Evans to give 'sobering' take on finances in State of the County
Wayne County Executive Warren Evans will emphasize fiscal discipline as the county's tax revenue continues to recover from the Great Recession when he delivers his fourth State of the County address at 7 p.m. Thursday.
The economic collapse led to thousands of foreclosures and decreased the county's tax revenues by 25 percent from 2008 to 2014. Today, Wayne County still is down nearly $100 million — from $405 million in tax revenue in 2007 to an estimated $308 million last year.
With only 61 percent of pensions funded, high rates of employee turnover and crumbling roads, Evans will outline his plans for leveraging the assets the county does have during a speech at 7 p.m. at the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center in Dearborn.
"Wayne County is a rebuild in motion right now," Wayne County spokesman James Martinez said. "The next four years will be as difficult or more difficult than the past four years. (Evans) will provide an update on where we think we can be in 2022 and lay out kind of a sobering reality of where we are given our tax base and tax revenues."
The county has reported a budget surplus for the past several years, and Moody's Investors Service upgraded Wayne County's bond credit rating last year from speculative to investment-grade for the first time in four years.
But Evans and the board of commissioners clashed during the budget process in September when the board 13-2 approved the $1.61 billion budget that included a $15 increase to 3,168 retirees' stipends, a measure that would have increased the county's $500 million in unfunded liabilities by an estimated $5.6 million. Evans, a Democrat, sided with the board's Republicans and vetoed the measure. The board did not have enough votes to overturn that decision.
"At that time, Warren Evans said all our decisions impact each other," Martinez said. "This is not in reaction to that. Restoring fiscal stability has been in our philosophy."
Evans also will preview a 10-year asset management plan to be released in April or May that will help guide the county to find the "right fix at the right time" for road and bridge maintenance, Martinez said.
"We need a massive cash infusion to properly address our roads and bridges," he said. "The 10-year plan says whatever happens in Lansing, this asset management plan better positions us for getting the most out of whatever funding we do get."
With 2019 also marking the centennial of Wayne County parks, Evans will outline his vision for the next 100 years. The county expects to spend $5 million this year in upgrades.
"We're looking to better connect the parks to our communities and better connect our parks together," said Martinez, noting the Elizabeth Park Greenway in Trenton as an example.
With the U.S. census coming next year, Evans will emphasize the importance of everyone being counted, which affects government representation and billions in federal funding. The county will work with community groups to get the message to constituents, Martinez said.
Evans also will tout the need for regional transit. The executive and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan agree the region needs a mass transit system to thrive, while Oakland and Macomb County executives L. Brooks Patterson and Mark Hackel have opposed recent ballot proposals to create one.
"Transit is in our top five administrative priorities," Martinez said.