Oakland County Passes Budget after Debates over Funding

Oakland County Passes Budget after Debates over Funding

(Crystal A. Proxmire, Ferndale 115 News Wire, 9/23/2011)

The Oakland County Board of Commissioners unanimously passed the 2012 budget after a last minute attempt by the Democratic Caucus to secure funding for five projects. Dave Woodward, D- Royal Oak introduced amendments that would have (1) put $85,000 towards hiring an additional veterans’ benefit counselor to help those in Oakland County who have been in the service, (2) put $100,000towards hiring an additional Youth Assistance case worker, (3) put $500,000 into the Tri-Party Road Improvement Program, (4) put $250,000 in seed money toward the creation of the Oakland County Land Bank, and (5) put $25,000 to pay for the piloting of a program to make it possible for individuals to use their EBT Bridge Cards to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables.

The budget was essentially prepared by the office of Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and given to the Finance Committee to revise and approve.  The Republican-dominated Financial Committee made amendments during the committee process, and the five above amendments by the Democrats were presented before the vote on the entire budget.  Along party lines, the amendments were defeated.

Woodward and others, including Craig Covey who represents Ferndale, Hazel Park and part of Royal Oak for the 25th District, stood up for the projects they wanted funded while Republicans criticized the amendments, mainly for not being introduced sooner.

Gary McGillivray, D- Madison Heights mentioned that the requested money would come from fund balance that is available.  Covey spoke in support of funding a Youth Assistance case worker.  “I’m newly elected Chair of Ferndale Youth Assistance. It’s about prevention.  It’s spending a little now to save a lot later,” Covey said.  Youth Assistance helps connect troubled teens to education, resources and intervention if they begin showing signs of trouble, such as problems at school or committing minor crimes. The idea is to intervene and prevent the youth from accelerating into a life of crime, by giving them support and options.  Covey said that 1/3 of Ferndale Youth Assistance funding is privately raised, and also that in the past year their budget had been cut in half.

Tom Greimel, D- Auburn Hills, spoke in support of road funding.  “Our roads are in horrible condition.  They’re destroying our cars and driving businesses out of the state,” he said. “Every resident I’ve talked to wants the roads fixed.”

“If that money does not get allocated, we do not spend it,” Woodward added.  “We have no choice but to address our aging infrastructure.  This is a quality of life issue.”

Jim Runestad, R- White Lake, voted against the amendments and spoke specifically to funding the Veteran’s counselor.  “There is a lot of money coming in from the Federal Government.  I feel strongly there is enough money coming in.  I am assured that every Veteran is being served,” he said.

Tom Middleton, R- Clarkston, said that the items had not been included in the budget because they were waiting for written resolutions. He also voted against them.  “We were not given the written resolutions until this morning.  All of these issues should go through the committee process.  I’m not opposed to them, but they need to go through the committee process,” Middleton said.

John Scott, R-Waterford accused Woodward of trying to entrap Republicans.  “In my opinion this is very disingenuous.  It’s mainly a political ploy for the 2012 elections.  This is about posturing and sound bites,” Scott said.  “This is $710,000 in additional spending we don’t need.”  Scott also said that the County should not force farmers to accept Bridge Card (EBT) payments for food.  “For some people cash is good business,” he said.

Woodward defended the idea that the amendments were a surprise, and the Chairperson agreed that no procedural rules were broken in their introduction.  “Those who resort to personal attacks or procedural questions are unable to ague on their merits,” he said.  “Most of the issues aren’t new.  We have advocated for these things for years…We don’t want Republicans to vote against us so we can use things against you.  We want you to vote yes so we can begin to address these problems.

The amendments failed, though the budget itself passed unanimously.

“I am pleased with the effort the Finance Committee and the Department heads of the County have put forward to get the budget balanced through 2014.  While members of the Board have had hard and passionate debates on programs, program funding, budget amendments and ways to reduce the County’s spending, ultimately, we unanimously adopted a budget that keeps the County in the black and ensures we are not spending more than we are taking in.  It is critical that we continue to be fiscally responsible, say no to items that we cannot afford and provide the best programs and services to our residents based on the revenues that we are anticipating” said Michael Gingell, Chairman of the Board of Commissioners.

This year’s Triennial Budget proposed includes all funds of $796 million for FY 2012, $783 million for FY 2013, and $790 million for FY 2014.

The county’s general property tax will remain unchanged at 4.19 mills.

There are no salary changes for employees for 2012 and 2013, but in 2014 there may be a 1% increase in salaries for employees.

A copy of the County Executive’s Recommended Budget can be reviewed online at www. oakgov.com/fiscal.

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