County commissioners seek more input from public, professionals as they consider issuing $345M in debt
After delaying a vote on issuing $345 million in debt to cover long-term liabilities, the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners is seeking more input from both professionals and the public.
Facing about $340 million worth of debt for future, long-term health care and pension costs for its retired employees, the county administration has been working with a consultant since November on the issue.
AnnArbor.com file photo
Issuing bonds for the debt would be an unprecedented move for the county - and the weight of the issue prompted the commissioners to delay an initial vote to start the process at their mid-May meeting.
The county has hired a new firm to provide an independent review of the matter - and the Board of Commissioners is pursuing feedback in upcoming public hearings and a working session this week.
According to an analysis conducted by the county’s longtime bond counsel John Axe, president of the law firm Axe & Ecklund, and by Axe’s daughter, Meredith Shanle of Municipal Financial Consultants Inc., the county could stand to reduce its expenditures for the health care and pension costs through the bond issue by about $112.5 million.
However, the initial reports from Axe and Shanle were drafted using old actuary reports - and commissioners weren’t comfortable basing their decisions on estimates without new data.
Both Axe and Shanle would also only be paid for their work should the county commissioners choose to issue the bonds.
County administrators have hired the PFM Group for a flat fee of $12,500 to provide a second opinion. PFM is anticipated to issue its review in early July after the 2012 actuary report and experience review are produced.
The first public hearing on the bond issue will be during the Board of Commissioner’s regular meeting Wednesday night. The regular meeting begins after the commissioner’s 6:30 p.m. Ways and Means meeting ends.
The second public hearing will be during the Commissioner’s regular meeting July 10. The board is scheduled to vote on initiating the bonding process at that meeting.
Commissioners have also put the bond issue on their Thursday working session agenda.
They’ve asked the county’s bond counsel to return before the board.
Commissioner and working session chairman Andy LaBarre said he has invited several professors and a consultant to give their opinions on a pro bono basis:
- Rowan Miranda, associate vice president for finance at the University of Michigan
- Jens Stephan, professor of accounting at Eastern Michigan University
- Larry Langer, Buck Consultants
LaBarre said he found the professors based on the recommendation of the universities’ community relations staff. However, Dr. Miranda will be out of town Thursday and unable to attend the meeting, LaBarre said.
In addition to the more formal public hearings at the Board of Commissioner meetings, Chairman Yousef Rabhi has set several dates to discuss the bond issue informally at area coffee shops with anyone interested:
- 4 to 6 p.m. June 15 at Espresso Royale at 214 S. Main St. in Ann Arbor
- 4 to 6 p.m. June 26 at Caribou Coffee at 1423 E. Stadium Blvd. in Ann Arbor