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Posted on Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

8 things to watch for in Washtenaw County this year: Technology upgrades, Ypsilanti rec center and roads

By Amy Biolchini

Washtenaw County Administrator Verna McDaniel has big plans for local government and the community in 2013, and recently shared them with

The county is facing a number of complex issues this year: 13 union contracts will expire in December, and new right-to-work laws allow workers to choose to stop paying union dues as of March 28. Washtenaw County’s role in the Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority remains to be seen, as local entities have clashing opinions on being included in legislation approved by the state in December.


Verna McDaniel

Ryan J. Stanton | file photo

It’s also a development year for the county, meaning commissioners must draft and approve a budget for 2014 and 2015.

Officials will have to again take a sharp look at the way each of their departments operate, and McDaniel said she wants to push them to develop a four-year plan for the first time.

“I’m hoping to take the board in a futuristic direction,” she said.

Here are eight items in the works for 2013:

1. Dental clinic

McDaniel said she’d like to explore a partnership between Washtenaw County Public Health and local hospitals to create a dental clinic for low-income individuals. There’s a great need for the dental care service, McDaniel said, explaining it’s an important component to help individuals out of work gain employment. The clinic would be centrally located, McDaniel said.

2. Platt Road progress

Plans likely will be unveiled this year for the former juvenile detention center and family court at 2270 Platt Road in Ann Arbor. The last of the county's services moved off of the site in May 2011. Commissioners will be discussing better uses for the space when officials hear a report on the county’s space plan for all its properties in February. There have been talks of mixed-uses for the property, including a potential site for an affordable housing project.

“It’s a prime location for county services,” McDaniel said.

3. Wellness center for county employees

McDaniel said she wants to focus on the health of county employees and is considering developing a wellness center — either in the form of a brick-and-mortar facility or in partnerships with existing organizations. Wellness centers for employees are said to bring down health care costs by 30 percent to 40 percent, McDaniel said, and cited examples like the center the city of Tampa, Fla. has built.

4. Ypsilanti recreation center

Designs for a proposed $12 million Water Street Eastside Recreation Center in Ypsilanti were unveiled last fall, and the project is expected to undergo further development in 2013, McDaniel said. The recreation center would be a partnership between the city, the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation department and the Ann Arbor YMCA. The county would enter into a potential 99-year lease for eight acres of a 38-acre, city-owned property on Water Street for construction, and the YMCA will oversee day-to-day operations. The county has some money set aside, but other funding sources are needed.

5. Five major road projects

The Washtenaw County Road Commission is planning to complete construction of five major projects this year:

  • Construction of a $2.3 million roundabout at State Street and Ellsworth Road in Pittsfield Township
  • $3 million replacement of the Ford Boulevard Bridge over the Norfolk Southern Railroad in Ypsilanti Township
  • Construction of a $1.2 million roundabout at Geddes and Ridge roads in Superior Township
  • $1.9 million extension of the Border-to-Border non-motorized path in the Village of Dexter and in Dexter Township
  • $3 million in the county's annual overlay and road resurfacing program, using federal dollars

6. Technology upgrades

The Equalization Department, under the direction of Raman Patel, is finalizing the computerization of the county’s parcel search, McDaniel said.

The Washtenaw County Court System also is due for a software upgrade for its records system, and McDaniel said the county is waiting on the state for approval. The county has some funds set aside for the new software, which likely will cost from $2 million to $3 million, McDaniel said.

7. New youth programs

The Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office is working to secure grant funding in order to be able to extend after-school programs to at-risk youth in several neighborhoods on the east side of the county.

8. Potential for upgraded bond rating

Removing the structural deficit from the county’s budget is something McDaniel said she wants to push the commissioners to accomplish this year — which could help the county push its bond rating from AA+ to AAA. Currently, the county is looking at a budget gap of several million dollars that they will have to account for this year.

Amy Biolchini covers Washtenaw County, health and environmental issues for Reach her at (734) 623-2552, or on Twitter.


Do not vote for Conan!

Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 5:41 p.m.

Ok, that is all nice and all, but could we have our ten days of pay we gave you back?


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 5:40 p.m.

The rec center will change its mind once it gets a load of the new dollar store. The rec center wants to promote health, not junk. So, when do we get Traders Joes?

Chase Ingersoll

Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 4:31 p.m.

Maximizing the usage of other non-profit and private, programs and facilities does not enable the county overseers to increase the size or population of government worker on their plantation....errr....payroll. And yes, if I wanted to run this snow-job, I'd hire someone as nice and pretty as Vera to go out and sell it for me.

Karen Hart

Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 1:40 p.m.

And how could I forget Hope Clinic in Ypsilanti? They also have an excellent dental clinic for low-income clients. If Hope and CDC don't have enough capacity to serve the target population, perhaps the County could give them money, or even see if Packard Health wants to add a dental service. I'd say centrally located dental services are already here.


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 5:41 p.m.

This is a great place when you have no insurance like we did. I send people there when they need a great place for medical care.

Katrease Stafford

Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 5:11 p.m.

Interesting point, Karen. In my previous reporting that I've done on Hope Clinic, I discovered that in 2011 the clinic provided 6,800 medical and 4,500 dental visits. In the first nine months of 2012, the clinic provided 4,182 dental visits and expected to exceed 5,000 by the end of the year. I agree, it seems as if they do provide services for many in the Washtenaw County area that may not have been able to receive it otherwise.


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 1:09 p.m.

A roundabout on State and Ellsworth, sounds great I guess. My guess would be there is not enough room there to install, but I'm sure our good ole county officials have done their planning. I would have thought that might have been done, before Cosco went in?


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 5:44 p.m.

A round about is a great idea for that area. Especially if the airport decides to do commuters. Once you figure out how to do a round about? You are a pro.


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 4:37 p.m.

This is going to be a nightmare. Having driven on the other roundabouts in the city and area, people still don't quite know how to drive on them, yielding when they have the right of way or blowing through yield signs, both of which nearly cause accidents. And now we are going to stick one down the street from high volume commerce? It'll be a good year to own a body shop.

Karen Hart

Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 12:06 p.m.

I don't often agree with Stephen, but I do on this one, The Community Dental Clinic is an excellent resource that provides quality dental care. Also, I think it's a poor use of county resources to build a wellness center, when there are many, many health & fitness facilities around -- just subsidize memberships rather than build something.

Richard Carter

Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 2:05 p.m.

FTA: "either in the form of a brick-and-mortar facility or in partnerships with existing organizations," so that sounds like a real possibility.


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 1:51 p.m.

Wellness center for county employees? How about providing membership discounts at the County Rec center on Washtenaw at Platt?

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 11:38 a.m.

Rather than starting a new dental program, why not get behind and back the already existing Community Dental Center program? This is a non-profit that U-M School of Dentistry partners with to provide free and/or reduced cost care to Washtenaw County residents who need financial assistance and need dental work performed.

Carrie Rheingans

Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 9:44 p.m.

Excellent points, GP! Thanks for the response and additional context. I agree that Hope and the CDC cannot meet the demand; this is why I DO support the health department taking advantage of possible higher Medicaid reimbursement to create an additional clinic to meet this overwhelming need. Which are the two clinics that accept Medicaid for adults?


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 8:28 p.m.

Stephen that is an excellent resource that is being used in the community. And Carrie, your intentions are great, but careful how you word things (people make cruel judgments on here). Outstanding bills at the dental school are usually greater than $5. But even so, its easy to forget that bill; even if its small, when you're extremely low-income and the rent has to be paid. The simple truth is the clinic at UofM and Hope clinic simply cannot accommodate the huge need in the community. They can only accept a limited number of patients. There are a limited number of dental clinics in the community who accept children with Medicaid; but there are only two that accept adults and they too can only handle a finite number of patients. Finally, there are people who have never had dental care growing up and are unaware of the fact that bad dental care affects the whole body. They need information and education.

Carrie Rheingans

Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 5:33 p.m.

I believe that local county health departments have a special status that allows for an enhanced reimbursement for Medicaid. Most dentists in this community don't accept Medicaid because it pays so little (sometimes not even covering the actual cost of the work performed, let alone any additional reimbursement that could cover any overhead of a clinic). The CDC is an amazing community resource, and does already accept Medicaid, but I suspect they must make sure that they have enough non-Medicaid patients that they can cover overhead. Additionally, since the CDC is part of the UM Dental School, patients with outstanding bills at the UM Dental School (even $5) are ineligible to receive services there until they pay off their previous bills. Hope Clinic is strictly for uninsured patients and does not accept Medicaid (they don't have a billing system, which helps keep costs down!). With the possibility of many more community members being covered by Medicaid under the new health care law, this community needs to make sure we have enough places for Medicaid patients to go. This could be alleviated in part by a new, county-operated dental clinic. Of course, if every dentist in the county agreed to take maybe 10-20 new Medicaid patients a year, this could also help solve the problem, but as described above, taking Medicaid patients can be a real strain on a clinic's budget.