Well, the trend of calm County Commission meetings has come to an end. Today we took up an issue that has created the most controversy among county commissioners over the last few years. But…I will get to that in a minute.
First, welcome Mary Lannoye! She is the new Ingham County Controller. We approved her appointment today, and she starts in about two weeks. I served on the Controller Search Committee (for the second time in about 5 years) and we interviewed several very qualified candidates. Mary, though, started in Ingham County and had the most knowledge about how we work. Also, for those that don’t recognize the name, she was the State Budget Director for Governor John Engler and for Governor Jennifer Granholm. She also served as Chief of Staff for Governor Granholm. We are all very excited about having her running Ingham County government!
We also passed a resolution directing our Health Department to enforce the statewide smoking ban. The legislation has the Department of Community Health (DCH) enforcing the ban, and DCH will have local public health agencies enforcing it. This usually means counties. Other counties (Kent and Oakland) have said that they will not enforce the smoking ban because it is an unfunded mandate. Ingham County, on the other hand, is vigorous in protecting the health of its citizens. We already have restaurant inspections to ensure public health safety, and this will be included in those inspections. Yes it will cost a bit more, but we are willing to pay that to enforce this important law. Ingham County was the first county to prohibit smoking in public outdoor spaces, but we could not pass a ban on smoking in restaurants (due to state law). We did, though, pass a resolution about two years ago to ensure that non-smoking sections are smoke-free. Now, we have directed our staff to enforce the smoking ban. If other counties don’t want to enforce this ban and their citizens want to come to Ingham, then we will take them! Our Board passed this unanimously.
Finally, the controversial item. I haven’t blogged about it much yet, but it dominated my county life last year. The issue is road patrol police service for the rural townships. In a nutshell, the cities and urban townships (Lansing, East Lansing, Lansing Twp, Meridian Twp, Delhi Twp) provide police and charge their citizens for it. Those citizens, though, also pay taxes to the county. Citizens who live in the rural areas (the 13 rural townships outside of the communities already mentioned) receive police road patrol services from the county, but do not provide their own police. So urban residents (my constituents in Lansing) pay for their own police and someone else’s police, whereas rural residents don’t. And, to make matters worse, road patrol only covers the rural areas. Yes, the road patrol officers sometimes come into the urban areas to make arrests, and yes the road patrol officers are sometimes leaned on for things like prisoner transit… but in the end road patrol is still a service paid for by all county taxpayers solely for 20% of the residents in the rural areas. The rural 20% will say that they only get this service and that the jails and other county services are dominated by Lansing, but the fact remains that road patrol is the only county service that is solely for the rural area. Rural residents get married (county clerk), buy land (register of deeds), have meth labs (sheriff and jail), etc. Those services may be used more by the urban population of the county (80%), but are still available to the rural (20%).
Why did I just tell you that? Well, the townships officials and residents understand that the county has budget problems and is slowly reducing financial resources for road patrol. The townships are forming an authority and asking their citizens for funding for appropriate policing. I applaud them for this. Today, the Ingham County Board of Commissioners passed a budget priority resolution where we included language saying that we will eliminate funding for road patrol and will work with the townships to create an authority to fund this with township resident millage dollars. This passed 11-3, and was bipartisan (10 Democrats and 1 Republican supported, with 1 Democrat and 2 Republicans opposing) . I spoke in support of the resolution as it will provide the appropriate service to the township residents who want better service, and road patrol will no longer get picked apart at our budget time. Commissioner Randy Schafer, who is a tremendous supporter of road patrol, supported this because he agreed with township residents who said that they need the county to make a decision before their voters do. After hours and hours of testimony and consideration last year, we have now taken the first step towards tax fairness and properly funding the road patrol police services for the rural residents and their safety.
That’s it. We also did a bunch more, and you can see our agenda online at www.ingham.org.
Until next week (or the week after)…