Happy Ideas of March (is that a happy occasion?). Sorry once again for not blogging last week. No excuses...I just forgot. But don't fret! I will report today on the actions of the last two weeks.
Road Commission came up once again. I am sure readers would be surprised if it didn't. Not much new this time. We considered a resolution setting public hearings on the transfer of powers, duties and functions of the Road Commission to the Board of Commissioners. Although we have had much testimony already, state law requires two public hearings before we can take any action. In committee, Jim Dravenstatt-Moceri (the Chair of the Road Commission Board) presented a resolution passed by the Road Commission Board (4-0-1) that would have the county take over the HR, Finance, and IT functions from the Road Commission. I thought this was a well written resolution and showed a call for cooperation from the Road Commission. After hearing that information, we considered and passed the resolution setting hearings for the public to comment on the idea of transferring powers. The hearings will be March 27th and April 10th before the Board of Commissioners at 6:30 p.m. in the Board of Commissioners’ Room at the Ingham County Courthouse in Mason. This passed County Services unanimously. It passed the full Board of Commissioners 14-2. Commissioner Todd Tennis said he was being consistent in opposing the takeover and voted no. Commissioner Dale Copedge joined him in opposing the resolution.
The really controversial resolution was a request from St. Vincent Catholic Charities for a permanent waiver of the requirements of the Ingham County Living Wage Policy. In Ingham County, living wage is defined as an hourly wage rate which is equivalent to 125% of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services poverty threshold for a family of four, based on 2,000 hours worked annually. For 2012, the living wage rate is $14.42/hour. Twenty percent (20%) of the hourly rate paid by the employer may be reduced if a comprehensive health care benefits package is provided. Vendors contracting with the County primarily to perform services are required to pay their employees a living wage if (1) the total expenditure of the contract or the total value of all contracts the vendor has with the County exceeds $50,000 in a twelve-month calendar, and (2) The vendor employs five or more employees. Non-profit human services agencies may request a waiver of the provisions of the policy if it
believes that the application of the policy would cause economic harm to the agency in a fashion that would result in the harm created by application of the policy outweighing the benefits of applying the policy.
In 2003, 2004, and again in 2008, the county agreed to requests from St. Vincent for a waiver from the policy provided that adequate yearly progress was being made toward paying its employees a living wage. The 2008 waiver expired on December 31, 2011. St. Vincent again came before the committee requesting an exemption. I asked them several questions. I reminded them that they were supportive of the Living Wage policy and asked us to pass it several years ago. [Note: St Vincent has since responded that they support the living wage concept and are committed to paying a fair and just wage.] They then came in for an exemption and said that they would work towards paying their employees a living wage. [The following is added at the request of St. Vincent] They said that they currently pay staff on this contract at least $10 per hour plus they receive benefits and a pension plan. The discussed that if they were to pay staff under this contract at a higher rate to meet the living wage requirements, they would have to shift all wages in the agency to adjust for this change as they use a system that is just across the board. They stated that doing this would impact their funding as they would have to lay off staff to afford the pay increase and provide fewer services to fewer numbers of clients. They said that the living wage requirement is not a fair market rate and if they were to adjust all the salaries they would probably lose funding due to not being able to meet contractual requirements and outcomes, etc. They stated that this will not only cause the refugee services program to suffer or ultimately shut down, it would also impact all programs within the agency in a negative way.
While I am still very disappointed that they are a charitable organization yet their employees may need public assistance if they are not making the living wage, I don't want to see the Refugee Program shuttered (which would affect 400-500 clients per year). As such, I proposed an amendment that would change the permanent exemption to a three-year exemption so they have to again come to the County Commission and tell us what progress has been made. That amendment passed on a 3-2 vote in committee, then the resolution was passed on to the Board floor.
Before the Board meeting, I had an opportunity to talk to the employees. They said that St. Vincent is not making much progress. They asked us to reduce the exemption time to one year so that they can work with St Vincent to get closer to the living wage. If they can work together, then the employees will join St Vincent in coming to the County Commission next year to discuss progress. I indicated support for this idea and, on the Board floor, proposed and passed an amendment to reduce the exemption to one year. On the Board floor, several Commissioners indicated disappointment in St Vincent for not meeting the goal that was committed to several times. It was stated that taxpayer dollars are being used to pay employees wages so low that they need to use other governmental services such as the Ingham Health Plan. The final resolution which granted a one-year waiver passed. I think the vote was 11-5 or so. Commissioners Vickers, Dougan, and Grebner opposed this because they thought that there should be a permanent exemption. Commissioner Tennis and one or two others (my apologies...I can't remember and don't have my notes) opposed it because they don't think there should be an exemption at all.
[Note: I met with St. Vincent at their request a few weeks after this blog was posted. They told me that their wages are not “so low” and they meet or exceed market value. They gave me their information from their perspective. They said that the employees that are unionized are not eligible for the living wage, and they said that these employees are not part of the discussions with the county. They said that they pay fair and just wages and conduct market analysis studies each year to assure that they are paying within the market value of all positions. They also said that they work with union staff who are exempt under this living wage requirement to negotiate wages per the union contract. I can't say that I agree with them on all counts, but they were very interested in discussing this issue and having Commissioners understand their perspective. I appreciate that. I told them that this will be reviewed again next year, and highly encouraged them to meet with the union and Commissioners so that another controversial debate doesn't happen in committee next year. I am encouraged by their comments.]
In other community news, Lansing Community College is holding community strategic forums. They want to hear from involved community members about how the college can better serve our community. They want to know what our community needs and what role should the college play. Here is the schedule of the upcoming forums:
I attended the first one on Monday, March 12 and was very impressed. They are really trying to hear what the community wants, needs, and expects from the college. I have also heard good things from the Tuesday, March 13th event. The third event happened this evening.
Here is information about future forums:
Friday, March 16 8-9:30 am LCC West Campus Auditorium
5708 Cornerstone Drive, Lansing
Tuesday, March 20 6:30-8 pm Eaton Rapids Public Schools, 912 S Greyhound,
Thursday, March 22 8-9:30 am LCC University Center, rooms 203-204
210 W Shiawassee, Lansing
Thursday, March 22 7-8:30 pm LCC West Campus, rooms M119-M120
5708 Cornerstone Drive, Lansing
Monday, March 26 4:30-6 pm LCC Livingston County Center at Parker Campus, Room 201, 402 Wright Rd, Howell
Tuesday, March 27 4:30-6 pm LCC Clinton County Center, Room 172, 1013 S US 27, St. Johns
Thursday, March 29 4:30-6 pm LCC East, Room 112, 2827 Eyde Parkway, East Lansing
Please RSVP to Adrienne Jenkins at (517) 483-1415 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Campaign Update: I had a GREAT fundraiser on Wednesday. Thanks to Jim McGurkin for hosting and opening up his wonderful house. We raised a lot of money, and the checks are still coming in from those who couldn't make it. I continue to attend meetings and talk to constituents at events, and am enjoying getting out in the great weather. Anyone who is looking to help out will have opportunities, apparently earlier than expected due to the awesome weather. Please sign up to volunteer or contribute at www.andyschor.com. Thanks again to everyone who is helping or supportive!