Stories indexed with the term ‘priorities’

County Board Sets Budget Meetings

As part of an ongoing process to develop the 2014 budget, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners has scheduled a series of meetings focused on specific budget priorities. The meetings are:

  • Talent priority: Monday, Aug. 19 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. in the lower level conference room at the county administration building, 200 N. Main in Ann Arbor. The group is led by Conan Smith (D-District 9).
  • Civic infrastructure priority: Wednesday, Aug. 21 from 10-11:30 a.m. in the downstairs board meeting room at 220 N. Main in Ann Arbor. The group is led by Kent Martinez-Kratz (D-District 1).
  • Economic development priority: Wednesday, Aug. 21 from 3-5 p.m. in the lower level conference room at the county administration building, 200 N. Main in Ann Arbor. The … [Full Story]

Priorities Set for Washtenaw County Budget

Washtenaw County board of commissioners special meeting (July 24, 2013): As the staff works on developing a budget to present on Oct. 2, county commissioners have set four broad priorities to guide that process.

The leadership of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners, from left: Felicia Brabec (D-District 4 of Pittsfield Township), Andy LaBarre (D-District 7 of Ann Arbor), and Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8 of Ann Arbor). Rabhi is board chair. Brabec serves as chair of the board’s ways & means committee, and LaBarre chairs the board’s working sessions.

The leadership of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners, from left: Felicia Brabec (D-District 4 of Pittsfield Township), Andy LaBarre (D-District 7 of Ann Arbor), and Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8 of Ann Arbor). Rabhi is board chair. Brabec serves as chair of the board’s ways & means committee, and LaBarre chairs the board’s working sessions. (Photos by the writer.)

Those priorities, listed in order of importance, are: (1) ensure a community safety net through health and human services; (2) increase economic opportunity and workforce development; (3) ensure mobility and civic infrastructure for Washtenaw County residents; and (4) reduce environmental impact. [.pdf of budget priorities resolution] [.pdf of budget priorities memo and supporting materials]

The vote on the budget priorities resolution was 6-1, with dissent from Dan Smith (R-District 2), who indicated that his No. 1 priority is long-term fiscal stability, followed by public safety and justice. Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) had left the meeting before the vote, and Alicia Ping (R-District 3) was absent. Although it was not part of the four priorities, a resolved clause was added during the meeting, stating that “the long-term fiscal stability of the county [will] continue to be of import throughout the budget development process.”

The resolution was brought forward by Felicia Brabec (D-District 4), who’s leading the budget process for the board. It also laid out a framework for developing strategies to measure the effectiveness of county investments in these priorities.

Brabec described this approach as “both a policy and a paradigm shift” that can’t happen overnight, but one that’s critical for the county’s future. The board is forming work groups focused on each of the four priorities, as well as on the topic of human resources. These work groups will be meeting to develop as many as five “community impact” goals in each category, in work that’s expected to continue into next year and beyond.

The July 24 meeting also included an update from county administrator Verna McDaniel about the county’s current financial condition and preliminary projections for 2014. At her last presentation, on May 15, 2013, McDaniel told commissioners that the county needed to identify $6.99 million in structural reductions for the 2014 budget. The approach to addressing this $6.99 million target depended on whether the county moved ahead with a major bond proposal to cover obligations to retirees, she said at the time. That bond proposal was put on hold earlier this month.

Now, the projected general fund shortfall is $3.93 million on a roughly $101 million budget. McDaniel indicated that the shortfall will be addressed primarily with operating cost reductions ($3.83 million) as well as $100,000 in cuts to funding of outside agencies, including support for nonprofits. The lower shortfall resulted from revised actuarial data that significantly lowered the contribution that the county is required to make toward its unfunded retiree obligations. Other factors include: (1) a decision not to make a $1 million contribution to the general fund’s fund balance; and (2) $2.4 million in higher-than-previously-anticipated revenue.

McDaniel noted that if the county had chosen to bond, then operational cuts would not be needed, and the fund balance contribution could be made. She also reported that the general fund budget doesn’t factor in serious state and federal cuts to non-general fund programs. “Revenue is needed,” she said. “We need to figure that out.”

Commissioners Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) and Conan Smith (D-District 9) both voiced interest in exploring possible new taxes. “I think it’s important that we strongly consider asking the voters of Washtenaw County if they’re willing to support some of the ongoing operations that we have,” said Rabhi, the board’s chair. “We need to pose that question at least to the voters in the form of a millage of some kind.”

Smith cited human services and public safety as areas that might gain voter support for a millage. During public commentary, representatives from SafeHouse Center urged commissioners to continue funding of that nonprofit, as well as for human service organizations in general.

The upcoming budget will be prepared without the major bonding initiative that until earlier this month was anticipated to occur later this year. The bonding was intended to cover unfunded pension and retiree healthcare obligations – for the Washtenaw County Employees’ Retirement System (WCERS) and Voluntary Employees Beneficiary Association (VEBA). The original maximum amount for the bonds had been estimated at up to $345 million, but updated actuarial data resulted in a lower estimate of about $295 million. During the July 24 meeting, commissioner Conan Smith said it’s unlikely that bonding could occur this year, although he’s still supportive in general of taking that approach.

McDaniel plans to present the 2014 budget to the board at its Oct. 2 meeting. Commissioners are required to adopt a balanced budget for 2014 by the end of 2013. At its May 1, 2013 meeting, the board had approved development of a four-year budget. However, commissioners have not yet decided whether to follow through by adopting a budget with that four-year horizon. And some commissioners – notably Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) – have expressed skepticism about this longer-term approach. For the past few years, budget plans have been developed for a two-year period, though the board must confirm the budget annually. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Council Adopts Priorities

Ann Arbor city council priorities for the next two years, adopted as part of a consultant’s planning session report, will include fiscal responsibility, public safety, infrastructure, economic development and affordable housing. The council voted at its Jan. 7, 2013 meeting formally to adopt consultant Julia Novak’s report – based on a Dec. 10, 2012 planning session that she facilitated. [.pdf of Novak's report of Dec. 10 session]

For more detailed coverage of the problem and success statements that the council associates with each of the priority areas, see Chronicle coverage: “Council Focus: Budget, Safety, Infrastructure.” And for coverage of statements of councilmember sentiments in response to one of the planning session assignments – a 3-5 minute statement on “What … [Full Story]

Washtenaw County Board Sets Priorities

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

Conan Smith, Rolland Sizemore Jr.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

County Board Connects, Hard Choices Loom

Washtenaw County board of commissioners retreat (Jan. 29, 2011): A budget retreat for county commissioners last Saturday – also attended by other elected county officials and staff – laid some groundwork for tackling Washtenaw County’s two-year, $20.9 million projected deficit.

Washtenaw County board of commissioners retreat

At their Jan. 29 retreat, Washtenaw County commissioners, staff and other elected officials gathered to talk about the county's budget priorities. The retreat was led by commissioner Conan Smith, the board's chair, who's sitting in the center of the horseshoe table. Other participants are sitting around the room's perimeter, off camera. (Photos by the writer.)

While no decisions were made, the group took steps toward reaching consensus on budget priorities. They identified among their main concerns: public safety, service delivery and human services. At the end of the five-hour session, several commissioners cited the main benefit of the day as building closer relationships with each other, which they hope will help the board and other elected officials – including the sheriff, prosecuting attorney and treasurer – work together more effectively as they make difficult decisions about programs and services to cut.

The retreat was led by board chair Conan Smith, who structured the day with time for sharing individual priorities and concerns, combined with small group work to discuss specific outcomes the commissioners hope will result from those priorities. For example, if public safety is a priority, a possible outcome might be the goal of responding to a 911 call in 20 minutes or less. The county could then budget its resources to achieve that outcome.

Though these kinds of examples emerged during the retreat, the work of setting priorities will continue. Smith said the goal is to develop a formal board resolution outlining their priorities, to guide the budget-setting process. The board will hold its next retreat on Wednesday, Feb. 9 from 6-9 p.m., immediately following its 5:30 p.m. administrative briefing. Both meetings are public, and will be held at the county administration building, 220 N. Main St. in Ann Arbor.

The county’s fiscal year mirrors the calendar year, and budgets are developed on two-year cycles. The current budget runs through the end of 2011. While there will likely be some additional cuts this year, most discussions are focused on the 2012-2013 budget, which commissioners will be asked to approve by the end of this year. [For additional background, see Chronicle coverage: "'State of County' Tackles $20M Deficit"]

This report summarizes Saturday’s discussions of personal priorities, aspirations for Washtenaw County, budget priorities, and reflections on the process. For breakout sessions, we covered the group focused on public safety. By day’s end there were threads of optimism – Yousef Rabhi, one of four new commissioners, said he felt inspired that they were starting to work not just as a team, but “almost as a family.” But notes of caution were sounded as well, as veteran commissioner Wes Prater told the group that “the most difficult part is yet to come.” [Full Story]

County Board Gets Update From Sheriff

Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners (Feb. 17, 2010): In an extensive presentation to the board, sheriff Jerry Clayton laid out changes he’s made in his department since he took office just over a year ago, and discussed his goals and priorities for the coming years.

Gene DeRossett, Elmer White, Derrick Jackson, Jerry Clayton

Sheriff Jerry Clayton, right, talks with Derrick Jackson, director of community engagement for the sheriff's department, before the Feb. 17 county board of commissioners meeting. Behind them are Gene DeRossett, left, chief administrative officer for the 14-A District Court, and Elmer White, who gave an update on the USS Washtenaw exhibit. (Photo by the writer.)

One of the most significant changes was financial. In 2009, overtime hours dropped 36%, leading to nearly $1 million in savings during the year. The department also raised $1 million in new revenues, exceeding Clayton’s projections.

Beyond that, Clayton presented his broad philosophical approach to managing law enforcement in the county, and discussed some of the challenges he faces in light of the current economy.

Law enforcement also came up in a separate discussion during the board’s Wednesday meeting, as commissioner Wes Prater raised concerns over the county’s internal financial controls. Though he’s been agitating for action on this front for several months, his decision to ask the board to form a review committee was prompted by the recent arrest of a county employee charged with embezzling over $100,000.

Commissioners also spent considerable time on Wednesday debating the process of formally revising their priorities. The effort is aimed at adapting the priorities to reflect the county’s diminishing resources. While commissioners agreed that community input was crucial, there was no clear consensus about what the process for gathering that input should be, or how much time it will take.

Finally, the board got a brief update on the Wireless Washtenaw project, a coda to a report given at their Jan. 20 meeting. The firm that’s handling the project, 20/20 Communications, is partnering with Southfield-based Internet 123 and plans to submit a revised business plan for Wireless Washtenaw within 60 days. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor City Council Sets Priorities

Ann Arbor City Council budget retreat

Once inside the Wheeler Service Center on Stone School Road, it was easy to find the city council retreat location.

At its budget retreat held on Saturday at the Wheeler Service Center, city council set out its priorities for the coming year: land use policy (i.e., zoning), economic sustainability, plus improved communication and service delivery.

This, after getting a picture of where the city stands from the city administrator, Roger Fraser, and his key staff: unless expenditures are reduced or else revenues increased, the city will experience a shortfall of revenue against expenditures starting in fiscal year 2010. Staff also outlined some significant projects that the public will start to see implemented or else be expected to help shape in the coming year. Those include increased use of web technologies (e.g., Facebook), more zoning revisions, possible dam removal, and regional coordination of safety services.

Fraser also offered conceptual drawings of a conference center that could be built on top of the proposed Fifth Avenue underground parking garage, and floated the idea of constructing a roof over Fourth Avenue for a bus station to replace the Blake Transit Center. The retreat took place in a workroom outfitted with one of 11 plasma screens that had recently caught the attention of an auditor, because they had been purchased in a manner inconsistent with city guidelines on credit card use. [Full Story]