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Wayne Co. panel discusses financial emergency options

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Wayne County commissioners met Tuesday to discuss options for resolving the county’s financial emergency.

The 21/2-hour committee of the whole meeting came less than a week after Gov. Rick Snyder said he agreed with an independent financial review team that the county is in a financial emergency.

The county commission must choose, under state law, one of four options for state intervention: a consent agreement, which sets benchmarks the county would have to accomplish; an emergency manager; mediation, or Chapter 9 bankruptcy.

“We have a difficult decision ahead of us because we have to choose from one of these four options,” said Commission Chairman Gary Woronchak, D-Dearborn. “They may seem simple on their face, but there are little trap doors along the way that we should well be aware of while we’re making this decision.”

Woronchak also said the commission will meet as a committee of the whole again Aug. 5 to discuss the issue and “move closer in the process and decide which of the four options we’re interested in selecting.” A time has not been set.

Wayne County officials have until 5 p.m. Wednesday to request a hearing before the state treasurer on the financial emergency declaration. If they ask for a hearing, it will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday in Lansing.

The governor can then confirm or revoke his determination that the county is in a financial emergency. His decision could come as soon as Wednesday.

After that, the county commission has seven days to choose one of its four options for state intervention.

Evans has said he’s hoping for a consent agreement to fix the county’s finances. Such an agreement would spell out specific budgetary reforms the county would have to meet.

“The only reasonable option is the consent agreement,” Deputy Wayne County Executive Richard Kaufman told commissioners Tuesday. “It’s the only one that keeps local elected officials in control of the process.”

Al Garrett, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 25, which represents about 2,000 county employees, warned commissioners against choosing a consent agreement, especially without knowing what kind of concessions workers will be asked to make.

“Once you say ‘yes’ to it, you’re out of the game,” he said. “At that point, everything will be between the county executive and the state treasurer.”

Wayne County is struggling with a $52 million structural deficit. The recurring shortfall in Michigan’s most populous county stems from the underfunded pension system and a $100 million yearly drop in property tax revenue since 2008. The county’s accumulated deficit is $150 million.

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