While we had a busy week in committee, the most important thing that we learned this week is that our budget next year will be worse off than was originally projected. While we had originally been projecting a $5 million budget deficit for the 2011 fiscal year, it seems that is actually going to be $7-8 million.
Our Controller has collected the service base requests from our departments, taxable values, and other revenue projections for the 2011 fiscal year general fund. Based on the new taxable values provided from our Equalization Director, property tax collections are projected to decline by over $2.5 million. So calculating these all together, the deficit is $7-8 million. The Controller is assuming recommending using $1 million from the unreserved fund balance (rainy day fund), so we will be looking at having to solve a $6-7 million problem when we do the budget in August.
In County Services, we began looking at a ballot question for a renewal of the Zoo millage at .41 mills. As you probably know, a few years ago the voters overwhelmingly passed a millage for the zoo and it was moved from city control to county control. I was on the special committee that drew up the contract between the city and the county and developed the structure of the new management. There were many issues we had to work out, including how to move employees from the city to the county and still preserve their wages and benefits, retirement for employees, who owned the equipment, etc. But after many hours of hard work, we resolved all these issues. It was a great cooperative effort and a success for keeping the zoo open and alive in Lansing. We were able to maintain a great regional asset which draws people to our area. The millage would renew the funding for the zoo. We had a few legal questions about the language so we referred them to the County Attorney. I expect the language to be finalized at the next County Services and Finance committee meetings so we can get this on the ballot for the November general election.
In Finance, we took up a resolution that would fund community agencies and allow our staff to rank the incoming requests. We had about $300,000 for this last year, but are expecting much less this year. The Finance committee agreed with the Human Services committee that the rankings need to include a variety of factors, including basic needs that include food, shelter, etc. Once this resolution passes the Board on Tuesday, the information packet will go out to community agencies on Wednesday and they will be able to apply for the limited funding that we will have. The requests will be scored by our Controller and staff, and the recommendations will be made as part of the budget process in October.
Campaign Update: I am honored to have received the unanimous endorsement yesterday of the Ingham County Democratic Party. I am running for the Democratic nomination on August 3rd, and the county Democratic Party has recognized my positive record for my constituents. This is an unusual honor, as it takes ¾ of the voting members to secure an endorsement. I have also been endorsed by every Democratic member of the County Commission, every Countywide official (Sheriff, Prosecutor, Drain Commissioner, Clerk, Register of Deeds, Treasurer), State Reps Bauer, Byrum and Meadows, and Sen. Whitmer. My opponent, on the other hand, is being supported by Republican County Commissioner Steve Dougan. That is an interesting twist, especially as my opponent is running against me in the Democratic primary and claiming to be a Democrat.
On the negative side, this week my opponent put up a website accusing me and my Democratic colleagues on the County Commission of “seeking retaliation and intimidation of employees who speak up”. This is just the latest in his long list of blatant lies and distortions of me and my record. It is also a ruthless attack on the entire Democratic Caucus.
The TRUTH is that employees come to me regularly to discuss issues and for help, and I invite this dialogue. I have had county deputies, health department employees and other employees come to me for assistance with problems. As County Services Chair, Human Services Chair and Law Enforcement Chair I have always invited the opinions of our county employees. I invited in for testimony numerous county deputies on the road patrol issue, many UAW employees on health care issues, etc and I have NEVER sought punishment or retribution on any of them for speaking up. This is just another attempt by my opponent to confuse and anger voters when no actual issue exists. After knocking hundreds of doors, though, I am convinced that the voters won’t be fooled and are insulted by his campaign.