Wayne County seeks outside help to shore up budget office

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Wayne County Commission's Government Operations Committee will vote Wednesday on a measure to contract with accounting firm Rehmann to aid the county's budget office.

The $302,000-plus proposed contract owes to low staffing in the budget office, said Hughey Newsome, chief financial officer for Wayne County, in his briefing Tuesday to the commission's Ways and Means Committee.

"We have to consider what it's going to take for us to get a long-term budget," Newsome told the committee.

Wayne County is seeking to contract an outside firm to handle the workload left by its vacant budget director position.

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Mark Abbo, chief fiscal adviser for Wayne County, said the matter is "considered urgent."

"I do not want to put the commission in a situation where we're at risk to not getting the budget passed," Newsome said. 

Wayne County does not have a budget director. Former Budget Director Kevin Haney retired in January 2020.

Haney returned to help out last year, but in the absence of a full-time budget director, the office has "struggled to carry out the day-to-day functions" of the job. But Haney's return was only intended as a "stopgap" until an appointment could be made, Newsome said. 

Though several candidates have been reviewed by County Executive Warren Evans, Wayne County has "swung and missed" on hiring them, Newsome said.

Rehmann is "no stranger" to county government, said Alisha Bell, chair of the county commission. Even so, Bell said in regard to the contract, "I would hope it's a one-time thing."

The budget office has a staffing issue beyond just the director, she said. But the budget director's role is important. The person who fills that chair prepares financial reports for the county.

"It's an eight-to-eight job when it's budget time," Bell said. "It's a special skill set, especially for a county of our size."

Low staffing and the not-quite-done COVID-19 pandemic are "two storms at the same time" for the budget office, Bell said.

"It's almost like in law enforcement, a lot of young people aren't going into government jobs," Bell added.

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Last year, the sheriff's office had three times the number of employee departures, 98, as new hires, 27.

As of February, significant numbers of the staff were either under quarantine or on medical leave.

"We have a white-collar and a blue-collar staffing issue," Bell said.

If the Government Operations Committee approves the contract, it would head to the entire board for approval, Bell said.

That's unless the executive's office requests it be treated as an "exigent" matter.

"The seriousness of getting a budget passed is not something I take lightly," Newsome told the committee Tuesday. "We have to get this done."

Neither the county executive's office nor Rehmann immediately responded to requests for comment Tuesday.