Public safety, environment and health focus of Oakland County executive budget plan

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Pontiac – Oakland County Executive David Coulter presented his three-year budget recommendation of over $1 billion annually to the Oakland County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night.

Highlights of Coulter’s recommendation, for fiscal years 2023-2025, include funding for hiring and retention of law enforcement; an older-adult advocate position; an environmental sustainability plan for the county government campus; and investments in affordable housing, health care and and opportunities for county residents and businesses.

Oakland County Executive David Coulter's three-year budget recommends a 5% pay hike for county workers.

The proposed general fund budgets for fiscal years 2023-2025 are $504.2 million; $515.8 million and $527.2 million. Total budgets for all funds for the same years are $1.0068 billion; $1.0209 billion and $1.0326 billion.

The budget also recommends a 5% cost of living adjustment for county employees’ salaries to lessen the impact of the rising costs of basic needs such as groceries and gas and to ensure the county continues to attract and retain a well-qualified workforce.

Coulter stressed to county commissioners that his budget was “balanced, transparent, and invests in people.”

The County Board will evaluate Coulter’s recommendations but is not expected to vote on it until late August or September.

The total budget eliminates the planned use of fund balance to support ongoing operations, projects budget surpluses in the coming five years that can be used to address the needs of county government and its residents, and utilizes prudent revenue projections to be prepared for changing economic conditions, according to a news release from Coulter’s office.

“At its core, our budget is about people – our residents and businesses, our communities, and our employees – and how best to serve their needs and give them the tools to succeed and thrive,” Coulter said. “There are many things in this budget to be proud of, but one of the most significant for me is that we’ve officially ended the practice of planning to use our fund balance for operating expenses.”

Among other recommendations presented:

*Public safety constitutes 40% of the total general fund budget. Coulter supported the hiring and retention bonuses for law enforcement personnel in the sheriff’s office. The county is seeking $9.7 million in state grant funding for a Public Defender’s Office, to ensure all residents obtain qualified legal representation.

*A new older-adult advocate position recommended by Coulter would coordinate and help improve services to the county’s older residents through all departments.

*Oakland County will create the first campus-wide environmental sustainability plan to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

*An investment of about $650,000 will help fund other efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions, a county Climate Action Plan and facility maintenance projects.

*Other specific investments will target affordable housing, health care and diversity and equity, Coulter said. County investments will increase the inventory of affordable housing and expand home repair services, he said.

In the area of public health, the County’s Health 360 Program will enhance a partnership with Honor Health by offering residency programs to help train doctors.

Coulter wants to budget $250,000 in ongoing support for a Diverse Abilities Program, with employment for people with physical and cognitive disabilities. He also wants to expand a new position in county purchasing to support outreach efforts to ensure that businesses owned by minorities, women and disabled veterans can bid on county contracts.

Coulter’s budget recommendation includes $5 million in appropriations from federal American Rescue Plan revenue to pay for direct county COVID response costs in fiscal 2023, but otherwise excludes ARP funds so that investments supported by those dollars can be specifically reviewed and approved by the Board of Commissioners.

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