Thursday, August 26, 2010

911 Intergovernmental Agreement, 2011 Budget, and Economic Development Through Smartzone

This week, I had three different important county meetings. On Tuesday, the Board of Commissioners met. As I have said before, most of our tough work is done in committee. The Board meeting approved several resolutions, but not much controversial. One important resolution that passed (and not reported on here previously) was an intergovernmental agreement between Ingham, Eaton, Clinton and Livingston counties. This agreement will allow the four counties to combine in purchasing and maintaining new phone technology for the 911 centers in mid-Michigan and to develop virtual backup capabilities. All four counties need to upgrade their 911 phone systems in order to take advantage of internet protocol technology, and all four need to develop emergency backup E-9-1-1 capabilities in the event of primary system failure. Signing this agreement and approving the bylaws allows us to work collaboratively in order to reduce costs and provide for inter-connectivity between counties. It also allows each county to forgo the capital costs of building a physical E-9-1-1 backup center in each county. I had some questions about the makeup of the agreement and bylaws – specifically how decisions are made and how the funding is done – but county staff assured me that the decisions and funding will be done in a fair and equitable way. This agreement will be a good regional tool for savings and efficiency, and I am happy that we passed it unanimously.

The County Services committee held the first of the budget meetings. First it needs to be said that our staff – especially Mary Lannoye (controller) and Teri Morton (budget director) – was able to greatly minimize the impacts of the budget deficit and they need to be greatly commended by the employees and the citizens of Ingham County.

The budget books were handed out on Tuesday, so this there was not much time to read through the extensive budget before committee on Wednesday…but Commissioners and department heads were able to effectively parse and understand the proposals. Every department was happy with their budget allocations in the County Services committee. Not one department head objected to their recommended budget (which is rare). Commissioners did have some questions for some of the department heads, though. I asked our Parks director several questions about the line items in the budget, and he gave good answers. Parks are truly doing a lot more with very little money. I also had issues with our funding of the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission. This is an entity that Eaton, Clinton and Ingham counties all belong to, and it handles land use issues for the region. While I have no problem with their work or staff, I did have a problem with the fact that we are giving them the same $102,000 that we gave them last year. I inquired why we should cut all our departments yet give tri-county the same allocation, and they said that cuts would be matched by other entities and would result in lost matching funds from the federal government. Some money we provide goes to administration, but the bulk of the money goes to services that receive an 80% match, so cutting would lose federal funding. Most Commissioners were satisfied with that answer, but I still believe that we shouldn’t be cutting our own departments yet leaving the regional entities whole. As such, I voted against that one appropriation (I was the only no vote on that part of the budget). The rest of the County Services items passed unanimously. The other committees – Human Services, Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Finance – will be holding budget hearings over the next three weeks or so.

In addition to serving on official county committees, I also represent Ingham County on the Local Development Financing Authority (also known as the Smartzone). This Authority oversees economic development activities that are a result of dollars that are captured for these purposes. We heard reports from East Lansing staff on the Technology Innovation Center (TIC), which has about 14 entrepreneurial businesses in it (mostly professor or student-run businesses who receive low-cost rent to get their idea off the ground). I am encouraged by the products that we are helping to get to market and the many people who are creating jobs through innovation that we can assist. I was not thrilled, though, that several of the businesses are looking at moving out of town after their lease with the TIC is up. East Lansing staff is trying to assist these entrepreneurs to stay in the East Lansing/Lansing area, but other areas are offering venture capital and appropriate space (i.e. hundreds of square feet of wet lab space) and other incentives that we cannot offer. I hope to bring forth a proposal to rectify that situation…but that is in development and will be reported on in a future County Blog. We also heard from the Lansing Economic Development Corporation staff about the University Research Corridor and the Knapps building project. I am very encouraged by the Knapps project. We did not receive a $2 million grant due to technical problems, but we hope to re-apply for that and get the money. In the meantime, it seems that the developers are still working to get all the appropriate financing and start the reconstruction. Severeal local, state and federal incentives will be used. The goal is to have residential space, incubator space, and retail in the building. It would be a great boon for downtown Lansing, and I am hoping that this can move forward as soon as possible. I have great faith in the Lansing Economic Development Corporation, and I think this will be yet another example of Lansing rebuilding its downtown and drawing young and talented workers and residents back to our city.

That’s it for now. I hope everyone has a great weekend!

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