Editorial: Oakland County continues to lead region, state

The Detroit News

When Oakland Executive L. Brooks Patterson's delivered his State of the County address Wednesday, he kept the tradition of offering a strong financial outlook, innovative approaches to attracting new business and making government more efficient.

Kicking off his report, Patterson announced the county would cut property taxes by .15-mills. The county tax rate will drop by .10 mills for July of this year and be reduced an additional .05 mills for the July 2016 levy.

Even though the economy seems to be improving, a local government cutting taxes is impressive. Most local units are fighting to make ends meet with their current levies and many are seeking tax increases to balance their budgets.

The tax break isn't large. A property owner with a home valued at $200,000 will save about $15 a year.

But it's still a step in the right direction for county residents and businesses.

Getting to this point has taken significant work by county government officials. Oakland County, under Patterson and his fiscal team, have built toward this moment for more than a decade.

County officials have pioneered sound budgeting practices, preparing budgets several years in advance and making adjustments when needed, as opposed to the desperate measures — usually service cuts or tax hikes — that most municipalities turn to when budgets get tight.

This fiscal acumen enabled the county among the first local governments to budget staff raises after the era of employee wage freezes and salary cuts during the Great Recession.

Patterson proposed last year a general 3-percent increase in employee salaries for fiscal 2015, followed by 2 percent in 2016 and 1 percent in 2017.

Oakland County has a lot going for it, but many of its advantages are self-made.

Automation Alley, a brainchild of Patterson, is observing its 15th anniversary and has much to celebrate. The association formed in Oakland County to promote high tech businesses has grown to include all counties in Southeast Michigan, and has helped establish the region as a tech center. The association has grown from around 40 initial members to almost 1,000. Patterson reported it has reached the half billion dollar mark in export sales.

Meanwhile, Medical Main Street is about to reach $1 billion in private investment. Also started by Patterson, it is meant to make the county an international destination not only for patients seeking quality health care but also for companies that provide services and supplies to medical facilities.

The purpose of programs such as Automation Alley and Medical Main Street is to attract businesses to Oakland County and thus create jobs that keep and attract residents.

Couple that effort with fiscally sound policies on the county level and Oakland has much to boast about.