County budget: Commissioners want more power in determining how $7M in cuts will be made
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.
Amy Biolchini | AnnArbor.com
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.