Commissioners unanimously approve $1.66B Wayne Co. budget

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Detroit — Wayne County commissioners Wednesday unanimously approved a $1.66 billion county budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year, about equal to the previous fiscal year.

Commissioners approved the budget, the first county budget to be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, ultimately by a vote of 15-0.

Officials said the budget for the fiscal year is balanced for the sixth consecutive year and includes a nearly $5 million surplus. The county's fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

“We did the very best job we could in budgeting for these uncertain times,” Wayne County Commission Chairwoman Alisha Bell, D-Detroit, said in a statement. “Throughout the budgeting process, we made it a priority to ensure that the kinds of programs and services our residents expect would continue."

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans said the budget is about $260 million smaller than the last year's because of projected revenue decreases due to the pandemic. 

"A year ago, I don’t think anyone could have predicted a global pandemic impacting our budget quite like this," Evans said in a statement. "However, we are able to handle this challenge because Wayne County has been living within its means and preparing for a rainy day."  

He also thanked the commission for its partnership in the difficult budget process.

County commission officials said the approved budget returns funding for most county departments to pre-pandemic levels and returns to work most county employees who were furloughed by COVID-19 lockdown orders in March.

Evans said the budget includes projected reductions of $37.7 million in general fund tax revenue, $12.2 million in revenue sharing, and nearly $1 million in parks millage revenue.

The county is taking measures such as a hiring freeze and limiting any salary increases to only those agreed to in prior collective bargaining agreements, to offset revenue shortfalls, the county executive also said.

The county's budget also calls for using $750,000 from the general fund and $125,000 from the parks fund to cover repairs to the Wayne County sheriff’s marine dock in Trenton.

Furthermore, the commission estimates Wayne County will receive $76 million in CARES Act revenue for the 2020-21 fiscal year. Under the budget, the county plans to continue using the money to pay $50 million in small business grants this year and next year.

Evans said the budget includes $24.8 million in one-time CARES Act money to assist with COVID-19 relief programs.

"We remain committed to investing in efforts to help support small business, increase testing, and ensure our residents can safely get back to work," he said.

County commission officials said the panel may need to make adjustments to the budget going forward due to the pandemic and a Michigan Supreme Court ruling this summer that says counties cannot sell tax-foreclosed property at a profit without compensating the individual from whom the property was taken.

In addition, the availability of additional federal funding could also require the county to make changes to its budget, they said.

Twitter: @CharlesERamirez