Friday, September 16, 2011

2012 County Budget Passes Finance Committee

Happy Friday! Yes, I am writing this blog on a Friday night (which is a little sad)…but I am watching college football at the same time!

This week was a good one. We took an important step in finalizing the Ingham County budget for 2012. The Finance committee, which I Chair, received the budget recommendations from the four liaison committees (Human Services, County Services, Judiciary, Law Enforcement) and reviewed the budget in its entirety. We passed the Human Services, Judiciary, and Law Enforcement budgets on consent. Commissioner Bahar-Cook asked for the County Services budget to be reviewed separately.

Similar to what was reported last week, we had a conversation about the role of the Parks Director in relation to the zoo. Commissioner Bahar-Cook raised the issue that the zoo board was unhappy with 40% of the Director’s salary coming from the Zoo millage. The director pointed out that he has been spending more than 40% of his time on zoo things. There was a conversation about the time commitment moving forward, as we will have a new executive director and another staffer at the zoo. These two positions would do many of the things that the director is doing now during the 2012 year. The director pointed out, though, that the zoo will face AZA certification next year and that he will be doing a lot of work on that. The result was that we directed the Controller and county staff to evaluate the hours spent by the director on zoo activities throughout the year. This way, we will have a good accounting as we go into the budget next year. With that amendment, the County Services budget also passed unanimously.

After these were done, we moved on to the Strategic Planning Initiative funds (also called the z-list, which I have explained in the last two blogs). We had $255,000 in requests for $300,000, so all positions were funded. We were able to backfill a sheriff’s Metro Squad position, which currently has a grant that will end in October and will need $19,000 to get the position funded through the end of the year. We were also able to provide a detective, and a law enforcement deputy. The Sheriff indicated that these will be used for gang-related activity investigations, and to ensure that deputies doing emergency response will not have to respond alone.

The UAW again testified that they appreciated the openness of the County Controller and Budget Director, but also said they are disappointed with the 13 open positions eliminated. They said that these positions are all UAW employees and that other UAW employees will now have to do extra work. The Controller responded that over the last few years, there have been 106 positions eliminated and 46 of those are UAW. So the eliminations have been spread out over a series of employees. I can sympathize with the UAW, but it was much better to have openings eliminated than to layoff people.

At the end of the process, I thanked our staff for all their hard work, and for helping to solve a $5.5 million budget deficit without any layoffs. Commission Chairman Mark Grebner pointed out that we used funds from a few accounts which had reserves. We drew down about $1 million from various reserve accounts (capital improvements, etc) and that these reserves were there for just such a budget problem. We are all hopeful that property values will go back up and that we won’t have to do this again, but that we can take from reserves for another few years if needed.

All-in-all the process went very smoothly and just about everyone was happy. I am excited that one of the smoothest budget hearings happened under my watch, and I look forward to getting the 2012 budget passed on the Board floor!

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