Oakland Co. exec proposes 5% raises in budget plan

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Pontiac — In delivering his three-year budget recommendation on Wednesday, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson pointed to the county’s economic planning strategy and practices, which he said continue to drive the area’s prosperity, and included something for county workers: 5 percent raises over three years.

“This is again a balanced budget for the next three years ... we are reaping the benefits of this strategy in many ways,” said Patterson, who used a cane to confidently walk to the podium to introduce his County Executive Budget Message report.

Patterson’s balanced budget for fiscal years 2018-20 totals nearly $1.4 billion. Final approval for the budgets will come from the 21-member Board of Commissioners

A proposed budget message has been in the hands of the board for several weeks. The 21-member board will discuss the proposal in committee and vote on it in September.

Patterson and some of his top people, including Chief Deputy County Executive Gerald Poisson and Laurie Van Pelt, director of management and budget, walked commissioners through a presentation on Wednesday, highlighting how the county’s conservative spending practices have permitted it to climb out of the recession, which just a few years ago halted capital improvements and required pay cuts from county workers.

Total market value of property in Oakland County is $130.2 billion, highest of any county in Michigan, and 15.9 percent of the state’s total value. Average home costs in Oakland County are $222,670, he reported, and housing starts are up while sheriff deed foreclosures are the lowest in a decade.

Looking head, Patterson is recommending technology enhancements for the county and a total of 5 percent in raises for the county’s 3,400-member workforce over the next three years.

Proposals in technology upgrades include investing in a unified communications system to replace its analog telephone and voicemail system now used to communicate with each other and the public.

“Over the next five years we’ll make a significant investment in capital projects that will maintain and improve technology,” Patterson said.

Due to an improved economy, there is more competition to attract and keep qualified employees and Patterson is recommending a 3 percent salary increase in 2018, and 1 percent increases in 2019 and 2020. The county is also offering employees tuition reimbursement of up to $4,200 a year.

Patterson also wants to maintain a fund to help local communities with road improvements. Currently, county dollars for road improvements have an equal match from the Road Commission for Oakland County and the community. He wants to continue the program which amounts to about $6 million annually.

Patterson’s proposal also touched on how federal and state mandates could affect county coffers. The county is budgeting $1.2 million for the resentencing of juvenile offenders serving life prison sentences. There are 49 offenders who committed killings in Oakland County who face possible new trials or resentencing ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court for those convicted at 17 years old or younger.

State-ordered changes earlier this year in the handling of indigent offenders — those criminal defendants who cannot afford their own attorneys — could also prove costly, Patterson said. Currently, $3.3 million is earmarked for such expenses but the county filed a lawsuit earlier this week against the state hoping to have changes reviewed for possible violations of the state constitution.

Fellow Republicans said the longtime county executive continues to maintain a steady hand on the county’s future.

“I think the county has once again done a superb job in dealing with and balancing the budget,” said William Dwyer, R-Farmington Hills. “Residents can be proud of their county executive and everyone who has been a part of making not just the present but the future secure in Oakland County.”

But some elected officials, like Dave Woodward, D-Royal Oak, chair of the county Democratic commissioners, felt Patterson’s fiscal policies fall short of countywide needs.

“Oakland County should be a leader in providing equal protection under the law for all our citizens. Instead, Brooks has us fighting to preserve gross injustice,” said Woodward. “Spending resources to fight a losing battle with the state of Michigan against the best interest of our own citizens is an insult to the taxpayers of Oakland County.

“We should be fixing our roads, addressing the needs of a rapidly aging population and providing the necessary training for our workers to get good jobs in the modern economy,” Woodward said. “This budget falls far short of meeting these priorities and takes us further from building an economy that works for all and not just a few.”


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