Thursday, October 20, 2011

Airport Update, Road Commission, Health Care Costs, Zoo Entrance Fees Increased, Health and Fair Directors selected, Office,Congrats Bob Trezise!

This week was a busy week, as it always is when we have multiple committees meeting.

The most significant, and yet least contentious, thing that we did this week was to pass the 2012 Spending Resolution. This implements our budget for next year. Yay! That's just about done!

In County Services, hear an update from the Capitol Area Airport Authority Executive Director. It was a good presentation. He pointed out many things, including the fact that the airport has a return on investment of $178 for each tax dollar invested. This is a stat used to justify the millage, and is convincing. It is worth noting, though, that the Airport (located in Clinton County) is wholly supported publicly through a millage that Ingham County and City of Lansing residents pay even though it provides benefit for Ingham, Eaton, and Clinton counties. I asked what the return on investment would be if Eaton and Clinton and county resident contributed, and the answer was that there would be about $375 in return on investment per dollar invested!. Other highlights were the great work the Authority is doing attracting airlines and cargo, that we have the only Foreign Trade Zone outside of Chicago and Detroit in the midwest, and that the that Port Lansing Foreigh Trade Zone takes in 8 counties. With the approval of a tax sharing agreement (called a 425 agreement) between Lansing and DeWitt Twp, they are hoping to create a Next Michigan District that will provide incentives to businesses to locate on Airport land and create more revenues for the local units of government.

After hearing this presentation, Commissioners Vickers and Dragonetti attempted to add a resolution to the agenda to call for the resignation of Ingham County Road Commissioner Shirley Rodgers. As background, resolutions are usually presented for the agenda of a committee about a week in advance and placed on that agenda. Because the resolution was introduced at the last minute, I voted against suspending the rules to add it to the agenda. I had not even read it when it came up for a vote about adding it to the agenda. After hearing public comment for the last month, this was not something that needed to be done at the last minute. As such, I voted against this and suggested that this be done through the normal process. The resolution failed 2-4. I expect to see it again introduced as a late item on the Board floor on Tuesday and, if history repeats itself, I expect that the four Republicans will contact the media and tell residents to come because the Road Commisison will be on the agenda. Of course, that is not true and it will simply be the Republicans manipulating the public just to have them be let down...but that seems to be par for the course. They are trying to create anger instead of trying to go through the actual process and govern.

Health care costs are always a concern to any local government. In Ingham County, we receive recommendations from a coalition of employers and employees. This week in Finance and County Services, we received the Health Care recommendations for the year. We were recently notified by PHP that our 2012 health insurance premiums would need to be modified to include the 1% state claims tax that was recently passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor.
Half this cost was borne by the employees and half by the County. Increase in our employee’s contribution levels, though, resulted in a change to the benefits as required under the Federal Health Reform Act. The Act requires that all preventive medical services be provided with no co-pays. We believed our plan was under a grandfather provision which allowed us to delay implementation of these provisions until 2014. This is no longer true, though, because of the increase. As such, we had another small increase (.09%) in our premium rates for 2012. Since this amount is due to the employee’s contribution increase, the County is agreeing to absorb this
portion of the rate increase. Even with both of these changes, we are still in compliance with State requirement that employees must pay at least 80% of their health care costs (the so-called 80/20 law). Both the County and the unions supported this plan for health care for 2012.

Finally, we had a recommendation from the Potter Park Zoo Committee and the Parks Board to increase entrance fees for the zoo. The Potter Park Zoo staff researched zoo admission fees, using other zoos for comparison purposes, and they believe that the fee changes will continue to put the Potter Park Zoo in a favorable position relative to Detroit Zoo, Binder Park Zoo, and John Ball Zoo entry fees. They indicated that the need the additional $90,000 in funding to provide adequate funding for the Potter Park Zoo operations in order to offset rising costs and decreased millage amounts being collected, and to ensure AZA certification.

The resolution presented in County Services included a $2 proposed increase in the Resident Adult (from $4 to $6) and Non-Resident Adult (from $10 to $12) fees, and an increase in Children fees from $2 to $3 in addition to reducing the age from3-16 to 3-12 years of age. I argued against the fee increases. I said that residents are already paying $2.8 million, in additon to paying the parking fees and the entrance fees. I am opposed to increasing the fees again, especially after the millage was just renewed and the parking just went up for daily and yearly passed. In County Services, this opposition was agreed to by all (Commissioner Vickers said he agreed with me and we all had a good laugh!). The resolution failed 0-6.

When the resolution came up in Finance, Commissioner Bahar-Cook argued stongly for the fee increase. She said that the voters have passed two millages and want a strong zoo. She also said that if AZA funding is jeopardized, then the Zoo will be nothing more than a petting zoo and all will be for naught. Commissioner McGrain proposed an amendment that changed the fees around a bit. His amendment changed the Resident Adult fees to only going up $1 (from $4 to $5), had the non-Resident Adult fees going up $4 more (from $10 to $14), and left the Children where there are today with the fee and age staying at $2 for children 3-16 years of age. This amendment passed unanimously. It would generate the same amount as the originally proposed fees and, for those paying the millage, would only have Resident adults paying $1 more than now. With the new language, the fee increase resolution passed on a 4-2 vote. I continued to oppose it because I still think that we shouldn't be raising the fees again.

Finally, we accepted the Health Officer Selection Committee’s recommendation and passed a resolution appointing Renee Canady to the permanent full-time position of Ingham County Health Officer. We also made an offer to a person for the job of the Fair Manager.

And one last thing to mention...I wish to offer congratulations to Bob Trezise, new incoming President of the Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP). Bob has done an excellent job at the Lansing Economic Development Corporation and will be missed by Lansing residents, but he is exactly what the region needs for LEAP to succeed and bring us forward. CONGRATS, BOB! We are all counting on you! (no pressure, though)

Whew...I'm done! Till next week...

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