current service levels, which is a 44% increase.

The board’s vote to put the question on a May 6 ballot was unanimous, and came after more than a dozen people spoke during public commentary at the start of the meeting, urging the board to take the step of making a funding request of voters.

Elected officials as well as leaders of the faith, labor and disability communities all spoke in favor of making the request of voters to fund the service expansion, citing arguments based on economic and social justice. They pointed to the long period of planning that had begun about three years ago with a much more ambitious effort to expand service countywide. The current, more limited approach – focused just on the “urban core” area of the city of Ann Arbor and the two Ypsilanti jurisdictions – was a way to meet urgent transportation needs, they said.

After the board’s vote, during public commentary at the end of the meeting, one Ypsilanti resident recalled her own history marching with Rosa Parks down Woodward Avenue in Detroit. Although she’s been involved in activism for many years, she told the board, she could not think of anything that she was in the room to witness that was this important to her personally and to the city in which she lives.

Compared to typical AAATA board meetings, the atmosphere was relatively boisterous, as supporters at times chanted, “More buses, more places, more often!” But one speaker at the end of the meeting cautioned against the celebratory mood, saying there was now a lot of work to do. A counterpoint to the solid support the board heard from most of the speakers had been offered by the very first speaker of the evening. He asked the board to delay the election until November, arguing that it would save the roughly $80,000-$100,000 cost of holding the May election, and result in broader participation in the vote. Another point raised by that speaker was concern that everyone pay an equitable share for the additional transportation.

Although the main event was the resolution that placed the millage question on the ballot, the board’s agenda featured nine other items, many of which were at least tangentially related to the millage question.

For example, in other action the board approved a change to its budget to allow for up to $100,000 to be spent on the cost of holding the special election. The board also approved a funding agreement with Ypsilanti Township, to make explicit what will happen to the township’s existing purchase of service agreement (POSA) if the millage is approved. And as part of the board’s routine annual business, it approved a funding request to the state of Michigan – but did not factor in an increased level of service in the budget submitted to the state. That was done on the instruction of the Michigan Dept. of Transportation. That request can be amended if the millage succeeds.

Also at the Feb. 20 meeting, the board approved changes to its bylaws. Those changes were prompted by a change in governance to the AAATA last year – the addition of the two Ypsilanti jurisdictions. With the increase from seven to 10 members, the definition for the number of board members constituting a quorum or a majority needed to be modified. Out of that review of the bylaws came a decision to increase public speaking turns from a two-minute time limit to three minutes.

In other business, the board approved the hiring of a consultant to help the AAATA with a planned upgrade to its computer-aided dispatch and vehicle locating software. The board also approved the recently completed audit report for the 2013 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, 2013.

Another item approved by the board was a new contract for unarmed security services. And finally, the board authorized a contract for an insurance broker.

Among the various operational updates received by the board was the announcement that the newly constructed Blake Transit Center in downtown Ann Arbor would be open by March 17, 2014. [Full Story]

DDA Tackles Street Lights, Land Sale Issue

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (Dec. 4, 2013): At its last regular meeting of the year, the board approved the final funding necessary to replace 81 light poles on Main Street, passed a resolution waiving a claim to reimbursement for the DDA’s costs associated with the former Y lot, and formally accepted its audit report for the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2013 (FY 2013).

On Dec. 4, 2013, city administrator Steve Powers attended his first DDA board meeting as a member.

On Dec. 4, 2013, city administrator Steve Powers attended his first DDA board meeting as a member. (Photos by the writer.)

The board also considered a resolution added to the agenda on the day of the meeting, related to the contribution-in-lieu (CIL) parking agreement for the 624 Church St. project – but ultimately decided to table that resolution pending further review at the committee level.

The DDA’s Dec. 4 resolution allocating $280,000 for the Main Street light pole replacement ended the political wrangling over who should pay for those downtown Ann Arbor light poles. Replacement of the deteriorating poles was identified by the city as a need in the first half of 2012. The source of an estimated $600,000 required for the project was specified in the city’s CIP (capital improvements plan) that year as coming from the DDA – though the funds were at that time not authorized by the board.

In the spring of 2013, the city council weighed how it might clarify the city’s ordinance that restricts the DDA TIF (tax increment finance) capture. In that context, DDA executive director Susan Pollay told the council that the DDA might not be able to afford to pay for the Main Street light pole project – if the council changed the ordinance language to clarify the calculations in a way that did not favor the DDA. The question of the DDA’s TIF capture was not ultimately settled until the council’s Nov. 18, 2013 meeting.

In the interim, the city council voted at its May 20, 2013 meeting to request that the DDA allocate at least $300,000 for the $580,000 light pole project. After the council then declined at its Oct. 21, 2013 meeting to approve a budget allocation for the remaining $280,000 that was needed for the project, the DDA board passed its Dec. 4 resolution, citing the urgency of replacing at least 36 of the poles as the reason for its decision.

According to the DDA’s resolution, staff will use the DDA funding to begin now with replacement of those poles most in need of being removed, with the remainder replaced in the summer of 2014.

Also at its Dec. 4 meeting – in connection with the city’s pending sale to Dennis Dahlmann of the former Y lot, at William Street and Fifth Avenue – the DDA board passed a resolution that waived claim to $1,439,959 in reimbursements from the sale that the DDA has calculated it might be owed. The city council adopted a policy on Oct. 15, 2012 that included depositing net proceeds (after reimbursements) from the former Y lot sale into the city’s affordable housing trust fund.

So the DDA board’s action is an attempt to increase the amount that will be deposited into the affordable housing trust fund. The resolution passed by the DDA board also calls on the city council to waive the city’s claim to reimbursements. The city purchased the property in 2003 for $3.5 million and has made interest-only payments for the last 10 years on a loan for that amount. The agreed-upon sale price to Dahlmann is $5.25 million.

In another formal action taken on Dec. 4, the DDA board accepted the audit report from the most recently concluded fiscal year – FY 2013, which ended June 30, 2013. The auditor issued an “unmodified” or clean opinion.

The board also considered a request, which was ultimately tabled, from the developer of the 624 Church St. project. The developer is asking for an extension of the contractual agreement under which parking permits could be purchased using the city’s contribution-in-lieu (CIL) program. The program allows a developer to satisfy certain zoning requirements that parking spaces be provided for a project – by purchasing monthly permits in the public parking system at a premium rate, instead of building the spaces on site. The developer of the 624 Church St. project wants the ability to extend the 15-year minimum to cover a 30-year financing period – based on feedback from firms that would be providing the financing. The DDA board ultimately voted to table the question pending further review by the board’s operations committee.

The board’s newest members introduced themselves at the meeting: city administrator Steve Powers and Main Street retailer Cyndi Clark.

Also at its Dec. 4 meeting, the board heard a range of updates on various projects and public commentary. Highlights included a report from the Main Street BIZ (business improvement zone), which has enough money in its fund balance to handle sidewalk snow removal for the coming winter, without collecting the winter tax assessment to which it is entitled. In a separate update, there’s a possibility that downtown ambassadors could be hired by the DDA as soon as the summer of 2014.

Other topics covered in updates included the effort to save the State Theater, the NHL’s Winter Classic on New Year’s Day, and The Puck Drops Here festivities on New Year’s Eve. [Full Story]

City’s Audit Triggers Standard State Letter

The city of Ann Arbor’s FY 2013 audit report – which received an “unmodified” or clean opinion from the firm that conducted the audit – has triggered a standard letter from the office of the State of Michigan Department of Treasury. The letter, dated Nov. 22, 2013 and received by the city on Dec. 4, resulted from a note in the audit report on the city’s local street fund.

According to city of Ann Arbor CFO Tom Crawford, the city’s response to the letter would not require any city council action. The city staff would be explaining to the state how the city’s internal financial procedures mitigate against what Crawford characterized as a “minor issue.”

A note in the city’s own audit report called … [Full Story]

County Board Briefed on Audit, Financials

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (April 3, 2013): With a third of the board absent, commissioners were briefed on the county’s 2012 audit – with a look toward changes that will impact future financial statements. The audit was clean.

Mark Kettner, Carla Sledge, Kelly Belknap, Pete Collinson, Rehmann, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Mark Kettner of the accounting firm Rehmann; Carla Sledge, Wayne County’s chief financial officer; Kelly Belknap, Washtenaw County’s finance director; and Pete Collinson, accounting manager for Washtenaw County. (Photos by the writer.)

The county’s finance staff, along with the auditor, Mark Kettner of Rehmann, highlighted several points, including a relatively dramatic increase in the general fund balance over the last few years – from $9.7 million in 2009 to $16.8 million at the end of 2012. Kettner also explained upcoming accounting changes that will require unfunded liabilities from the county’s pension and retirement healthcare plans – now totaling nearly $250 million – to be recorded in a different way, with more disclosure.

The new accounting changes – required by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) – won’t begin until 2015, but commissioner Dan Smith (R-District 2) wondered whether the county could implement the changes sooner. It might be possible, Kettner replied, but “I don’t know why you’d want to do it.” He suggested that the board hold a working session to go over the upcoming changes in more detail.

Kettner also pointed out that the changes will affect government entities in different ways. For example, it’s likely that there will be more impact on the city of Ann Arbor, because of how its many “enterprise” funds might be affected and the implications that would have on outstanding bonds. At minimum, the changes will mean more work for finance staff.

Also at the April 3 meeting, commissioners voted to add 39 new jobs in the community support and treatment service (CSTS) department, which provides mental health and substance abuse services to county residents. The work is primarily funded by the Washtenaw Community Health Organization, a partnership between the county and the University of Michigan Health System. Most of the new jobs are union positions. Dan Smith expressed concern about adding to the county’s payroll, but supported the resolution along with other commissioners in a unanimous vote.

The board also took an initial vote to dissolve The Washtenaw Ride. That Act 196 authority is a remnant of a failed attempt to create a countywide transit system last year. Efforts to expand the current reach of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority are still underway, but don’t require the structure that was put in place under Act 196.

The topic of public transportation was raised later in the meeting as well, as Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) asked about the county’s role in the southeast regional transit authority (RTA). The RTA was formed by the state legislature last year to coordinate regional transit in the city of Detroit and counties of Wayne, Macomb, Oakland and Washtenaw. There was not uniform support for Washtenaw County to be part of this effort, and it’s not yet clear what the impact will be on the AATA.

In other discussion, Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) highlighted a proposal in front of the Ann Arbor city council regarding possible ordinance changes governing the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. Depending on what the council decides, there might be implications for the county, he said, so he wanted to put it on the board’s radar. For background on this issue, see Chronicle coverage: “DDA Tax Capture Change Gets Initial OK” and “DDA Ramps Up PR after First Council Vote.”

Also briefly mentioned was a discussion that occurred at a late March county pension commission meeting, raising questions about the new labor contracts that the board approved on March 20, 2013. At issue is whether the county complied with a state law requiring supplemental actuarial analysis before pension benefit changes are adopted. The county administration subsequently conferred with outside legal counsel, and confirmed their view that no new actuarial analysis was necessary.

And although it wasn’t discussed at the April 3 board meeting, the recent labor contracts resulted in another issue related to compliance with state law: Elimination of the county’s healthcare benefits for domestic partners. [Full Story]

Column: Making Sunshine with FOIA

National Sunshine Week started yesterday. That’s not a celebration of daylight saving time, which started the same day. But the two could be connected. Yesterday’s annual conversion to daylight saving time is supposed to give everyone some extra literal sunshine toward the end of the day. Sunshine Week is an occasion to remind ourselves of the extra figurative sunshine in our governance – ensured in many states through legislation enacted in the 1970s.

FOIA Sunshine Law

Assertion of the attorney-client privilege can, on occasion, inappropriately shield public records from view. This column shines a light on the subject by considering such a case.

Sunshine Week is an occasion to remind ourselves that open government is good government.

Michigan has two laws that are key to open government: the Open Meetings Act (OMA) and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Both of these laws rely crucially on good faith. For example, the FOIA allows a public body to deny access to certain public records – like those that are protected by the attorney-client privilege.

If a record is requested and then denied based on the attorney-client privilege, a requester has no way of judging whether the assertion of privilege is appropriate. A requester relies on the good faith of government officials that privilege is not inappropriately extended to records that are not in fact protected by privilege. A requester can resort to a lawsuit, which under Michigan case law can result in the review of the records by a judge to confirm – or refute – the public body’s assertion of privilege. But few requesters have the wherewithal to file a lawsuit over a FOIA denial.

Here at The Ann Arbor Chronicle, we’re celebrating Sunshine Week by laying out a recent occasion when we requested records under the FOIA, were denied the records, appealed to the city administrator, were denied under the appeal, but then were able to obtain some of the records by other means. The record in question is an email written by Ann Arbor city attorney Stephen Postema. This provides an opportunity to evaluate independently, without filing a lawsuit, whether the city inappropriately asserted attorney-client privilege in denying access to a record.

We consulted on the matter with an attorney, Marcia Proctor, who agreed to analyze the relevant factors in a hypothetical scenario. Proctor is former general counsel of the Michigan Bar Association, a specialist in legal ethics, whose practice specializes in professional responsibility for lawyers and judges.

We first present the hypothetical scenario, followed by a brief discussion of the relevant factors in the scenario identified by Proctor. We then present the text of the email and apply the various tests outlined by Proctor. We reach the conclusion that the city inappropriately asserted attorney-privilege to the document.

We then evaluate whether a different exemption provided by the FOIA might apply. That exemption allows a public body to withhold communications internal to the body – to the extent that they are non-factual and preliminary to a final decision by the body. In the balancing test prescribed by the state statute, we reach a different conclusion than the city did: We think the public interest in disclosure outweighed any interest the city had in shielding this frank internal communication from public view.

Finally, we urge the city council to weigh in on the city’s administrative policy on FOIA response, which is currently being revised. It’s important for councilmembers to set the overarching principle that guides the city’s FOIA responses. And we think that guidance should be biased in favor of disclosure. [Full Story]

City Council Receives Revised Auditor’s Note

A revised auditor’s letter to the city of Ann Arbor was attached to the city council’s Feb. 4, 2013 agenda, and has been formally received by the council as a written communication from the city administrator.

The original version of the letter had indicated three instances of an employee with a vehicle allowance also being reimbursed for mileage, and characterized those reimbursements as a “violation of city policy.” It was subsequently revealed that it was the mileage reimbursements of city attorney Stephen Postema that had caused the auditor to flag the issue.

But after further review – pushed by Postema and chief financial officer Tom Crawford – auditor Mark Kettner agreed that there was no written policy per se that disallowed the … [Full Story]

AADL Gets Input on Downtown Library

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (Nov. 19, 2012): Though turnout didn’t match the attendance at a typical Ann Arbor city council meetings, several members of the public came to the AADL board meeting on Monday evening. It was the first board meeting since the Nov. 6 general election, when voters rejected a $65 million bond proposal that would have funded a new downtown library.

Ingrid Sheldon, Ann Arbor District Library, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ingrid Sheldon, a member of the Our New Downtown Library campaign committee, reviews her notes before speaking during public commentary at the Nov. 19 meeting of the Ann Arbor District Library board. (Photos by the writer.)

Two people spoke during public commentary, directly addressing the issue of the downtown building at 343 S. Fifth Ave. Ingrid Sheldon – representing the Our New Downtown Library committee, which had campaigned in support of the bond proposal – told the board that committee members were disappointed but willing to continue supporting the library however they can. Other committee members in attendance included Betsy Jackson and Donald Harrison.

Also addressing the board was Lyn Davidge, who had run for a seat on the library board but had not been elected. During her campaign she had advocated for renovation of the downtown building, not new construction. She volunteered to serve on any citizen advisory group that she hoped the board would form soon, to give input on the building’s future. Davidge also urged the board to add a public commentary slot at the end of their monthly meetings – because she felt it would encourage more participation.

There was scant discussion among board members about the Nov. 6 outcome or next steps for dealing with the downtown building. In a brief report to the board, Prue Rosenthal – chair of the board’s special facilities committee – indicated that the committee members hadn’t yet made any decisions or had any substantive discussions about what to do next. There was no discussion about the possibility of forming an advisory committee.

In other action, the Nov. 19 meeting included an audit report by the accounting firm Rehmann for AADL’s 2011-2012 fiscal year, which ended June 30. The audit was clean, and included a recommendation to start conducting periodic inventories of “moveable capital assets” – items like furniture and fixtures.

During her director’s report, Josie Parker highlighted a financial concern that is outside of AADL’s control: The possible elimination of the state’s personal property tax. PPT legislation will likely be handled in the state legislature’s lame duck session. If the PPT is eliminated and no replacement revenue is provided, the library would lose about $630,000 annually in revenues, Parker said. The library’s annual budget is roughly $12 million.

Parker also related positive news. Again this year, AADL has been ranked with five stars by the Library Journal – the highest ranking awarded by the journal for library use in a community. AADL is the only library system in Michigan that achieved that level. In its category – libraries with budgets between $10 million to $29.99 million – AADL ranked fourth nationwide.  [Full Story]

County Responds to Sylvan Twp. Debt Crisis

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (May 2, 2012): The agenda was a light one, but several items of information resulted in some lengthy discussions.

Ronnie Peterson, Rob Turner

From left: County commissioners Ronnie Peterson and Rob Turner. Turner has been the board's point person for dealing with a debt crisis in Sylvan Township. (Photos by the writer.)

Chief among those was a report on the debt crisis in Sylvan Township. The county picked up a $175,000 interest payment on May 1 that the township couldn’t afford to make, related to $12.5 million in bonds that were issued 11 years ago – and backed by the county’s full faith and credit – to build a water and wastewater treatment plant there.

Rob Turner – who represents District 1 on the county’s west side, where the township is located – reported that township officials hope to seek voter approval in August for a 20-year, 4.4 mill tax to cover the remaining payments. However, some commissioners expressed skepticism that township voters would approve a tax now, after rejecting a similar proposal in November. The county is also pursuing legal action for breach of contract, and is working with the township to reach a consent agreement that can be submitted to the court to outline a repayment strategy. If the millage doesn’t pass, it will be up to a judge to determine a tax levy. Commissioners were told that township residents will be assessed for the debt, one way or another.

In another report to the board, county administrator Verna McDaniel told commissioners that the county had agreed to a one-year extension to continue administering the Washtenaw Head Start program, through July 31, 2013. As part of the budget process last year, the county board had voted to relinquish its 46-year administration of the program on July 31, 2012. But the process to find another entity to administer Head Start has taken longer than expected, so the county reached an agreement with federal officials to operate the program another year.

McDaniel reported that the agreement waives a 20% local match of about $750,000 that the county had previously been required to provide. Because of that decrease there will be program changes, though details haven’t yet been worked out. While several commissioners praised the decision for easing the eventual transition to a new Head Start administrator, Ronnie Peterson expressed concern that the program’s high standards would be compromised.

The board also got an update on ongoing efforts to address how the county handles animal control services, in preparation to issue a request for proposals (RFP) later this year. Those services are currently being handled through a contract with the Humane Society of Huron Valley, which ends on Dec. 31, 2012. Board chair Conan Smith passed out a schedule for the board’s animal control policy task force meetings, with the first one set for Wednesday, May 9 from 8-10 a.m. at the county’s Learning Resource Center, 4135 Washtenaw Ave. The policy task force meetings will be open to the public.

Financial reports were also on the May 2 agenda, including the 2011 audit and an update on long-term liabilities. Wes Prater voiced concern that the county now has dramatically more in long-term liabilities than it did just five years ago. Total legacy liabilities, including pension and retiree health care benefits, have increased from $302.198 million at the end of 2007 to $346.572 million at the end of 2011.

Other items addressed during the meeting included: (1) an update from Yousef Rabhi on plans to put Project Grow gardens on the county-owned Platt Road site of the former juvenile justice center; (2) approval of up to $270,000 in bonds to fund an extension of the Sugar Creek drainage district in York and Augusta townships; (3) a resolution of support for the U.S. Clean Air Act; and (4) public commentary regarding the dangers of DTE Energy’s “smart” meters.

Commissioners also honored Hazel Bowman for her 25 years of volunteer service in the county’s foster grandparent program, giving her a standing ovation. [Full Story]

AATA Accepts FY 2011 Audit

At its March 15, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board voted to accept the audit for fiscal year 2011, which ended Sept. 30, 2011. It was an unqualified or “clean” opinion. The AATA board has typically accepted the audit in March for the past fiscal year, ending the previous fall. The AATA’s auditor is Plante Moran PLLC, which the AATA board approved for a one-year contract its Sept. 15, 2011 meeting.

A policy adopted by the AATA board on June 16, 2011 limits contracting with any one auditing firm to a total of eight years. That meant that the auditing firm the AATA had previously used, Rehmann Robson, was not eligible to provide auditing services when the … [Full Story]

State Treasurer Notes Ann Arbor Audit Issue

Attached to the Ann Arbor city council’s Feb. 6, 2012 meeting agenda is a letter from the state of Michigan treasurer’s office dated Dec. 29, 2011 noting that the city’s audit for the 2011 fiscal year (which ended June 30, 2011) had “repeated reported deficiencies from previous years.” The letter also stated: “There were reported deficiencies included with the audit report.” The state treasurer requests that the city respond with a “corrective action plan.”

The deficiencies are not “material weaknesses,” and do not affect the auditor’s unqualified or “clean” opinion. The deficiencies relate to proper controls and documentation on usage of procurement cards (P-Cards). [For detailed reporting on the audit, including the P-Card issue, see Chronicle coverage: "Audit is Unqualified 'Clean' ... [Full Story]

AAPS Delays Vote on Journeyman Contract

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education regular meeting (Nov. 30, 2011): In its main business of the meeting, the Ann Arbor school board voted 4-2 to postpone a vote on contracting with a non-union, non-local company for journeyman services related to heating, cooling, and ventilation.

Debate among trustees on the issue included discussion on paying prevailing wages, the legal requirements of accepting lowest reasonable bids, and due process of determining comparable services among bidders. Public commentary and the teachers’ union association report were also devoted fully to this issue.

Also at the Nov. 30 meeting, the board reflected on its decision to consolidate its busing services with the Washtenaw Intermediate School District, in light of firm audit numbers from 2010-11. Savings realized in the area of transportation fell nearly $1 million short of the district’s target in the first year of the consolidation. [Full Story]

Washtenaw County’s Taxable Value Falls

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (April 20, 2011): The county’s finances were the focus of Wednesday’s meeting, which included a presentation of the annual equalization report. That report is the basis for determining taxable value of property in the county, which in turn indicates how much tax revenue is collected by local taxing entities. In the world of municipal finance, the equalization report is a very big deal.

Raman Patel

Raman Patel, director of Washtenaw County's equalization department, presented his annual report at the April 20, 2011 board of commissioners meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Raman Patel, director of the county’s equalization department, told commissioners there was a 2.85% drop in taxable value this year. That’s an improvement over last year’s decline, when taxable value of property in the county fell 5.33%. It’s also a smaller decrease than was projected when preparing the county’s 2011 budget, which was built on the assumption of an 8.5% drop.

The impact on local taxing entities varies. The city of Ann Arbor saw a 1.21% drop, for example, while taxable value in Ypsilanti Township fell 11.39%.

The report also highlighted a shift in the county’s largest taxpayers. Just a few years ago, the top three taxpayers were Pfizer, General Motors and Ford. Now, they are Detroit Edison, McKinley Associates and Toyota.

The meeting also included a presentation of the 2010 comprehensive annual financial report, or CAFR. Kelly Belknap, the county’s finance director, highlighted the fact that the county ended 2010 with a $5.5 million general fund surplus – slightly more than the $5.3 million calculated to carry over into the 2011 budget. Mark Kettner from the accounting firm Rehmann Robson, which conducts the county’s audit, was also on hand to give a brief report on the 2010 audit.

In other business, the board approved an amendment to the brownfield plan for BST Investments in Dexter, and set two public hearings for their May 18 meeting related to brownfield plans that are being proposed: (1) Packard Square, a complex off of Packard Street on the site of the former Georgetown Mall; and (2) the LaFontaine Chevrolet redevelopment at 7120 Dexter-Ann Arbor Road in Dexter.

The board also authorized the office of the water resources commissioner to take court action in setting winter lake levels at Portage and Baseline lakes. The office operates the dam at Portage Lake that controls those levels.

During their time for communications, commissioners raised several issues, including: (1) a call to support the special education millage renewal, which is on the May 3 ballot; (2) discussions about consolidating the office of community development, ETCS (the employment training and community services department) and the economic development & energy department; and (3) what to do about the growing deer population.

Wednesday’s meeting began with a tribute to the long-time director of the Washtenaw Community Concert Band, Jerry Robbins. [Full Story]

School Board Reiterates Salary Rationale

Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education meeting (Nov. 17, 2010): Wednesday’s school board meeting opened with a standing-room only crowd that flowed out of the boardroom and into the hall. Most of the audience attended in support of a teacher who was put on administrative leave in August and is being investigated by the district. But there was also a good showing to cheer on Thurston’s 5th grade choir, which opened the meeting with a four-song performance. Another contingent attended to represent Roberto Clemente Student Development Center during its annual report to the board.

The Clemente report was the final part of an annual high school update, covering the district’s three alternative high schools, and will be reported in a separate, forthcoming Chronicle article.

In response to criticism and questions received from the community, the board also defended its decision to set the incoming superintendent’s salary in the range of $245,000, as well as other aspects of the superintendent search.

The board also discussed some of the financial challenges currently faced by the district following the annual audit report, in light of dwindling state funding for education. And they thanked the Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation, which will be providing $300,000 in grants to AAPS this school year from money raised through its One Million Reasons campaign. [Full Story]