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Posted on Fri, May 17, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

County budget: Commissioners want more power in determining how $7M in cuts will be made

By Amy Biolchini

As Washtenaw County moves forward in developing its first four-year budget that requires nearly $7 million in structural cuts, several members of the Board of Commissioners expressed a desire for more power in the process during a Thursday budget retreat.

"When the budget comes to us, we have two meetings to say yes," Commissioner Alicia Ping, R-Saline, said. "If we don't, we're in serious trouble. It's the way the timing happens: If we can't have a voice ahead of time, it's too late."

County administrative staff under the direction of Administrator Verna McDaniel compile a budget based the recommendations and priorities of the board.

"Legally it's the responsibility of the county administrator to bring a budget," said Commissioner Conan Smith, D-Ann Arbor. "The commissioners have expressed an interest in having a greater hand, given the four-year time frame."

The board expressed its desire for a greater hand in the budget process to determine which programs are cut and which are saved.


Washtenaw County commissioners (L-R) Andy LaBarre, Kent Martinez-Kratz, Conan Smith and Dan Smith participate in an exercise Thursday to determine the board's budget priorities.

Amy Biolchini |

The Thursday retreat was meant to help the board determine what kind of services it wanted to make a priority in the budget cycle. To do that commissioners participated in an exercise involving packets of fake money.

The exercise revealed the board strongly favors ensuring community safety net services and increasing economic opportunity and workforce development.

Maximizing mobility for county residents and reducing the county's environmental impact were on the second tier of priorities, while internal labor force and sustainability efforts were at the bottom.

Few specific programs were discussed at the Thursday retreat, and commissioners Ronnie Peterson, D-Ypsilanti, and Rolland Sizemore, D-Ypsilanti Township were absent.

Many of the commissioners gently expressed their frustration with the general topics being discussed at the retreat, and conveyed their desire to talk in more real terms.

Commissioner Felicia Brabec, D-Pittsfield Township, said she thinks the board needs to work in determining how the budget priorities translate into specific programs. Commissioner Andy LaBarre, D-Ann Arbor, agreed.

“I want to see numbers and options and where this is really going to hurt,” LaBarre said.

Smith advocated for future budget sessions to be conducted in small committees comprising of staff members and several commissioners instead of the large group format.

“We’re not getting down to brass tacks,” Smith said. “We don’t have enough expertise around the table to answer the questions that we have.”

Commissioner Kent Martinez-Kratz, D-Chelsea, said he thought the budget process needed more communication between Administrator McDaniel and the board.

McDaniel was absent from the Thursday meeting, as she was attending her daughter's college graduation.

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


Jay Thomas

Fri, May 17, 2013 : 11:52 p.m.

These are same people that want to borrow a bucketload of money on our behalf to gamble in the stock market, as a way of overcoming the generous pension deals and ten year contract they shouldn't have made in the first place. Sign me up for giving them more power... not!

Dog Guy

Fri, May 17, 2013 : 2:01 p.m.

This four-year budget is a shell-game con. People who truly need four years to do a budget are ipso facto incompetent to do a budget. Lock the Board of Commissioners in a room for four years of pitching packets of fake money into entitled trashcans and let the county administrative staff administer the county.

Lake Trout

Fri, May 17, 2013 : 2:01 p.m.

OK, so they each put in their $.02 and decided that "internal labor force and sustainability efforts" were at the BOTTOM of their priorities??? Who exactly do they think is going to do the work on their special interest projects - or any projects at all other than manditory services. Also, something that does't seem to be getting stressed or made clear enough is the fact that if the bond is not secured - or some other financing - $30K MUST be paid next year. So exactly how will that effect the $7K cuts to internal labor force and sustainability efforts - guess what, even deeper cuts ($37K???).

Nicholas Urfe

Fri, May 17, 2013 : 1:22 p.m.

"McDaniel was absent from the Thursday meeting, as she was attending her daughter's college graduation." That is, at least, a great reason to miss the meeting. I can see where they might want to get down to specifics by department or function. There are probably good process examples from other communities where this finer-grained budgeting has been done. Perhaps it would be helpful to look, in detail, at how each department has used funds in the past when determining how much to award in the future. Because even if you restrict funds, they can be used wastefully.