Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (May 2, 2012): The agenda was a light one, but several items of information resulted in some lengthy discussions.
From left: County commissioners Ronnie Peterson and Rob Turner. Turner has been the board's point person for dealing with a debt crisis in Sylvan Township. (Photos by the writer.)
Chief among those was a report on the debt crisis in Sylvan Township. The county picked up a $175,000 interest payment on May 1 that the township couldn’t afford to make, related to $12.5 million in bonds that were issued 11 years ago – and backed by the county’s full faith and credit – to build a water and wastewater treatment plant there.
Rob Turner – who represents District 1 on the county’s west side, where the township is located – reported that township officials hope to seek voter approval in August for a 20-year, 4.4 mill tax to cover the remaining payments. However, some commissioners expressed skepticism that township voters would approve a tax now, after rejecting a similar proposal in November. The county is also pursuing legal action for breach of contract, and is working with the township to reach a consent agreement that can be submitted to the court to outline a repayment strategy. If the millage doesn’t pass, it will be up to a judge to determine a tax levy. Commissioners were told that township residents will be assessed for the debt, one way or another.
In another report to the board, county administrator Verna McDaniel told commissioners that the county had agreed to a one-year extension to continue administering the Washtenaw Head Start program, through July 31, 2013. As part of the budget process last year, the county board had voted to relinquish its 46-year administration of the program on July 31, 2012. But the process to find another entity to administer Head Start has taken longer than expected, so the county reached an agreement with federal officials to operate the program another year.
McDaniel reported that the agreement waives a 20% local match of about $750,000 that the county had previously been required to provide. Because of that decrease there will be program changes, though details haven’t yet been worked out. While several commissioners praised the decision for easing the eventual transition to a new Head Start administrator, Ronnie Peterson expressed concern that the program’s high standards would be compromised.
The board also got an update on ongoing efforts to address how the county handles animal control services, in preparation to issue a request for proposals (RFP) later this year. Those services are currently being handled through a contract with the Humane Society of Huron Valley, which ends on Dec. 31, 2012. Board chair Conan Smith passed out a schedule for the board’s animal control policy task force meetings, with the first one set for Wednesday, May 9 from 8-10 a.m. at the county’s Learning Resource Center, 4135 Washtenaw Ave. The policy task force meetings will be open to the public.
Financial reports were also on the May 2 agenda, including the 2011 audit and an update on long-term liabilities. Wes Prater voiced concern that the county now has dramatically more in long-term liabilities than it did just five years ago. Total legacy liabilities, including pension and retiree health care benefits, have increased from $302.198 million at the end of 2007 to $346.572 million at the end of 2011.
Other items addressed during the meeting included: (1) an update from Yousef Rabhi on plans to put Project Grow gardens on the county-owned Platt Road site of the former juvenile justice center; (2) approval of up to $270,000 in bonds to fund an extension of the Sugar Creek drainage district in York and Augusta townships; (3) a resolution of support for the U.S. Clean Air Act; and (4) public commentary regarding the dangers of DTE Energy’s “smart” meters.
Commissioners also honored Hazel Bowman for her 25 years of volunteer service in the county’s foster grandparent program, giving her a standing ovation. [Full Story]