I hope everyone had a great week. I apologize for this blog being so late. The week just got ahead of me!
Usually the Board of Commissioners committee process has liaison committees working on resolutions then the Finance committee changing them. In this case, it worked almost in reverse. The County Services committee this week considered a resolution dealing with approvals for discount incentive programs at the zoo. Last year, the county offered free zoo entrance for moms on Mothers Day, dads on Fathers Day, and grandparents on Grandparents day. The Parks department brought us a resolution that would extend that to every year. The resolution, though, did not specify that it was only for these days and that it was only for Ingham County residents. I raised concerns in committee that the resolution would allow the appointed Parks Commission to waive entrance fees at the zoo whenever they wanted, and that would be an inappropriate power. Only the elected Commissioners should have that power in my opinion. The Parks Director testified that the intention was only for the resolution affect those three days, so we unanimously amended it to reflect that.
In Finance, though, the resolution was amended back to the original language. First, Commissioner Bahar-Cook argued that the resolution shouldn't just be for Ingham County residents. She argued that if moms came on Mothers Day and got in free, even from other counties, the moms would also come with children and other adults who would still pay the entrance fee. It would attract more money to the zoo, while also bringing more people to the zoo on these three days. Her amendment passed unanimously. Commissioner Nolan then said that the zoo board and Parks Commission should have the power to waive fees whenever they want and that she believed that the resolution should be expansive. I argued that I thought it was too much power in non-elected hands and that the elected Commissioners should be the ones to approve waivers of fees. I lost. The amendment passed 4-2. The final resolution also passed committee 4-2. I opposed the resolution because I remember previous years when the Parks Commission waived fees for parks that we didn't agree with, and we had to go back and amend their authority so that the Commission had the final say. I am afraid this will be the same situation. We will see what happens on Tuesday.
We also considered another resolution that would hire a medical director needed for our Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC's). The Health Director requested that the new medical director be hired in at Step 5 (the highest pay step) and several Commissioners took issue with the continual practice of hiring people in at the highest pay level. The Health Director, Dr. Sienko, explained that this position was needed as a result of an audit of the FQHC program. The federal government highly recommended that we have a medical director with clinical and administrative experience. The individual that the Health Director has recommended has over 20 years experience in pediatrics and was the best candidate in terms of administrative and clinical experience. The position will be ½ time in administrative and ½ time in patient care at St Lawrence or Sparrow (helping citizens and generating county revenues). We now only have an internist in that position, but that doctor does clinical rather than administrative work. While I understand the concern about hiring in at the top level, it seems that the real issue is that it is very difficult to get quality doctors in at our pay levels. The doctor we are hiring is taking a pay cut, and we need to be competitive...especially to ensure that we receive the millions of federal dollars associate with our FQHC's. The few thousand dollars that we are going to spend to bring someone in at Step 5 instead of a lower step will be leveraged by about $900,000 that we are getting from the federal government which could be at risk. After a lot of discussion, the resolution passed.
Finally, we began our discussion of fees. Both the County Services and Finance Committees focused on the Parks Department fees. The shelters at the parks are each going up about 50%. They haven't gone up in 10 or 15 years, so this is catching it up with where it should be. I pointed out that there is always significant demand for these shelters and, while people won't love the increase, this is probably warranted. I argued strongly, though, against increasing the entrance fees for the parks. These fees just went up last year, and I have heard from my constituents the unhappiness about the fees at Hawk Island going up two years in a row. While the Budget Department requested an entrance fee increase, the Controller did not recommend it and I argued against an entrance fee at Hawk Island and Lake Lansing and Burchfield. So far, those fees are not being raised. The Human Services committee had several questions about the Pollution Prevention resolution fees, and other fees were discussed in other committees. We did not vote on this resolution, and will discuss it again at the next round of committee meetings.
On a personal note, thank you so much for everyone who contributed to my first fundraiser for State Representative. Thanks also for those who attended. We had over 60 people there, and raised more than $10,000. Checks are still coming in, we are finalizing the next fundraiser in a month or so. I am excited and humbled by the tremendous support I am receiving and look forward to the campaign next year.
Have a great Mothers Day to all the moms out there...