Stories indexed with the term ‘per diem’

County Board Finalizes Bump to Their Pay

Washtenaw County commissioners voted to increase their base salaries from $15,500 to $15,750 annually and replace per diem payments with stipends, effective Jan. 1, 2013. The action occurred at the county board’s Dec. 5, 2012 meeting. Commissioners had previously debated the issue at their Nov. 7 meeting, giving the increase initial approval at that time. On Dec. 5, the only commissioner voting against the changes was Dan Smith (R-District 2).

Most commissioners currently are paid a salary of $15,500. The new amount of $15,750 is calculated by indexing it to one-half the median “step” of the lowest grade salary among county employees. The resolution authorizing the increase also directs future boards to adjust commissioner salaries based on this same calculation.

Officers … [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]

County Commissioners to Raise Own Pay

Washtenaw County commissioners debated options for changing their 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. The 8-2 vote took place during the board’s Nov. 7, 2012 meeting. Voting against the increase were Dan Smith and Rolland Sizemore Jr. Ronnie Peterson was absent. A final vote is expected at the board’s Dec. 5 meeting.

On Nov. 5, two days before their meeting, board chair Conan Smith had emailed commissioners a draft proposal that he described as “a straw-man policy to poke at.” [.pdf of proposal emailed from Smith to the board] The basics of his proposal remained in place, though some amendments … [Full Story]

Compensation Change for County Board?

As part of their upcoming vote on the 2013 budget, Washtenaw County commissioners are considering possible changes to their own compensation. The issue will likely be addressed initially at the county board’s only meeting in November, one day after the Nov. 6 election.

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

Conan Smith, chair of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners, at the Oct. 17, 2012 board meeting. At an Oct. 18 working session, Smith indicated that he might bring forward a proposal to the board’s Nov. 7 meeting for changing commissioner compensation.

The topic was brought up at an Oct. 18 working session, which was attended by county clerk Larry Kestenbaum at the invitation of board chair Conan Smith. Kestenbaum’s office is responsible for administering the requests for per diem and mileage payments that commissioners make for attending certain meetings.

During that working session, Smith indicated there had been a number of recent conversations about commissioner compensation, and that he might bring to the Nov. 7 board meeting a proposal about possible changes.

No public discussion of this issue has taken place by the board of commissioners since the spring, when Dan Smith brought forward a proposal in March to cut commissioner compensation and benefits for 2013 and 2014 – by 5.7%. His intent was for the board to vote on a change before the May 15 filing deadline for county board candidates, so that candidates would have a clear understanding of their compensation before entering the race. His proposal gained no traction among other commissioners at the time.

Based on comments by Conan Smith at the Oct. 18 working session, he’s exploring the idea of replacing the current per diem system – which requires that commissioners submit a request for payment – and instead paying commissioners an automatic stipend as part of their compensation. Per diems came under fire during the 2010 election season, and resulted in repayment – by most commissioners who were on the board at that time – of a portion of their per diem requests that were determined to be ineligible under board rules.

The determination had come from an independent review conducted at the direction of the county administrator. In gathering background on this topic, The Chronicle learned that Conan Smith and Kestenbaum later struck an agreement under which Smith agreed to repay some of the money he had been deemed ineligible to claim, in an arrangement that appears to have taken place outside the independent review process.

When asked by Conan Smith at the Oct. 18 working session for his opinion on the issue of stipends, Kestenbaum was supportive of the change to stipends, describing the current system as a lot of bookkeeping for a small amount of money. He also observed that the approach of having stipends would eliminate the kind of political vulnerability that commissioners have experienced. [Full Story]

County Board Reduces Public Comment Time

At its Jan. 4, 2012 meeting, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners modified its rules related to public commentary, shortening the time available per speaking turn and eliminating one of two agenda slots for public commentary. [.pdf of revised board rules & regulations]

The board’s rules and regulations, adopted at the beginning of each year, were modified in three ways. Most significantly, the second of two opportunities for public commentary was eliminated at both the board meeting and the ways & means committee meeting. The times slated for commissioner response to public commentary at the end of those two meetings was also eliminated. Previously, public commentary and commissioner response were provided near the start and end of each board meeting … [Full Story]

County Board Gets Update on State Budget

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

Kirk Profit, Leah Gunn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Washtenaw County Board Starts New Year

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Jan. 5, 2011): In a meeting that combined elements of celebration and some sharp debate, the county board marked the new year by electing officers and adopting its annual set of rules, which had been revised from the previous year.

Donald Shelton, Yousef Rahbi

Before Wednesday's board meeting, Donald Shelton, chief judge of the Washtenaw County trial court, talks with Yousef Rabhi, a Democrat who represents Ann Arbor's District 11 on the county board of commissioners. Shelton later donned his judicial robes to officially swear in commissioners. (Photos by the writer.)

The boardroom was packed with friends and family, many of them turning out especially for the four newly elected commissioners: Rob Turner (R-District 1), Dan Smith (R-District 2), Alicia Ping (R-District 3) and Yousef Rabhi (D-District 11). A reception for commissioners was held prior to the board meeting and was attended by several other elected officials – including sheriff Jerry Clayton, prosecutor Brian Mackie and water resources commissioner Janis Bobrin – as well as county staff.

Newly elected state senator Rebekah Warren was also on hand to watch as her husband, commissioner Conan Smith (D-District 10), was elected to chair the board, as anticipated. Officers for the board, the ways & means committee and the board’s working session were all elected unanimously, without discussion. There was considerable debate, however, over aspects of the new board rules, though they were ultimately adopted with only one minor amendment. [Full Story]

County Board Acts on Budget Items

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Dec. 1, 2010): Farewells and recognitions took up much of the board’s last meeting of 2010 – four commissioners are wrapping up their service at the end of the year.

Mark Ouimet, Ronnie Peterson, Rolland Sizemore Jr.

Outgoing commissioner Mark Ouimet, left, is greeting by fellow commissioner Ronnie Peterson before the start of the Dec. 1 board meeting. Board chair Rolland Sizemore Jr. is seated to the right. (Photos by the writer.)

Also during the meeting, the issue of appropriate compensation emerged again. Local attorney Tom Wieder, who had initially raised the issue in October, spoke during public commentary about the need for commissioner Mark Ouimet and others who were inappropriately reimbursed for per diem and mileage to repay the county. An independent accountant’s report on the matter, one that was commissioned by county administrator Verna McDaniel, has been completed but not yet publicly released. Commissioners will be meeting individually with accountants regarding the report next week, and it will then be released to the public.

A resolution that would have cut spending accounts for commissioners from $3,550 annually to $1,500 wasn’t brought forward for a vote – Conan Smith had circulated a draft of the resolution via email earlier in the day. But he said he decided not to introduce it, because after talking to individual commissioners before the meeting, it was clear that he couldn’t marshal enough votes to get it passed.

The board did take action on several budget-related items, with little discussion. Commissioners gave final approval to revisions in the 2011 budget, which among other things directs county administrator Verna McDaniel to make proposals for cutting $1,034,988 out of the original budget of $98,493,155. The board also voted to accept the county’s apportionment report, which gives details of the 2010 taxable valuations for property in the county, by municipality. The report also includes the amount of millages levied and the dollar amounts collected in taxes. December tax bills have already been mailed out to property owners, based on these calculations.

Also during Wednesday’s meeting, the board approved two appointments, nominated by board chair Rolland Sizemore Jr. Commissioner Conan Smith was appointed to the board of the land bank authority, and outgoing commissioner Ken Schwartz was appointed to the board of the Washtenaw County Road Commission. [Full Story]

Washtenaw Board Debates Budget Issues

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Nov. 17, 2010): Budget-related issues drove much of the discussion during Wednesday’s board meeting, as county commissioners wrangled over a resolution proposed by Leah Gunn to eliminate per diem, travel and mileage payments to commissioners.

Members of the Washtenaw County street soccer team

Members of the Washtenaw County street soccer team, which competed in Washington D.C. this summer at the Street Soccer USA Cup. David Altherr, far left, also was picked to play for the U.S. team at the 8th annual Homeless World Cup in Rio, Brazil in September. They were on hand to promote a Dec. 10-11 fundraiser. (Photos by the writer.)

At some points during the debate there was a fair amount of confusion. A vote to eliminate per diem payments initially passed, but commissioner Ronnie Peterson then indicated that he’d intended to vote the opposite way. Because he’d voted on the prevailing side, parliamentary rules allowed him to bring the issue back for another vote – he switched his vote to no, and the resolution failed to pass. Ultimately, none of the proposed cuts won enough support to enact.

A resolution to set the cost of a police services unit (PSU) received little discussion – aside from some public commentary from Ann Arbor Township supervisor Mike Moran, and a response by commissioner Jeff Irwin. A PSU is the term used for a sheriff’s deputy who is hired on a contract basis to serve local townships and other municipalities. The board gave initial approval to set the cost at $176,108 and is expected to take a final vote on the issue at their Dec. 1 meeting. They’ll wait until next year to tackle the more contentious question of how much the county will charge contracting municipalities per PSU – an amount that will likely be lower, offset by a county general fund contribution.

In other budget-related matters, a public hearing on revisions to the 2011 budget drew only three speakers – including two representatives from local nonprofits who urged commissioners to consider the impact of any cuts they might contemplate for human services. The board also authorized soliciting bids for an internal audit, and discussed holding a special meeting in December to start setting priorities for upcoming budget discussions.

As he had during the Nov. 8 administrative briefing, board chair Rolland Sizemore Jr. expressed frustration with the management of the Washtenaw County Road Commission, and said he wants the board to address that issue. There’s a vacancy on the road commission board, a group that’s appointed by the county board and that has oversight for the road commission operations. Other county commissioners said they’d like to hold public interviews for the job – seven people have applied.

Also on Wednesday, members of the county’s Street Soccer team, the SSPORT, came to the meeting to ask commissioners to participate in the 24-hour Soccerthon, a fundraiser to be held at WideWorld Sports Center starting on Friday, Dec. 10 at 6 p.m. The team is part of the county’s homeless project outreach team (PORT), which provides mental health and other support services to the local homeless population. The players had participated in the third annual Street Soccer USA Cup this summer in Washington D.C., and one of the players, David Altherr, had been picked to play for the U.S. team at the 8th annual Homeless World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in September.

During Wednesday’s meeting the board also passed a resolution declaring Nov. 14-20, 2010 as National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. Former county administrator Bob Guenzel, chair of the nonprofit Washtenaw Housing Alliance, was on hand and told the board to expect a re-energized effort related to the county’s Blueprint to End Homelessness. He announced that the WHA has hired a new executive director to lead that effort – Julie Steiner, who has served as executive director of the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Washtenaw County at Alpha House. [Full Story]

County Board Split on Police Services Issue

A discussion that at times grew heated during a Nov. 8 administrative briefing for the Washtenaw County board of commissioners reflected different views on the issue of how much it costs to put a sheriff’s deputy on patrol.

The briefing, held the week prior to the regular board meeting, is designed to review the upcoming agenda, and is typically attended by a majority of the 11 commissioners. This week, in addition to items already slated for the agenda, two commissioners proposed additional resolutions to be considered at the Nov. 17 meeting: 1) a resolution regarding a cost recommendation recently made by the county’s police services steering committee, and 2) a resolution to eliminate commissioner per diems and reimbursements for travel, conferences and other meetings.

Six commissioners attended the briefing, and debate on each of those proposed resolutions was vigorous during the hour-long meeting. However, commissioners seemed in agreement on another item brought up for discussion on Monday: discontent with the Washtenaw County Road Commission. [Full Story]

County Commissioner Expenses Debated

Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners meeting (Oct. 20, 2010): A strong undercurrent of both the upcoming Nov. 2 elections and the looming county budget deficit erupted at times during Wednesday’s board meeting – the last board meeting prior to the elections.

Mark Ouimet, Leah Gunn

County commissioners Mark Ouimet and Leah Gunn talk prior to the start of the Oct. 20 Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting. During the meeting Gunn, a Democrat, defended Ouimet, who has come under attack by some Democrats for excessive and inappropriate per-diem claims. (Photos by the writer.)

At the center of public commentary and commissioner discussion – which at times grew heated – was the issue of whether commissioners are appropriately claiming reimbursements for mileage and per diem. The controversy first emerged at the board’s last meeting on Oct. 6, when Democrat Tom Wieder spoke during public commentary to call for an investigation into per diem spending by commissioner Mark Ouimet. That same Oct. 6 meeting included discussion of a projected two-year budget deficit for 2012 and 2013 that could exceed $20 million.

Ouimet, a Republican who’s running for state representative in District 52 against Democrat Christine Green, was defended on Wednesday during public commentary by the county’s top two GOP officials, Mark Boonstra and Wyckham Seelig, who accused the Democratic board majority of partisan politics. They said they’ve launched their own investigation into commissioner spending, specifically citing out-of-state travel by Kristin Judge. Judge has been a vocal critic of Ouimet’s spending, during the meeting noting that the board rules are clear and that Ouimet failed to abide by them at times.

Ouimet was also defended at Wednesday’s meeting by several Democrats who serve with him on the board and who said they had nothing to do with the recent criticism of him. Leah Gunn recalled that Ouimet had been her Ward 4 Ann Arbor city councilmember some 20 years ago, and that she’s always found him to be upstanding and gracious. Ken Schwartz criticized the “Lansing politics” that were being brought to the county. He noted that the board has a track record of working together without divisive partisan politics, and that they’d all been surprised by the recent controversy.

County clerk Larry Kestenbaum also weighed in, commenting on a report that his office had released earlier in the day that analyzed per-diem and mileage expenses for all commissioners, dating back to 2005. Ouimet claimed the most expenses by far during that period – $32,804. Of Ouimet’s claims, $10,564 was analyzed as ineligible, and another $6,055 was “uncertain,” indicating a gray area where reimbursement rules aren’t clear. That means that about half of Ouimet’s claims don’t fall into the clearly acceptable category. Kestenbaum spoke during public commentary, saying that he considered all the commissioners to be his friends and great public servants – the report was not intended to be an attack, he said.

Ouimet offered to put the disputed amount in escrow until all of the claims have been reviewed. [The Chronicle converted the county clerk's Excel workbook with multiple tabs, one for each commissioner, to a single .pdf file. Commissioner Ronnie Peterson has not claimed mileage and per-diem expenses, and is not included in the report.]

The issue of commissioner expenses came up earlier in the meeting in another context. Judge introduced a resolution that would have eliminated retirement pensions and health care for commissioners, saying that the change would save the county more than $25,000 annually. She noted that she had circulated the resolution to commissioners prior to the meeting, though it was not on the agenda. No one seconded the motion, and it died without further discussion.

Also related to budget issues, the board gave initial approval to levy an economic development tax of 0.043 mills. Known as the Act 88 millage, it is expected to generate roughly $611,266 annually and would cost homeowners $4.30 for every $100,000 of a home’s taxable value. Because Act 88 predates the state’s Headlee Amendment, it can be approved by the board without a voter referendum. Three commissioners – Judge, Ouimet and Wes Prater – voted against the measure, and Jessica Ping abstained, citing the fact that a recipient of the funds, Ann Arbor SPARK, is a client of hers.

Another millage – one that, unlike Act 88, will be on the ballot – would support the Ypsilanti District Library. Linda Gurka, a member of the library’s board of trustees, spoke during public commentary to drum up support for the millage increase that will be on the ballot for Ypsilanti District Library voters. Also during public commentary, Todd Clark, co-chair of this year’s United Way of Washtenaw County‘s fundraising campaign, spoke in support of a proposed coordinated funding model for local nonprofits. [Full Story]

No Consensus on Expense Cuts

Wes Prater and Kristin Judge

County commissioners Wes Prater and Kristin Judge during the May 20 board meeting. Judge introduced one of two resolutions regarding cuts to commissioners' expenses. Neither Judge's resolution nor one proposed by commissioner Leah Gunn got enough votes for approval.

Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners (May 20, 2009): Commissioners failed to reach consensus on two different attempts to cut their own line-item expenses in the 2010-11 budget, and though action was tabled until July, it’s likely commissioners will have another go at cuts at their June 3 meeting.

At the board’s Wednesday meeting, Conan Smith – who chairs the Ways & Means Committee,  which discussed the resolutions – noted that this was the first of what will be numerous attempts to deal with the 2010-11 budget, and would set the stage for future discussions. The county faces a projected $26 million deficit over the next two years, and plans to make cuts in light of a decline in tax revenues. The administration is expected to bring a general fund budget proposal to the table at the board’s June 3, 2009 meeting. [Full Story]