This week in County Services, we passed a resolution waiving the county’s hiring freeze so that we can fill several Deputy Sheriff positions. Several positions, two supervisory, have become vacant and need to be filled. There were some questions in committee about whether or not we should fill the positions because of the budget problems. I and others, though, argued that this is not the place to re-fight the road patrol issue. We have already taken affirmative action to end road patrol at the end of the year and the townships will be voting on whether or not they want to re-create those positions with local assessments. That being said, I believe that we should continue to provide the deputies that we committed to provide when we did our budget last year. We also need to have appropriate staff in the jails, and on the roads (at least until the end of the year).
We also once again looked at the federal bonds that were given to Ingham County to provide to local businesses. We allocated these a few months ago, but the Accident Fund returned their bonds because they were able to get other financing (which is good news for our economy!). Lansing Township (DDA) has a good share of the private bonds that we can make available for the phase 2 of the new Eastwood development (mixed-use parking garage and other things), and they have requested the balance of the bonds. They had not done anything with the original bonds until last week, though, when they actually went out to market with the bonds (i.e. sold them on the market). The EDC director was not comfortable giving more bonds if the township had not yet even gone to market with the other bonds. The EDC also was not comfortable going out for bid until Lansing Township produced the numbers that they needed (which they were not willing to do). Lansing Township has sent a letter to the Board asking for the balance of the dollars, and I expect that we will give it to them at the next meeting as they are the only entity to apply.
Speaking of economic development, we learned last week that our economic development director, Susan Pigg, will be leaving us on August 6th. So County Services had a good discussion about the process to replace her. We contract with MSU Extension and they will hire, but they will include us in the discussions. We are also discussing other potential possibilities when it comes to economic development. I think this is a good time to evaluate our program and see if there are ways to increasing its effectiveness. Commissioner Brian McGrain and I are working on some recommendations for the Board.
We also learned that there is $400 million available from the Federal Farm and Ranch Land law. This money is being allocated and the Ingham Farmland and Open Space committee has submitted our top 10 farms, requesting $650,000 in matching funds from feds. If approved, the county would only pay $.38 on the dollar for every dollar we spend on the farms (which comes out of the millage). So this could help us capture federal dollars.
In the last County Blog I mentioned the community needs assessment. We passed that in Finance (and the Human Services Committee also passed it). The Health Department needs to do a risk assessment in order to apply for the $11 billion available to Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC’s). That process will be started with the passage of this resolution and needs to happen quickly as the money will be applied for in November (and there needs to be a community needs assessment done before that). We are also looking to work with the hospitals (Sparrow and Ingham) and Community Mental Health, who also have to do community needs assessments.
We had an update on the snow tubing hill at Hawk Island. For those that don't remember, a few years ago we approved spending for a new snow tubing hill. We are pushing back the timeline once again, though, because we are still trying to get dirt for the project. We have relied on dirt from the city Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) project, but some of it was contaminate and couldn't be use. And for all those who have complained that the county shouldn't be spending money on a snow tubing hill (note: the money was approved years ago!), an important point was made by the Parks staff - not only is there very little money from the county (because we receive matching funds), but this hill will be a revenue generator. People will rent tubes and pay admission to the park, so it will generate much more than the $75,000 that it will cost.
Finally, we have received a request from the Dog Park folks. As you may know, the Soldan Dog Park is the dog park that was created attached to Hawk Island (although the property is city property). While there are set rules for the users of the dog park, there have been problems with people not following those rules. The city doesn't have the personnel to staff it, and neither does the county. So the users are sort of on an honor system and are expected to follow the rules. This is not happening as much as it should be, though. I have heard from constituents who have said that they or their dogs have been attacked and bitten. The Dog Park Task Force has proposed to create an electronic gate at the entrance to the Dog Park on the north and south sides. In order to get in, someone would have to purchase a pas, which would cost $5 per day or $40 for an annual pass ($25 for students). The cost of the pass would cover the installation of the gate and the maintenance of the Dog Park (capital expenditures, fencing, improvements, etc). Also, people would have to sign a consent to follow the rules in order to get the pass. Finally, we would have a record of who is at the Dog Park and when they were there, so attacks can be investigated. I like the idea of the pass, but it seems that the cost is a bit steep. People would not have to pay the cost to get into Hawk Island if they entered the Dog Park from the north (and park in Ingham Regional's parking lot), but I am still looking for feedback from people about the pro's and con's of the electronic gate (costs vs. benefits). Thoughts?
On the campaign trail: I have once again completed knocking doors throughout the whole district, and will start once again! If you are interested in helping out with the campaign, please let me know. I have received tremendous response at doors and at the many events I have attended, and am greatly encouraged by the comments of the voters of southeast Lansing. They are judging me on my record, which is all I can ask, and ignoring all the negative stuff from my opponent! 12 more days until the campaign is over!