200-plus jobs on the line as Washtenaw County officials tackle $20.9 million structural deficit
Washtenaw County is projecting a $20.9 million structural deficit over the next two years — the equivalent of about 207 full-time positions, commissioners learned Wednesday night.
County Administrator Verna McDaniel told the board that continued declines in revenue contribute to the projections.
“We know we have a deep and structural deficit, which we must start to repair,” McDaniel said. “I do feel that these are very solid projections.”
She said a realistic forecast includes the uncertainty surrounding Michigan’s budget crisis and the continued declines in the real estate market.
Staying conservative to maintain the county’s surplus fund and good bond rating is essential, McDaniel said. Maintaining “world-class service” is also a priority, she said.
Later this month, meetings will begin to set priorities. The details of the budget are expected to be hammered out within the next several months, and the board will adopt a final version in the fall.
Public safety and judicial services account for 62 percent of the county’s general fund budget of $98.7 million. The total county budget is in excess of $200 million.
Board Chairman Conan Smith, D-Ann Arbor, said the necessary restructuring “probably means elimination of departments.” But Smith said it doesn’t necessarily correspond that the biggest cuts can be made in the biggest portion of the pie.
“Public safety is essential to our economic prosperity,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any easy place to pull funds from.”
Smith called public safety funding a "hot button issue" and said eliminating the county's subsidy for contract deputies provided to the townships and villages might not be the best course of action.
“If we did that, the consequence is that public safety in those communities is significantly reduced," he said. "What happens then? What is the impact on jobs? What is the impact on people choosing that community as a place to live, which has a systemic impact on tax collection?”
He said the board needs “to be very cognizant of the secondary and tertiary impacts of a budget decision, so that we don’t end up shooting ourselves in the foot.”
According to Wednesday's presentation, the projected deficit for calendar year 2012 is $12.95 million — or 14 percent of general fund revenue. That's equal to 132 full-time jobs.
By 2013, without cuts, the county would be running a $20.9 million deficit, according to the report. That's nearly a quarter of general fund revenue at that point, or 207 full-time jobs.
The board voted 8-0 on Wednesday to move the juvenile court from the 45-year-old building at 2270 Platt Road to the downtown Washtenaw County Courthouse.
The relocation is part of the Trial Court Justice Integration Project’s effort to meet budget cuts totaling $1.1 million, said Judge Donald Shelton, who addressed the board.
The process will start in late April. “We’re committed to doing our part,” Shelton said.
AnnArbor.com's Ryan J. Stanton contributed to this report. Ronald Ahrens is a freelance writer for AnnArbor.com. Reach the news desk at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2530.