Stories indexed with the term ‘Humane Society of Huron Valley’

Ann Arbor OKs Animal Control Deal

A $135,570 agreement on animal control services – between the city of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County – has been approved by the Ann Arbor city council. Action came at the council’s July 7, 2014 meeting.

Background to the city’s agreement includes a long process of discussions and negotiations between Washtenaw County and the Humane Society of Huron Valley (HSHV) – a conversation that began in 2011 when the amount of funding provided to HSHV was under scrutiny. A task force was appointed, and ultimately the county board of commissioners, at its Nov. 7, 2012 meeting, authorized contracting with HSHV for $500,000 a year for animal control services. [.pdf of contract between Washtenaw County and HSHV]

Recommended as part … [Full Story]

New Washtenaw County Board Kicks Off 2013

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Jan. 2, 2013): The first meeting of 2013 reflected a mix of celebration as well as some tensions on the newly constituted nine-member board.

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

Declan LaBarre, son of Andy and Megan LaBarre, was the youngest of many family members who attended the Jan. 2, 2013 meeting of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners to watch the new board get sworn in. Andy LaBarre is the newest Ann Arbor commissioner, elected on Nov. 6 to represent District 7. (Photos by the writer.)

After the swearing-in of commissioners – a ceremony officiated by county clerk Larry Kestenbaum – the two main agenda items were the election of board officers, and approval of revised board rules and regulations.

Two of the four new board officers are from Ann Arbor: Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8), who was elected chair of the board on an 8-1 vote, with Dan Smith (R-District 2) dissenting, and Andy LaBarre (D-District 7), who was unanimously elected chair of the board’s working sessions.

In explaining his vote against Rabhi later in the meeting, Dan Smith cited the previous tradition of rotating the chair position between Ann Arbor representatives and commissioners from the out-county area, to ensure that all voices are well-represented in all aspects of county business. Smith’s district covers some of the county’s more rural townships, including the townships of Webster, Northfield, Salem. The chair for the previous two years, Conan Smith (D-District 9), is also from Ann Arbor.

Dan Smith said it was especially troubling to have another Ann Arbor chair because Ann Arbor districts have declined proportionately to the rest of the districts – decreasing from four districts on an 11-district board to three districts on a 9-district board, because of redistricting.

Responding to those concerns, Conan Smith said he never liked the tradition of rotating chairs on the board, and felt they should choose the right person for the times. Rabhi said he hoped to set a tone of collaboration and cooperation, and looked forward to working with Dan Smith and other commissioners to help achieve their goals for the county.

Also elected were Alicia Ping of Saline (R-District 3) as vice chair and Felicia Brabec of Pittsfield Township (D-District 4) as chair of the board’s ways & means committee. Dan Smith also dissented on the election of Brabec.

The first meeting of each year includes a review of the rules and regulations that govern the board’s actions. The major change, on a 5-4 vote, was to remove the ability of a commissioner to abstain from a vote. The amendment to strike the rule was put forward by Conan Smith. Others voting in favor of the deletion were Kent Martinez-Kratz (D-District 1), Felicia Brabec (D-District 4), Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5), and Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8).

The question of abstaining from votes typically relates to resolutions on state or federal issues, over which the county board has no control. This year, the county board already appears to be moving to weigh in on at least one state-level issue. The board called a special working session for Jan. 3 to discuss the state’s new “right to work” law, which was passed during the legislature’s lame duck session late last year and signed into law by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. That meeting will be covered in a separate Chronicle report.

The Jan. 2 board meeting also included an update on negotiations about the county’s contract with the Humane Society of Huron Valley (HSHV). The agreement, which hasn’t  yet been finalized, would pay HSHV $550,000 annually to provide animal control services to the county over four years. Of that, $460,000 would come from the county’s general fund. The remaining amount would be paid through contracts with other municipalities that have animal control ordinances: the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, and the townships of Pittsfield, Superior and Ypsilanti. County administrator Verna McDaniel said she’s already had discussions with those entities, as well as with the city of Saline.

Some commissioners expressed concerns about the Humane Society contract. Rolland Sizemore Jr. objected to HSHV receiving amounts over $550,000 if new revenue is brought in – because he felt the revenue should come back to the county instead. Ronnie Peterson worried about the additional financial burden that just a few municipalities would bear, and wanted to see every municipality help pay for animal control services. The new contract with HSHV is expected to be finalized later this month, and does not require board approval. [Full Story]

2013 County Budget Includes Board Pay Bump

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Nov. 7, 2012): A long post-election meeting included several debates with an impact on county finances.

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

Washtenaw County commissioners Barbara Bergman and Yousef Rabhi at the Nov. 7 county board meeting. Rabhi usually wears his hair tied back, but he let it down at the beginning of the meeting to announce a plan to raise money for local shelters – he’s collecting pledges for each inch he cuts off. (Photos by the writer.)

Taking another step toward addressing a year-long controversy over how much to pay for animal control services, the board authorized contracting with the Humane Society of Huron Valley for $500,000 annually. The action enables the administration to negotiate a contract with HSHV for up to four years, with the option of adjusting the amount based on changes to the taxable value of property in the county. Voting against the resolution were Dan Smith, Wes Prater and Rolland Sizemore Jr. Ronnie Peterson was absent.

The county would not likely pay that entire amount. There are preliminary commitments from five municipalities with their own animal control ordinances, to help the offset the cost of the HSHV contract. Those entities are the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township, Pittsfield Township, and Superior Township.

Several commissioners expressed concern that the county is essentially in the same position as it was when this process began. Wes Prater objected to the fact that the county’s procurement policy wasn’t being followed, because a request for proposals (RFP) wasn’t issued.  Ultimately, a sufficient number of commissioners agreed to back the resolution, giving it final approval. The contract itself will not require authorization by the board.

In another move related to animal control services, the board gave final approval to a civil infractions ordinance, giving the county more flexibility to designate violations of other county ordinances as a civil infraction, rather than a criminal misdemeanor. [.pdf of proposed ordinance] In the context of animal control, enforcement of the county’s dog licensing ordinance is low because the current penalty – a criminal misdemeanor of 90 days in jail or a $500 fine – is relatively harsh. The idea is that enforcement would improve if a lesser civil infraction could be used.

Commissioners also debated options for changing their own compensation, ultimately giving initial approval to boost their base salaries from $15,500 to $15,750 annually and replacing per diem payments with stipends, effective Jan. 1, 2013. An amendment by Yousef Rabhi also increased the pay for chairs of the ways & means committee and the working session – bringing them to the same level as the board chair, at $3,000 more annually than the base salary of other commissioners. Voting against the changes as amended were Dan Smith and Rolland Sizemore Jr. A final vote is expected at the board’s Dec. 5 meeting, when a final vote on the overall 2013 budget will also occur.

In non-budget items, Dan Smith brought forward a resolution to rescind the board’s previous support for a regional transit authority (RTA) that’s being proposed in Lansing. The RTA would include the city of Detroit and the counties of Washtenaw, Wayne, Oakland and Macomb. Conan Smith has been an advocate for that effort, both as chair of the county board and in his role as executive director of the Michigan Suburbs Alliance. During deliberations on the item, some commissioners criticized Conan Smith for acting on behalf of the board and not keeping them fully informed. Wes Prater felt Conan Smith’s actions reflected disrespect for other commissioners – but Smith said he meant no disrespect.

A sense of disrespect was also felt by a resident who attended the Nov. 7 meeting to advocate for the county’s help in establishing a daytime warming center for the homeless. Alexandra Hoffman chastised the board because no commissioner responded to commentary about a warming center, and instead the remarks by advocates for the center had been followed by “disturbingly lighthearted talk about haircuts.”

Hoffman was referring to an announcement earlier in the meeting by Yousef Rabhi, whose hair is longer than any other commissioner, male or female. He hopes to get donations of $500 for every inch he cuts, to raise money for three local nonprofits: Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, Interfaith Hospitality Network, and SafeHouse Center. Rabhi told Hoffman that he was simply trying to raise awareness and money for the same issues that the warming center advocates supported.

The meeting fell the day after the Nov. 6 general election, which had resulted in the defeat of two of the nine commissioners who were running for re-election: Republican Rob Turner and Democrat Wes Prater. In District 1, Turner was outpolled by Democrat Kent Martinez-Kratz, decreasing the number of Republicans on the future nine-member board from three to two. Republican Alicia Ping won the District 3 seat over Prater – as the two incumbents faced each other due to redistricting that took effect with this election cycle. The last meeting for Turner and Prater – as well as for Democrats Leah Gunn and Barbara Bergman, who did not seek re-election – will be on Dec. 5.

It’s likely that the new board, which takes office in January, will eventually deal with a controversial topic that was raised during an appointments caucus on Nov. 7: Possible consolidation of the Washtenaw County road commission with county operations. During the caucus, held immediately prior to the regular meeting, Conan Smith suggested not yet reappointing the one road commissioner, Doug Fuller, whose term is expiring – though Fuller will continue to serve. Smith wanted to give the new county board some flexibility in discussing the future of the road commission. Some of the other issues emerging during the appointments caucus related to the role of the county’s historic district commission, economic development corporation, and the criminal justice community collaborative. [Full Story]

$500K Deal with Humane Society OK’d

Taking another step toward addressing a year-long controversy over how much to pay for animal control services, the Washtenaw County board authorized contracting with the Humane Society of Huron Valley for $500,000 annually. The action – a 7-3 vote taken at the board’s Nov. 7, 2012 meeting – enables the administration to contract with HSHV for up to four years, with the option of adjusting the contract for inflation based on changes to taxable value of property in the county. Voting against the resolution were Dan Smith, Wes Prater and Rolland Sizemore Jr. Ronnie Peterson was absent.

The county would not likely pay that entire amount, however. According to a staff memo accompanying the Nov. 7 resolution, county administrator Verna … [Full Story]

County Floats Contract with Humane Society

On Nov. 7, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners will be dealing with several items related to the 2013 budget, including a much-anticipated proposal for handling animal control services.

Washtenaw County administration building

The meetings of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners are held at the county administration building at the corner of Main and Catherine in Ann Arbor.

County administrator Verna McDaniel is bringing forward a resolution for a contract with the Humane Society of Huron Valley for $500,000 annually – the same amount that HSHV was paid in 2011, before a controversial decision to cut funding for animal control services. HSHV’s current contract with the county, which expires on Dec. 31, is for $415,000. Originally, the county had planned to cut funding for mandated animal control services to $250,000 annually for 2012 and 2013.

If approved, the resolution would authorize a contract with HSHV for up to four years, and would direct McDaniel to seek separate contracts with other local governments to offset the county’s costs. According to a staff memo, five municipalities with their own animal control ordinances – the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township, Pittsfield Township, and Superior Township – have made preliminary commitments to help fund those services.

The new contract with HSHV would require a revision to the budget – one of several budget adjustments that are proposed for 2013. The county works on a two-year planning cycle, but must approve its budget annually. In late 2011, commissioners approved budgets for 2012 and 2013. On Nov. 7, the board will be asked to “reaffirm” the 2013 general fund budget, with revisions that bring revenues and expenditures to $102.84 million.  Commissioners will also receive a third-quarter budget update for 2012.

It’s possible that commissioners will make additional amendments to the 2013 budget at the meeting. For example, the agenda includes a placeholder item related to commissioner compensation. [See Chronicle coverage: "Compensation Change for County Board?"]

A public hearing on the 2013 budget is set for the board’s final meeting of the year, on Dec. 5. Commissioners are expected to take a final vote on the budget at that meeting.

Commissioners are also planning a caucus immediately prior to their Nov. 7 meeting, starting at 5:30 p.m., to discuss nominations to various county boards, commissions and committees. Those appointments are expected to be voted on at the board meeting later that evening. [Full Story]

County OKs Animal Control Recommendations

Washtenaw County commissioners have passed a resolution outlining a general set of recommendations for animal control services, put forward by a policy task force that’s been meeting since May. The unanimous vote occurred at the board’s Oct. 3, 2012 meeting. It was an item brought forward during the meeting, and had not been part of the published agenda. The commissioners also received a more detailed report from the task force, which they plan to discuss at a later date. [.pdf of policy task force report]

The approval of recommendations works in concert with a directive already passed by the board at its Sept. 19 meeting. At that meeting, commissioners approved a resolution brought forward by Barbara Bergman that directed county … [Full Story]

County Board Puts Off Vote on Act 88 Tax Hike

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Sept. 19, 2012): After passing a tax increase to support services for indigent veterans, county commissioners debated and ultimately postponed action on increasing a tax for agriculture and economic development – also known as the Act 88 millage.

Veterans attending the Sept. 19, 2012 county board meeting saluted during the Pledge of Allegiance.

Veterans attending the Sept. 19, 2012 Washtenaw County board meeting saluted the American flag during the Pledge of Allegiance.

The indigent veterans tax was uncontroversial. Several Vietnam veterans attended the meeting and spoke passionately about the need to support soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The tax was increased to 0.0286 mills, to be levied in December 2012. The current 0.025 mills brought in $344,486 in 2012. The increased millage is expected to raise $390,340 in revenues for use during 2013.

But a proposal by Conan Smith to increase the Act 88 millage generated debate, primarily related to procedural issues. On Sept. 5, commissioners had given initial approval to a tax of 0.05 mills, unchanged from the current rate. At the time, Smith raised the possibility of an increase to 0.06 mills and a change in the way the millage revenues are administered, but he made no formal amendment. The board set a Sept. 19 public hearing for the 0.05 mills, and several representatives from groups that receive revenue proceeds spoke in favor of the tax.

Later in the meeting – after the public hearing – Smith made a formal motion to amend the resolution, raising the tax rate to 0.06 mills, a 20% increase that would bring in $838,578. Ronnie Peterson objected to the process, saying that although it might be legal, but was not moral. Wes Prater said the move lacked integrity. Smith argued that the law didn’t require any public hearing at all, and that the board was going above and beyond its obligations. He pointed out that he had notified commissioners of his intent on Sept. 5, and had passed out a memo about his proposal at the Sept. 6 working session. [See Chronicle coverage: "County Tax Hike for Economic Development?"]

Ultimately, a majority of commissioners voted to postpone action on Smith’s amendment until Oct. 3, when they also voted to set a second public hearing on the 0.06 mills proposal.

Also generating considerable debate was a resolution related to animal control services. The resolution, brought forward by Barbara Bergman, directs county administrator Verna McDaniel to begin negotiations with the Humane Society of Huron Valley toward a new contract for services. It further states that if McDaniel doesn’t believe sufficient progress is being made by Oct. 30, then she’s authorized to issue a request for proposals (RFP) to seek bids from other organizations. It passed on a 10-to-1 vote, with dissent from Alicia Ping.

Much of the debate over the second resolution centered on the fact that formal recommendations from the tasks force haven’t yet been presented to the board. There were also questions over how much flexibility McDaniel will have in her negotiations. The current 2013 budget has allocated $250,000 for animal control services. This year, the county is paying $415,000 to HSHV, down from $500,000 in 2011. Commissioners expect that the final amount negotiated for 2013 will be higher than the budgeted $250,000 – and if that’s the case, the board will need to amend the budget.

Ping objected to the process, saying that it could undercut HSHV’s position if the board eventually decides to issue an RFP, because other bidders would know how much HSHV is willing to bid. She also objected to taking action without knowing the task force recommendations. “This whole process is flawed on its face,” she said.

The board took a range of other actions, including changes to an ordinance for the county’s natural areas preservation program. Commissioners eliminated a previous restriction that only 7% of millage funds could be used for management or stewardship. In addition, they approved an amendment by Conan Smith eliminating a separate requirement for allocating 75% of the millage to the acquisition and maintenance of natural areas and 25% for agricultural land. Now, allocations can be made at the discretion of the county parks and recreation commission.

Commissioners approved a variety of state grant applications and reimbursements, as well as the 2012-2013 budget for its community support & treatment services (CSTS) department. Three resolutions of appreciation were also presented during the meeting – to Rodney Stokes, former director of the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources; Susan Sweet Scott, a long-time county employee; and the Ann Arbor alumnae chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority for 50 years of service in Washtenaw County. [Full Story]

County to Start Negotiating with Humane Society

Generating considerable debate at the Washtenaw County board’s Sept. 19, 2012 meeting was a resolution related to animal control services. But it passed on a 10-to-1 vote, with dissent from Alicia Ping. The resolution, brought forward by Barbara Bergman, directs county administrator Verna McDaniel to begin negotiations with the Humane Society of Huron Valley toward a new contract for services. It further states that if McDaniel doesn’t believe sufficient progress is being made by Oct. 30, then she’s authorized to issue a request for proposals (RFP) to seek bids from other organizations.

The issue of how to handle animal control services for the county has been a contentious one, dating back to budget cuts proposed in 2011. The county currently contracts … [Full Story]

Task Force: Negotiate with Humane Society

Washtenaw County board of commissioners – animal control policy task force meeting (Sept. 13, 2012): With five of 11 county commissioners present, a task force for developing policies on the county’s animal control services thrashed through a list of recommendations to make to the full board, possibly at its Sept. 19 meeting.

Jenny Paillon, Tanya Hilgendorf

From left: Jenny Paillon, director of operations for the Humane Society of Huron Valley, and HSHV executive director Tanya Hilgendorf. They were attending a Sept. 13, 2012 meeting of the county’s animal control policy task force.

But at the end of the two-hour task force session, commissioners also opened the door to start direct negotiations with the Humane Society of Huron Valley, rather than pursuing a request for proposals (RFP) from other vendors. For many years HSHV has held the contract to provide services to the county, including those that are state-mandated. Its current contract expires on Dec. 31, 2012. Key points of contention have been the amount that the county is willing to pay for animal control services, both mandated and non-mandated, and how much those services actually cost.

In advocating for negotiations with HSHV, Rolland Sizemore Jr. expressed concern that if the board pursues the RFP process, a service provider won’t be lined up by the end of this year. Then the county will be in the same position it was in the beginning of 2012 – scrambling to get a new contract. He also pointed out that if the county issues an RFP and no other organizations respond, then the HSHV will have more leverage over the county “because they’ll know we’re screwed.”

Tanya Hilgendorf, HSHV’s executive director, supported starting contract negotiations. She attended the Sept. 13 meeting and praised the work of the task force as well as a separate group led by sheriff Jerry Clayton, which has been analyzing costs for animal control services. People are more informed than they were when this process began in May, she said, adding that there was more trust between the county and HSHV, too.

At least one commissioner, Barbara Bergman, had explicitly stated earlier in the meeting that she didn’t trust HSHV yet. She said the last time that the county had trusted HSHV, commissioners didn’t get good data about the services that were being provided, and the cost of those services. Bergman – who had left the meeting by the time a suspension of the RFP process was discussed – has been a strong advocate for curbing costs related to animal control, in favor of funding programs for human services.

The task force reached consensus on eight recommendations for animal control services to include in an RFP, or for a contract with HSHV. Those include licensing all dogs at the point of adoption or recovery, holding all stray animals for the minimum number of days required by law, and providing animal cruelty investigations.

The group also reached agreement on broader policy recommendations, including several longer-term goals: creating a civil infractions ordinance and fee structure for unlicensed dogs, and working with local units of government to create a unified, countywide dog licensing program. Currently three other jurisdictions – Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township – have their own dog licensing programs, with varying fee levels.

Several other changes might be proposed in the future. Hilgendorf offered to draft language for an ordinance prohibiting ownership of certain types of exotic animals. She also hoped that commissioners eventually would consider an anti-chaining ordinance and spay/neuter ordinance – “even if it’s just for pit bulls,” which has worked well in Ypsilanti Township, she said. [The township has an ordinance requiring that pit bulls must be spayed or neutered.] Hilgendorf also suggested addressing the issue of feral cats, which are a problem in some parts of the county. HSHV already operates a “trap, neuter, return” program aimed at curbing the feral cat population.

When the task force was formed earlier this year, it were given a deadline of Oct. 15 to bring recommendations to the full board. It’s likely that will happen sooner, possibly at the board’s Sept. 19 meeting. As of Sept. 16, however, there was no agenda item for these recommendations on the board’s ways & means committee agenda or the regular board agenda.

The relationship between HSHV and the county has a long, complex history. For additional background, see ”Next Steps on Animal Control Policy,” “Work Continues on Animal Control Policy,” and ”Revenue Options Eyed for Animal Control.” More information related to this process is also posted on the county’s website. [Full Story]

Revenue Options Eyed for Animal Control

At a recent task force meeting held outdoors due to a power outage, Washtenaw County commissioners focused on possible ways to generate more revenue for animal control services – the latest topic in a series of policy task force meetings on that general issue.

Mike Walsh, Mark Heusel, Jenny Paillon

From left: Mike Walsh and Mark Heusel, board members of the Humane Society of Huron Valley, and Jenny Paillon, HSHV’s director of operations, at a July 25, 2012 Washtenaw County board of commissioners’ animal control policy task force meeting. The session was held outside at the Learning Resource Center on Washtenaw Avenue near the county jail – because at the time electricity was out in that area of town. (Photos by the writer.)

The idea is that if more revenue is available to cover costs, the county can contract out for a higher level of service – beyond what’s mandated by the state. The question of what the county is obligated to do regarding animal control services, and how much those services cost, has been a contentious issue since the last budget cycle. That’s when county commissioners cut the amount allocated to the contract with the Humane Society of Huron Valley, which has provided animal control services to the county on a the  basis of that contract. A new contract was negotiated with HSHV at a lower rate; and that arrangement ends on Dec. 31, 2012.

The current contract with HSHV was approved at the county board’s Feb. 15, 2012 meeting. At that same meeting, the board created its policy task force and a separate work group, led by sheriff Jerry Clayton, to develop a cost structure for those services. These two groups are laying the groundwork for soliciting proposals later this year for an entity to handle the county’s animal control services. HSHV is viewed by many commissioners as the preferred agency to continue handling this work. Representatives of the nonprofit have attended the policy task force meetings, and are members of the sheriff’s work group.

A discussion at the task force’s previous meeting on June 29 had indicated that representatives from other communities with their own animal control ordinances – Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township – would be invited to participate at the July 25 session. That didn’t happen, though it will likely occur at a future meeting. Commissioners also had planned to invite county prosecuting attorney Brian Mackie –as his office has purview over prosecuting animal cruelty cases and other legal issues related to animal control, which have an impact on expenses. Board chair Conan Smith reported that it hadn’t been possible for Mackie to attend.

Several revenue options were discussed on July 25, but no clear consensus was reached about which of them to pursue. Ideas included (1) licensing cats and exotic animals, like snakes; (2) allowing veterinarians to issue licenses; (3) easing other roadblocks to licensing; (4) taking a summer census of animals, then following up to ensure that the animals are licensed; and (5) making the lack of a license a civil infraction, rather than a misdemeanor. This would allow the county to impose fines, rather than jail time.

The next session is set for Thursday, Aug. 9 at 2 p.m. at the county administration building, 200 N. Main in Ann Arbor. It’s expected to include both the policy task force and the sheriff’s work group, and set the stage for an Aug. 22 meeting that would include staff from the county prosecutor’s office and judiciary. A recommendation and RFP (request for proposals) are expected to be presented to the board in September.

For additional background on this issue, see Chronicle coverage: “Work Continues on Animal Control Policy” and ”Next Steps on Animal Control Policy.” More information related to this process is also posted on the county’s website. [Full Story]

Work Continues on Animal Control Policy

Members of a task force of Washtenaw County commissioners are developing a policy to guide the county’s investment in animal control services. At their most recent meeting, on June 29, they talked through different service levels that the county might provide, beyond what are mandated by the state.

Dan Smith, Conan Smith, Pete Simms

From left: Washtenaw County commissioners Dan Smith and Conan Smith, and Pete Simms, management analyst with the county clerk's office.

Their work is laying a foundation for soliciting proposals later this year – possibly by September – for an entity to handle the county’s animal control services. The county currently contracts with the Humane Society of Huron Valley for that work.

A separate work group, led by sheriff Jerry Clayton, is developing a cost structure for those services. A preliminary cost analysis has already been drafted, but a more detailed report is being prepared that will give estimates for different service levels that might be offered.

The policy task force and cost work group were created by the county board at its Feb. 15, 2012 meeting, when commissioners also approved a $415,000 contract with the HSHV to provide animal control services for the county through Dec. 31, 2012. The task force and work group will likely come together at a July 25 meeting, another step toward setting a new scope of services tied to costs.

The July 25 discussion is expected to include representatives from other communities that have their own animal control ordinances, including Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township. Commissioners also plan to invite county prosecuting attorney Brian Mackie to the table as well – his office has purview over prosecuting animal cruelty cases and other legal issues related to animal control, which have an impact on expenses.

At the June 29 meeting, there was some discussion about issuing a preliminary request for proposals (RFP), to get responses about costs for a minimum level of service. However, it’s not clear whether that idea has traction. Rob Turner, the county board’s liaison to the cost work group, said he was shocked that such an approach might be considered, given the amount of work that’s being done to develop a policy and cost structure as the basis for issuing an RFP. Conan Smith, the board chair who is spearheading this effort, indicated it was not his intent to sideline the existing process.

Throughout the June 29 meeting, commissioner Barbara Bergman was vocal in her support of keeping costs to a minimum and in sticking to the county’s mandated services. She said her compassion is for human beings who don’t have food or shelter, and she doesn’t want to be considered uncompassionate just because she wants the county’s funding to be spent on humans.

A representative from the Humane Society of Huron Valley – Jenny Paillon, HSHV director of operations – told commissioners that ideas for generating new revenue are also being developed, and could be presented at the July 25 meeting. That meeting is scheduled from 8-10 a.m. at the lower level of the county administration building, 200 N. Main in Ann Arbor.

All of these meetings are open to the public and are being facilitated by members of the Dispute Resolution Center. Information related to this process – including meeting minutes and materials provided to commissioners – are also posted on the county’s website. [Full Story]

Next Steps on County’s Animal Control Policy

Washtenaw County board of commissioners – animal control task force meeting (May 23, 2012): Five of the 11 county commissioners gathered on Wednesday to start talking about a policy for animal control services in Washtenaw County.

Rob Turner

At the May 23 meeting of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners' task force on animal control services, commissioner Rob Turner discusses the different service levels the county could provide. Turner is also the board's liaison to a work group led by sheriff Jerry Clayton that's developing a cost analysis of animal control services. (Photos by the writer.)

It was the second meeting scheduled. The first one – on May 9 – was canceled after only two commissioners showed up. The intent is to set policy that will guide a request for proposals that the county plans to issue later this year, for its next contract to provide animal control services. Those services are currently handled by the Humane Society of Huron Valley (HSHV), in a contract that expires at the end of 2012.

The wide-ranging discussion revealed tensions between the push to control costs – a point that’s been driving these changes – and a desire by some to provide a higher level of service than what’s mandated by the state. There seemed to be at least some initial consensus that while the state mandate focuses on stray dogs and animal cruelty, the county should support a broader range of animal control services, depending on the cost.

Also discussed was the need to bring more communities into the conversation – at least those that have their own animal control ordinances, including Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township. Representatives from those municipalities are participating in a separate work group, led by sheriff Jerry Clayton, that’s developing a cost structure for animal control services. The hope is that other communities will also give financial support to HSHV, or possibly another service provider.

Four additional task force meetings are scheduled: on June 13, July 25, Aug. 22 and Sept. 12. All meetings are open to the public and will provide an opportunity for public commentary. They’ll take place from 8-10 a.m. at the county’s Learning Resource Center, 4135 Washtenaw Ave., and are being facilitated by representatives of the Dispute Resolution Center. [Full Story]

Low Turnout for Animal Control Task Force

Only two of 11 Washtenaw County commissioners – board chair Conan Smith and Barbara Bergman – showed up for a Wednesday morning policy task force meeting on animal control issues, so the meeting was canceled. Smith had convened the meeting as the first of six for commissioners to discuss a range of policy issues, including identifying the county’s state-mandated animal control services, selecting the non-mandated services the board would like to offer, and identifying the revenue sources available to fund those services.

It’s part of a broader process that began last year when the county board – as part of developing the 2012-2013 budget – decided to cut funding for animal control services, which it has handled through a contract with the … [Full Story]

Report: Better-than-Expected ’12 Tax Revenue

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (April 18, 2012): Most of the recent county board meeting was devoted to what’s become an annual ritual: Delivery of the county equalization report.

Raman Patel, Conan Smith

Raman Patel, left, Washtenaw County's equalization director, shares a laugh with county board chair Conan Smith before the April 18, 2012 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

The report includes a calculation of taxable value for all jurisdictions in the county, which determines tax revenues for those entities that rely on taxpayer funding, including cities and townships, public schools, libraries and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, among others.

It was the 41st report that Raman Patel, the county’s equalization director, has completed – and he delivered some positive news. The county’s general fund budget was approved with a projection of $59.734 million in tax revenues. But actual revenues, based on 2012 taxable value, are now estimated at $62.395 million – for an excess in 2012 general fund revenues of $2.66 million.

Despite reporting better-than-expected taxable value, Patel cautioned that if the potential repeal of the state’s personal property tax is passed – being considered by legislators in a set of bills introduced last week – it could result in a loss of more than $5 million in annual revenues for the county government alone, and more than $40 million for all taxing jurisdictions in Washtenaw County.

Although most of the meeting focused on Patel’s presentation, other business covered a variety of issues. Commissioners discussed the next steps in an effort to deal with mandated animal control services in the county. A work group has met that includes representatives from the county, the Human Society of Huron Valley, and other municipalities that have animal control ordinances, such as the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, and Ypsilanti Township. Some commissioners highlighted the need to develop a policy to guide the work group, which will give recommendations about the cost of animal control services.

Related to the March 15 tornado that touched down in the Dexter area, board chair Conan Smith reported that he had declared a state of emergency earlier this month and sent a letter to Gov. Rick Snyder requesting reimbursement to local municipalities for costs incurred as a result of the devastation. Local governments itemized about $1 million in costs, but the total – primarily in damages to residences – is estimated at over $9 million. [.pdf of Smith's letter to Snyder] [.pdf summarizing tornado-related expenses]

During the meeting, the board also passed a proclamation recognizing the National Training Institute, put on by the National Joint Apprenticeship & Training Committee – a partnership of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA). The training institute is held in Ann Arbor at the University of Michigan and this year runs from July 25-Aug. 3, bringing more than 3,000 people to town. Commissioner Rob Turner, an electrical contractor, is a member of both the IBEW and NECA.

Among the other action items at the April 18 meeting, commissioners (1) set a public hearing for May 2 to get public input on an annual plan for the Washtenaw Urban County, which gets federal funding for projects in low-income neighborhoods; (2) authorized the issuance of up to $6 million in notes at the request of the Washtenaw County road commission, for work in Ypsilanti Township; and (3) approved the hiring of Nimish Ganatra as assistant prosecuting attorney over the dissent of Wes Prater, who objected to paying a salary above the midpoint range. [Full Story]

County Policy Issues: Salaries, Animals

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Feb. 15, 2012): Two major items – and underlying policy related to them – took up much of the Feb. 15 county board meeting.

Mark Heusel

Mark Heusel, vice president of the board for the Humane Society of Huron Valley, with his daughter at the Feb. 15 Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

After months of uncertainty and sometimes heated negotiations, the county approved an agreement with the Humane Society of Huron Valley through 2012, along with a strategy for a longer-term solution to the county’s animal control services.

A work group, led by the sheriff, is now tasked with determining the cost of animal control services. The work group will involve other jurisdictions in the county that have animal control ordinances – like the city of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti Township – but do not currently make financial contributions to the county’s animal control services. The group will present a report to the board by Sept. 15 that recommends a final cost methodology and budget for 2013, based on an agreed-upon scope of services.

In an amendment to the resolution that was proposed from the floor, the board also created a separate task force to develop an animal control policy for the county. The policy will be used to guide the scope of services for a request-for-proposals (RFP). Meetings of the task force will be open to the public and to any commissioner who wants to participate. The task force will submit a preliminary report to the board by May 15, with a final report due by Oct. 15.

Following a lengthy discussion later in the meeting, the board also gave initial approval to an administrative restructuring proposal that included a net reduction of four positions, an estimated annual savings of $326,422, and creation of a new “cross-lateral” team of four current senior managers. The issue of pay increases – given as a result job reclassifications – prompted debate about whether the county’s current policy treats employees equitably at the low end of the pay scale.

Commissioner Ronnie Peterson voted against the restructuring. He objected to the 4% increase that will be given to the cross-lateral team, saying the raises aren’t justified in light of concessions that union employees gave in the most recent round of contract negotiations. A final vote on the proposal is expected at the board’s March 7 meeting.

In other board action, commissioners approved allocating $200,000 to the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti convention and visitors bureaus (CVBs) as part of funding for a Pure Michigan campaign focused on the Ann Arbor area. The funding comes out of revenues from the county’s accommodations tax. The Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC) is developing a Pure Michigan pilot program, entitled “Sense of Place,” to combine support for tourism and economic development. The Ann Arbor/Washtenaw County area has been chosen as the first region to be featured as a partner in this program, which will include a $1 million national TV ad campaign.

The board approved several other items during the Feb. 15 meeting, including: (1) labor agreements with the final four of 17 bargaining units representing county employees; (2) a change in board rules allowing commissioners to abstain from voting; and (3) a Whitmore Lake improvement project. [Full Story]

County Board OKs Humane Society Contract

At its Feb. 15, 2012 meeting, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners approved a $415,000 contract with the Humane Society of Huron Valley that will provide animal control services for the county just through Dec. 31, 2012. The county’s previous contract with HSHV, for $500,000 annually, expired on Dec. 31, 2011. Since then, the two entities have been operating under a $29,000 month-by-month contract.

County officials say the new contract will provide time for ongoing talks to develop a longer-term solution to animal control services in Washtenaw County, including services that are mandated by the state. During the rest of 2012, the county will work with HSHV to determine the cost of an animal service unit, and eventually will issue a … [Full Story]

County Preps for More Restructuring

Washtenaw County board of commissioners working session (Feb. 2, 2012): Commissioners got a preview from county administrator Verna McDaniel about plans for more restructuring of Washtenaw County operations, in the wake of 117 retirements at the end of 2011 and an ongoing need to cut costs.

Verna McDaniel

Washtenaw County administrator Verna McDaniel. (Photos by the writer)

McDaniel is asking departments to explore a “continuum of opportunities,” from cooperation on one end of the spectrum, to consolidation on the other end. As an example, she noted that the recent 911 dispatch consolidation between the city of Ann Arbor and the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office – an agreement at the county board approved at its Jan. 18, 2012 meeting – began as cooperation, when county dispatchers co-located with Ann Arbor’s operations.

As an initial step, at the board’s Feb. 15 meeting McDaniel will be asking for approval to restructure support services in administration, finance, information technology and facilities management. The changes entail creating a new “cross-lateral” team of four current senior managers, and putting two positions – including the job of deputy county administrator – on “hold vacant” status. Another nine positions will be eliminated, while eight jobs will be created. The restructuring will result in a net reduction of three full-time jobs, and estimated annual savings of $326,422.

Commissioners were generally supportive of her proposal, though some cautioned against creating the expectation that the county can provide the same or a better level of services with reduced resources. The county is facing projected deficits of $11.6 million in 2014 and $14.7 million in 2015.

Also at the Feb. 2 working session, board chair Conan Smith gave an update on negotiations with the Humane Society of Huron Valley, saying he hopes to bring an agreement for board approval at their Feb. 15 meeting. The contract would cover animal control services for the remainder of 2012, with the intent of working toward a longer-term agreement for the coming years. The county plans to ask local municipalities that have animal control ordinances – including Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti Township – to help pay for services provided under contract with HSHV.

The board also got a brief update on the $1.3 million in renovations at the downtown county courthouse. The project, which started early last year when Ann Arbor’s 15th District Court vacated the courthouse to move to the city’s new Justice Center, will be wrapping up in mid-March.

The working session included an agenda briefing for the Feb. 15 meeting, but some commissioners expressed discontent at the new format, which had been implemented earlier this year. Wes Prater suggested that if the briefings do not include time for commissioners to ask questions, then the information might as well be emailed to them instead. “I believe all of us can read,” he said.

[Full Story]

Washtenaw County Board Looks to the Future

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Dec. 7, 2011):  At its last meeting of 2011, both the room and the agenda were packed.  A crowd showed up to speak during public commentary, and commissioners acted on several items before year’s end, many of them budget-related and looking toward the county’s future.

Supporters of Lourdes Salazar Bautista

Many of the people attending the Dec. 7 meeting of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners were supporters of Lourdes Salazar Bautista, an Ann Arbor resident who faces deportation. She is standing against the wall in the upper right corner of this photo. (Photos by the writer.)

Public commentary focused on two issues: (1) people lobbying against the imminent deportation of Ann Arbor resident Lourdes Salazar Bautista, and asking commissioners to intervene; (2) nonprofit leaders thanking the board for increasing the budget for coordinated funding, which supports human services agencies. The two-year budget for 2012-2013 approved by commissioners on Nov. 16 had included $128,538 in cuts each year to coordinated funding, but a vote on Dec. 7 restored that amount.

Another budget amendment approved by the board at the meeting relates to the unresolved status of mandated animal control services. County officials are still negotiating with the Humane Society of Huron Valley, which has a $500,000 annual contract for that work. The contract expires Dec. 31, and contingency plans are being made for the case that an agreement can’t be reached. Commissioners approved a budget amendment that requires board approval for any contract for animal control services extending more than 60 days.

Two presentations were made during the Dec. 7 meeting. Michael Ford, CEO of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, briefed commissioners about efforts to create a countywide transit system. The board will be asked to approve a four-party agreement between the county, AATA and the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti that would set a framework for incorporating a countywide transit authority. Voters may eventually be asked to approve a millage for the system – if a dedicated funding sources is not secured by the end of 2014, the effort in its current form would demise.

And in a presentation aimed at priority setting for 2012 and beyond, board chair Conan Smith proposed focusing county efforts on shoring up the county’s east side, an area that’s facing a “perfect storm of despair,” he said, including high unemployment, low graduation rates and poor health. Characterizing his proposal as the start of a board discussion, Smith laid out a variety of options that the county could pursue, including a possible Headlee override or new millage to pay for services. Feedback from commissioners indicated support for developing a strategy to tackle these problems, but a reluctance to limit the focus to only the east side – primarily Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township. Several commissioners pointed out that poverty exists throughout the county.

Commissioners also took a range of other actions, including: (1) rejection of a proposal from the Washtenaw County road commission for a possible millage to fund road improvements; (2) a resolution of support for same-sex benefits; (3) an extension of a deadline related to compliance with the state’s 80/20 rule for health care costs; (4) approval of a brownfield plan for Ford Motor Co.’s Rawsonville plant; (5) creation of a board subcommittee on energy policy; and (6) appointments to a variety of boards, commissions and committees. [Full Story]

County Board Updated on Humane Society

At their Dec. 7, 2011 meeting, Washtenaw County commissioners were briefed on negotiations between the county and the Humane Society of Huron Valley, over a new contract for animal control services. It was not an item on the agenda, but commissioner Ronnie Peterson requested an update during the meeting.

Board chair Conan Smith reported that HSHV board chair Mike Walsh had been sent a draft RFP, including a “scope of work” for animal control services that the county believes are mandated by the state. [.pdf of draft RFP] Representatives from the county and HSHV are planning to meet soon to continue negotiations, Smith said. HSHV’s current contract, for $500,000 annually, ends on Dec. 31. The county has budgeted a total of … [Full Story]

County Board Poised to Reject Road Millage

The Washtenaw County board of commissioners will hold its last meeting of 2011 on Wednesday, Dec. 7. At a Nov. 29 administrative briefing to review that meeting’s draft agenda, two items drew discussion among commissioners: (1) a proposal from the county road commission, asking the board to levy an 0.6 mill tax for road projects, and (2) a $250,000 increase in funding for human services.

Sign near Washtenaw County Road Commission facility

A sign near the Washtenaw County road commission facility has been pushed over. In the background is a WCRC storage unit for road salt.

The road commission proposal was expected. It had been discussed at length by the board in October, when commissioners ultimately decided to defer additional action until the Dec. 7 meeting. Based on discussion at last Tuesday’s briefing, the millage proposal will likely be rejected, in part because of uncertainty related to pending state legislation that would, if passed, allow the county to take over operation of the road commission.

Though the road commission issue had been expected, coming as a surprise to some commissioners was the proposal to increase the budget for human services via the coordinated funding program, which the board had just voted to cut at its last meeting – as part of the 2012-2013 budget approval. County administrator Verna McDaniel said additional funds are available – the result of a settlement with Augusta and Ypsilanti townships over a police services lawsuit.

The roughly $250,000 that’s proposed to be shifted to coordinated funding is the same amount as the 2012 cut to a contract for animal control services, currently held by the Humane Society of Huron Valley. That animal control contract wasn’t discussed at Tuesday’s administrative briefing. After the meeting, McDaniel reported that the county is still negotiating with HSHV for a new contract at a reduced rate and reduced scope of services. The current two-year contract expires Dec. 31.

At previous meetings, commissioners have indicated interest in issuing a request for proposals (RFP) to get bids from other potential providers of animal control services. On Friday, board chair Conan Smith sent a letter to HSHV board chair Mike Walsh, along with a draft RFP that includes a scope of services for animal control services. [.pdf of letter from Smith] [.pdf of draft RFP] It’s the first time the county has provided a detailed written description of what officials believe are the state-mandated animal control services the county is required to provide.

In response to a query from The Chronicle, HSHV executive director Tanya Hilgendorf stated that HSHV does not agree with the scope of work outlined in the RFP, based on both legal and moral grounds. As of Monday morning, no meeting had yet been scheduled between the county and HSHV officials, but Smith said he hoped the two groups would meet sometime soon to continue negotiations. [Full Story]

Washtenaw County Budget Set for 2012-2013

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Nov. 16, 2011): The main item on the Nov. 16 agenda was a final vote on the two-year budget for 2012 and 2013. Despite extensive public commentary – mostly from supporters of the Humane Society of Huron Valley (HSHV), and various nonprofits that provide human services like food and housing for low-income residents – there were no amendments that changed funding allocations from the version of the budget given initial approval two weeks ago.

Kirk Tabbey, Dan Smith

Kirk Tabbey, left, chief judge of the 14A-2 District Court in Ypsilanti, talks with Washtenaw County commissioner Dan Smith, vice chair of the county board's Ways & Means Committee. Smith chaired the Nov. 16 Ways & Means meeting in the absence of chair Rolland Sizemore Jr. Tabbey was on hand to introduce his new court administrator, Robert Ciolek, who replaces former court administrator Gene DeRossett. (Photos by the writer.)

The $97 million general fund budget included a range of funding cuts, aimed at overcoming what had been a $17.5 million deficit for the two-year period. Discussion focused for the most part on cuts to HSHV and Head Start, and drew sometimes heated rhetoric from commissioners – primarily from Ronnie Peterson. He advocated vigorously for support for both entities, but did not offer specific alternatives for funding.

The budget reduced HSHV’s contract from $500,000 this year to $250,000 each year in 2012 and 2013, an amount that HSHV officials have said doesn’t cover the cost of the services they provide. The state mandates that counties provide certain animal control services, but there’s disagreement between the county and HSHV about what those mandated services entail.

The HSHV’s current contract expires on Dec. 31, and the two groups continue to negotiate. Meanwhile, the county’s attorney has drafted a request for proposals (RFP) to solicit bids for animal control services. That RFP is being reviewed by other county officials – including the sheriff and prosecuting attorney – and will likely be issued within the next week or so.

Head Start’s situation remains unchanged, and the county will likely hand off the local program to federal administrators at the start of 2013. During deliberations, Peterson raised a range of concerns over how a transition would be handled, its impact on employees and children in the program, and the county’s debt obligations on the Head Start building in Ypsilanti.

Board chair Conan Smith lobbied for the county to explore other options, including keeping the federal grantee status but designating a single sub-recipient to administer it. There’s also new state legislation that could allow for creating an intergovernmental consortium – perhaps in partnership with the Washtenaw Intermediate School District and the University of Michigan – to fund and operate the program. Smith proposed an amendment would have required a vote of the board before relinquishing control of the Head Start program, but that amendment failed. A majority of commissioners felt it would simply delay the inevitable.

The only amendment that passed involved re-hiring of retired employees. The amendment was initially proposed by Dan Smith, then approved in a modified form to require the county administrator to report to the board when retirees are hired back on a temporary basis. The issue will come to the fore as roughly 100 of the county’s 1,300 employees are expected to retire in the coming weeks, a situation described by Conan Smith as a potentially catastrophic loss of institutional expertise. The practice of hiring retired staff on a temporary basis is likely to be used to manage the transition. County administrator Verna McDaniel said she plans to use the turnover as an opportunity to restructure county operations in some areas.

Related to that turnover is the possibility that McDaniel will approve 8% raises for certain employees who take on extra work. Ronnie Peterson cautioned that giving raises in the wake of getting salary and benefit concessions from employees will hurt morale, and make labor unions less likely to agree to additional concessions in the future. The county is projecting deficits of $11.6 million in 2014 and $14.7 million in 2015.

The final budget vote was unanimous, though three commissioners voted no on specific line items. (Rolland Sizemore Jr. was absent.) Peterson, Felicia Brabec and Alicia Ping voted no to cuts for animal control services. Peterson and Brabec also voted no to cuts for Head Start and the coordinated funding of human services. Conan Smith voted no to the line item for the board of commissioners, referring to it only by the line item number. He later said he’d been joking. [.pdf of 2012-2013 general fund budget]

The Nov. 16 meeting included several items not directly related to the 2012-2013 budget. Public hearings were set for brownfield plans at Ford Motor Co.’s Rawsonville plant and the Arbor Hills Crossing development in Ann Arbor. The board also gave initial approval to comply with the state’s “80/20″ rule, which will require about 95 employees represented by five collective bargaining units – those that did not agree to labor concessions – to pay for a greater amount of their health care costs.

The board gave initial approval to issue bonds for a new $3.2 million facility to be operated by the Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority (WWRA). The topic of county-issued bonds also arose during public commentary, when a resident of Sylvan Township asked what would happen now that township voters rejected a millage intended to repay the county for bond payments on a water and sewer facility. The answer? It’s not yet clear, commissioners said. [Full Story]

Animal Issue Dominates County Budget Talks

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Nov. 2, 2011): At a meeting that lasted nearly five hours, commissioners gave initial approval to the county’s 2012-2013 general fund budget, following a discussion dominated by the topic of funding for state-mandated animal control.

Jenny Paillon, Yousef Rabhi

Jenny Paillon, director of operations for the Humane Society of Huron Valley, reviews some HSHV financials with county commissioner Yousef Rabhi (D-District 11) during a break at Wednesday's board of commissioners meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

With supporters of the Humane Society of Huron Valley (HSHV) demonstrating outside the county administration building and speaking during public commentary at the meeting, commissioners debated at length over how to handle its contract with the non-profit. The proposed budget calls for cutting HSHV’s contract from $500,000 this year to $250,000 in 2012 and 2013.

HSHV’s current two-year contract expires at the end of 2011, and leaders of the humane society have expressed reluctance to sign a new one with such a significant cut, saying that even at the current rate the county is not paying what the services are worth. [.pdf of HSHV analysis of legal and financial costs for mandated services]

For their part, some commissioners contended that they don’t yet know the actual cost of providing mandated services, and that HSHV hasn’t provided them with the kind of financial data they need to make an informed decision.

In the budget that received initial approval, the line item that originally earmarked $250,000 in annual payments to HSHV in 2012 and 2013 was renamed to “Mandated Animal Control,” a generic reference that reflects the possibility that the county might contract with another agency for animal control services – an option they discussed explicitly.

Board chair Conan Smith also proposed an amendment to move that line item out of the county’s funding for outside agencies, where it has traditionally been listed, and add it to the budget for the sheriff’s office. The funding could then be combined with a line item of $180,000 that is already part of the sheriff’s budget – for animal control officers. The county recently has discussed the possibility of paying HSHV $250,000 plus $180,000 – a total of $430,000 – if the humane society also takes responsibility for the work now done by the animal control officers. The shift in fund categories was approved on a 8-3 vote, with dissent from Rob Turner, Rolland Sizemore Jr., and Ronnie Peterson.

After the vote, sheriff Jerry Clayton spoke to the board during public commentary, saying he hadn’t been notified that this shift in funding to his office might occur. He expressed a range of concerns about the decision.

After making two other amendments not related to animal control, the board ultimately gave initial approval to the budget on a 9-1 vote, with dissent from Sizemore, who said he still has questions about it. Felicia Brabec abstained. Appointed two weeks ago to fill Kristin Judge’s vacated seat in District 7 (Pittsfield Township), Brabec indicated she’d like more time to review the budget document. Additional amendments are expected before the board takes a final vote on the budget, likely at its Nov. 16 meeting.

The board also got a third-quarter 2011 update from the county’s finance staff, projecting a nearly $1 million shortfall for the year, which will be covered by use of the county’s fund balance.

In other business, the county voted to create a planning task force for a new pilot program in agribusiness. Called ”Seeds for Change: Growing Prosperity in Ypsilanti,” the project is intended to provide job training and placement to unemployed workers interested in agricultural employment, and to offer shared commercial kitchen space and business support to local agribusiness entrepreneurs. No funding has yet been identified for the effort. [Full Story]

County 2012-13 Budget Gets Initial OK

At its Nov. 2, 2011 meeting, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners discussed modifications to the proposed 2012-2013 general fund budget – mostly focused on allocations to the Humane Society of Huron Valley (HSHV) –  and took an initial vote authorizing the overall $97 million budget. A final vote could come at the next meeting on Nov. 16. The board later cancelled a working session that had been scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 3.

Budget discussions centered on HSHV, which faces a dramatic funding cut from its current $500,000 contract. As they did two weeks ago, supporters demonstrated in front of the county administration building prior to Wednesday’s meeting, many of them with dogs. Five people spoke during public commentary in … [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]

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]

Monthly Milestone: On Voting for a Dog

Editor’s note: The monthly milestone column, which appears on the second day of each month – the anniversary of The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s launch – is an opportunity for either the publisher or the editor of The Chronicle to touch base with readers on topics related to this publication.

It’s also a time that we highlight, with gratitude, our local advertisers, and ask readers to consider subscribing voluntarily to The Chronicle to support our work.

Today, on the occasion of the primary elections for the Ann Arbor city council, The Chronicle reminds readers to vote and to encourage their neighbors and co-workers to do the same. Not sure where your polling place is located? Type your address into the My Property page of the city website.

Max Humane Society Dog

I met Max on my recent visit to the Humane Society of Huron Valley's shelter. Max could carry the name Shep, if he had to. (Photos by the writer.)

Next month, publisher Mary Morgan will write a column commemorating the third anniversary of The Ann Arbor Chronicle. The achievement of that chronological milestone will be a big deal. Given the overall economic climate in Michigan, I think it’s a big deal for any new enterprise to stay in business for three years.

But the milestone I look forward to achieving is not chronological. It’s a milestone that will depend on The Chronicle’s meeting more than modest pay-the-bills financial goals. It’s the milestone of … dog ownership.

I’d like a dog.

Owning a dog is a big time commitment. And currently, the demands of reporting, writing and editing for The Chronicle make it impossible even to contemplate adding the burden of that commitment.

That’s fine for now. Besides, the two cats that share our house would likely not vote for the addition of any dog to the household. They have been known to register their dissent on various (unknown) household issues using standard feline communication channels.

So for now, I’d join the feline party in voting against a dog. That vote is based in part on deference to the cats. But it’s also based on the fact that The Chronicle has not yet achieved the financial success required to add a dog to the household. Some of our work is already farmed out to paid freelancers. But only when we are able to distribute more of the current work load to other people (by rewarding them with cash money), will I be able to think about taking on a dog.

So once again, I will use the monthly milestone column in part to sit up and beg: Here’s how to support The Chronicle with a voluntary subscription.

To lend some detail to this month’s pitch, I’d like to stress that it’s not just any dog I am looking for. I’m looking for a dog that can easily carry the name Shep the Newshound. He’ll come from the Humane Society of Huron Valley’s shelter. And I will refer to him always with his complete name – Shep the Newshound. This is not rational. (Shepherds are, of course, not hounds.)

But when it comes to other animals, humans are not a completely rational species. [Full Story]

Dog Watch: Humane Society Bond

On March 17, in a small conference room at the Washtenaw County administration building, Carolyn Raschke, finance director of the Humane Society of Huron Valley, reported to an even smaller group of Washtenaw County officials.

Washtenaw County Humane Society Oversight Committee meeting. Starting with the conference call phone and going clockwise: county administrator Bob Guenzel (who joined the meeting via phone, because he was getting a tour of the jail); Mechelle Hardy, management assistant with the county; Peter Ballios, the county's recently retired finance director; Bob Martel, acting as construction manager for HSHV; Carolyn Raschke, finance director of HSHV; Curtis Hedger, corporation counsel for the county.

The HSHV had held a grand opening for its new animal shelter the previous week. Raschke said the recent warmer weather had started to bring visitors out “in droves” to the shelter, and that the shelter had promoted the grand opening as a “celebration.” She reported that the promotion included discounts on adoption fees for animals at the shelter. Also part of the grand opening, said Raschke, was an invitation-only reception for the larger donors to the shelter’s fundraising campaign.

The meeting lasted a little more than five minutes – probably a record for the shortest public meeting of any The Chronicle has covered.

So what was the point of that meeting between Raschke and county officials?

It was the regular gathering of the county’s oversight committee for the Humane Society. The body exists only because of the bonds the county issued in 2007 to finance construction of the HSHV’s new shelter. The structure of the bonding has no impact on the county’s pocketbook, but included the creation of the oversight committee as a way for the county to maintain a kind of “leash” on the money it had backed with its full faith and credit.

The county’s connection to HSHV is not philanthropically based. The county has a contract with the nonprofit, worth $500,000 in FY 2010, to house stray dogs picked up by sheriff’s deputies. That contract satisfies the county’s statutory obligations under the Dog Law of 1919. [Full Story]

Digging Up the Future

Entrance to the current Humane Society of Huron Valley on Cherry Hill Road.

Entrance to the current Humane Society of Huron Valley on Cherry Hill Road.

A buried chewtoy, some chicken broth and a friendly pit bull named May are ready to play a key role in Tuesday’s long-awaited groundbreaking for the Humane Society of Huron Valley‘s new $8.6 million facility.

Seeking a behind-the-scenes peek at preparations for the event, The Chronicle dropped by HSHV on Monday afternoon and found staff there holding tryouts for the honor of digging the ceremonial hole – a task normally reserved for muckety-mucks with golden shovels.

[Full Story]