County Services committee interviewed three very good candidates for our Fair Board. The County has had a fair for 155 years, and it is a great event for Ingham County families. Rural residents can utilize the fair for agricultural interests, animals, and 4-H activities. Urban residents can learn about agricultural parts of the county, and can have lots of fun with rides and other fun attractions. I have been to the Fair with my family and enjoy it, and look forward to it every year. We need to keep the Fair Board and Fair Director’s feet to the fire to not have deficits at the Fair, as we cannot afford to subsidize them with General Fund money. But we need to give them the tools to better raise money, including concerts and well-regulated and policed beer tents and other money-makers. And we need to pray for no rain during fair week!
We also considered a variety of county fees. We usually aim to recapture 100% of the cost to provide services so that the users of the service are paying rather than county taxpayers. This includes services like immunization record copying fees, public pool inspections, fees for tobacco sales retailers, and other inspections. One fee increase recommendation from our county staff that concerned me, though, was to increase parks fees for residents. Current parks fees for county residents (who also pay county taxes) are $2 daily and $20 annual. Our staff recommended increasing daily entrance fees to $3 and annual fees to $30.
I was able to prevent this fee increase when it was considered in the County Services committee. During debate, I indicated opposition to this county fee increase. In talking to constituents, the county service I hear more than anything other is Hawk Island County Park which is in my district. This park is a jewel in south Lansing and is used by people in the summer and winter. It is the one real get-away and quality of life asset that the County provides for my constituents. Up until this year, the county charged parking fees for parks only on weekends. Due to budget constraints, this was changed to being charged daily. That took effect on January 1st.
I raised the objection that we just added daily fees and I did not think it would be appropriate to raise these fees so quickly after making people pay daily. This is also a service that we can provide to our constituents, especially for those out of work who need to get out of the house. Increasing these fees at this time is simply wrong. After making this case in committee, I was able to garner the support of my colleagues. When these fees were separated out from the rest of the fees, they were turned down on a 1-5 vote.
Unfortunately, the Finance committee disagreed. Information from staff was presented saying that this would reduce our budget by about $80,000, and that there are plenty of ways to receive a waiver if people can't pay. While I understand these arguments, I responded saying that we haven't even started looking at our budget yet. When we went from charging 2 days per week to 6 days per week, we increased revenues from $97,000 per year to $200,000 per year. That means we doubled what we took in last year. It is too soon to once again increase that. And, I argued that these fees are not budgetary considerations. If we really want to maximize our budget, we would make fees $4 or $5 daily and make lots more money. But to me, parks fees are not about solidifying our budget - they are what we think the community members should pay. We will always put in money from the county general fund for parks as they are an important part of quality of life for our residents.
With the County Services and Finance Committees disagreeing, this will be decided on Tuesday at the Board level. I will let you know what happens on Wednesday or Thursday!
On the campaign front, everything continues to go well. I have been knocking doors and discussing issues with constituents. I am receiving tremendous support and encouragement. While my opponent continues to distort my record, I will continue to talk about the important issues for southeast Lansing residents at the County Commission!
(As a note...my opponent says I supported a pay raise for myself in bad budget times. The reality is that on November 27, 2007, I voted for a resolution that ELIMINATED the pay raise
for 2009 and reduced the pay raise for 2010. And in 2010, I have contributed the pay raise back to the county, which I did before I knew that I would have a primary. We asked for 3 furlough days for employees, and I believed I needed to give back to the general fund from my pay as well. My opponent either is purposely distorting my record, or truly doesn't understand how county government works.)