Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Brownfield Properties, Farmland Preservation, Zoo Millage, Contract % Increases, and Local Purchasing

This was another week of committees for me - County Services and Finance. We passed a limited tax pledge for Brownfield Redevelopment Authority Bonds. These are bonds for our Brownfield plan that our Land Bank uses, and is the second time we are passing one of these. In 2007, we passed a pledge of $1.975 million for the countywide plan. At that time, as you know, the world was a vastly different place. It was before the economy really tanked with the bankruptcies of the auto companies, and before foreclosures really started to increase. The development from the first tax pledge has not come about as quickly as hoped. As such, we could be short on the debt service for next year, which will be covered by this resolution. This situation is not unique to the Land Bank Brownfield plan, though, as many tax increment finance (TIF) districts throughout the state are facing this. Treasurer Schertzing tells us, though, that many things are looking up on development front. This second bond will also cover additional parcels which are better and more likely to bring in dollars to the county. They are more conservative projections. Commissioner Brian McGrain, who sits on the County Economic Development Board, said that they spent a lot of time on this and that it is a well thought-out and conservative plan. The plan also includes more commercial properties, which usually bring in more revenue.

The committees also passed a resolution allowing three farms to use money from our Farmland Preservation millage in order to have development rights purchased. We will be receiving about $600,000 in matching dollars, so 50% of the total are ingham dollars and 50% is match money. The three farms are next to protected state farmland (protected in 2000), so about 900 acres total will be preserved.

In County Services, we had before us a resolution supporting the zoo millage. While I do support the zoo millage, I questioned whether a public body such as the Board of Commissioners could pass a resolution in support of a millage quesiton. Commissioner Vic Celentino agreed with my concern and pointed out that we have been told we could not do this in the past. Commissioner Grebner said that this is unnecessary because just putting it on the ballot means we are asking voters to vote for it (which I don't know if I wholly agree with). Commissioner Copedge said that he was uncomfortable with the resolution and that each commissioner should be able to support or oppose the measure on their own. Commissioner Vickers said that he supports the zoo, but not at .41 mills and he thought the resolution was not a good idea. The resolution was not taken up for a vote.

The Finance Committee passed a resolution on cost increases for services related to contracts in Ingham County. This year, we have seen several vendors come to us and ask for large yearly percentage increases for their services. You may recall, this boiled over a few weeks ago when Harris (our 911 vendor) asked for 5% increases each year for several years. We decided to draft a policy that will be provided to vendors saying that increases should be limited 1% (which is the amount that county employees have received for raises). Should vendors want higher increases, they will face increased scrutiny and could potentially be dropped for other vendors. The CPI this year was -.07%, which shows that costs are not going up and we believe that this policy is a good one to direct staff as they negotiate contact renewals.

Finally, County Services had a good discussion about our "local purchasing preference" policy. This was the second discussion about this topic. There are concerns that the current policy - allowing county vendors to match any bids that are within 5% of their bid - isn't really working in terms of keeping county dollars in the county. Apparently, there were only two vendors who used the policy in 2009. Controller Lannoye put several potential options before us:

• Keep existing policy.
• Increase the 5% threshold to 7% or 10%.
• Expand the definition of a RLV beyond the county border to contiguous counties.
• Allow a preference for RLVs which are within 5% of the lowest responsive bid without having to match the lowest responsive bid.
• Develop local preference tiers. Example might include the following: within 2% of low bid they do not have to match low bid, between 2-5% they are given opportunity to reduce their price to no more than 2% of low bid, and between 5-7% they are given the opportunity to match low bid.
• Allow existing contracts with RLVs to be renewed without bidding, provided the renewal increase is equal to or lower than the current CPI.
• Require that any bid process that does not include at least three (3) local vendors be rebid.

The committee came to a consensus that the 5% range should be increased to 10%. That was the only item we could agree on. I am uncomfortable with giving preference to out-of-county businesses because those businesses do not pay Ingham County property taxes and this would be an unfair advantage to those companies over Ingham companies. Others were uncomfortable with many of the other options. So we agreed that the 5% should go to 10%. That, at least, would have qualified 4 more businesses in 2009 and is a step in the right direction.

I still hope to put out an elections blog with the candidates...maybe next week!

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