Thursday, May 6, 2010

PLA, Saving County $, Community Agencies (and a little campaign info)

On Tuesday, we also considered our first contract proposal under our Project Labor Agreement (PLA) policy. In case you haven’t heard, last year the county created a policy requiring PLA’s for bigger construction projects (anything over $100,000). It was highly controversial and the County Services held many meetings on it and worked with both business and labor to create the final product. I was not on the committee at the time, but worked on this when it came up on the Board floor. The County is planning to do an expansion of the Rhino exhibit at Potter Park Zoo and it will be the first PLA project. This is being done with dedicated zoo millage funds, so don’t worry about general fund dollars being used for this instead of deputies or health department or
anything else.

The controversy came, though, in the way our staff wants to do the PLA. There were two options presented: (1) have the county directly negotiation a PLA with one or more labor organizations, or (2) condition the award of a contract to a construction manager/general contractor. All other PLA’s – Sparrow, MSU, others – have the construction manager or general contactor negotiate with the union. Our staff wanted to negotiate directly for the first project because they wanted to set the first PLA as a basis for all future ones in case there is not the ability for future contract managers or general contractors to negotiate. The problem with that, though, was that this project is big enough to have a general contractor that is able to negotiate. I argued that we should take this on a case-by-case basis because each project has to come to the Board. I pushed for “option 2” to be adopted. In the end, that is exactly what happened. If there are future projects that need to have the county staff negotiate directly, then we can consider it at that time.

In other news, the Drain Commissioner came to County Services and Finance with a plan to save money for him and earn money for the county. How? Well….the Drain Commissioner borrows money for projects from banks and pays a certain interest rate (5% or so). The County invests its short-term tax collections in banks and receives a small interest on that money (1% or so) until it is needed for spending. So, why not combine the two? Why not have the
Drain Commissioner borrow it from the County and pay 3% interest or so? Then the county gains an extra 1% or 2% on interest on the short-term dollars, while the Drain Commissioner saves 1% or 2% on interest. So, we passed a resolution that would do this one time for a limited amount of money. I asked several questions about cash flow and ensuring that this won’t jeopardize county dollars or collections. Both County Treasurer Eric Schertzing and County Drain Commissioner Pat Lindemann ensured the committee that this work just fine, and that it will save money for the Drain Commissioner while earning a little more money for the County general fund. Now that’s government efficiency in motion! Thanks to Drain Commissioner Lindemann and Treasurer Schertzing!

In Finance, we considered how we fund our community agencies. Community agencies are the various groups in the community that do good work. Examples are the Lansing Community Gardens (which provide food for the poor) or the Lansing Area Aids Network or about 30 others. In the past, the county has given a few dollars to each of these organizations to do good work in the community. We cannot be everything to everyone, but we can support these groups to help those in need. The allocation in past years has been about $300,000. Last year that was cut to $200,000. This year, that is expected to eb cut to $100,000. While I have tremendous respect for the work they do, I have concerns about giving this money to outside agencies when we are cutting our own county employees and services. $100,000 is a deputy, or money for a park, or other key services. While I would consider supporting moving community agency dollars to other areas within the county, there doesn't seem to be support for that.

Instead, Commissioner Brian McGrain proposed to send the $100,000 to the Power of We consortium. The Power of We work with these non-profit organizations and show them how to be better at what they do. The concept is...if you give a man a fish, he eats for a day; if you teach a man to fish he eats forever. Instead of funding the programs each year with a very little amount of money from the county, the Power of We can use the money to teach them how to run better.

This proposal to move the money to the Power of We instead of directly allocating it to community agencies passed the Human Services committee on a 3-2 vote. I was not there but I understand that there was significant debate on the pros and cons. The Finance Committee defeated it on a 3-3 vote. The resolution will go to the Board for consideration on Tuesday, and it should be a very interesting debate and vote.

Well...that's it.

Actually, I will tell you one other thing. This week officially starts my re-election campaign. I have a challenger in the Democratic primary this year, and he has been bashing me left and right. Although he just moved into the district, he is telling anyone that will listen what a terrible job I have been doing for my district. I am taking this very seriously and will rise to the challenge. While this blog is usually dedicated to issue work (which my challenger will undoubtedly benefit from), I will also spend some time talking about my re-election. As always, I welcome any support folks can give (contributions, door knocking, etc.). And I look forward to the vote on August 3rd!


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