Washtenaw faces a $26 million shortfall
"If the unions don't make concessions, we'll have to cut jobs," warns Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners chair Rolland Sizemore.
Falling home values and disappearing state funding are expected to slash the county's revenues from $107 million in 2009 to $81 million in 2011. That means the county will have to cut $26 million from its budget.
"It's the equivalent of 251 full-time positions out of about 1,300," says commissioner Jessica Ping (R-Lodi Township). Commissioner Mark Ouimet (R-Scio Township) adds: "And we don't have a choice to do nothing. We have to balance our budget."
County administrator Bob Guenzel is expected to make his budget recommendation at the June 3 board meeting. For guidance, he's asked his department heads to outline what they'd do to cut anywhere from 5 to 20 percent of their budgets. Their responses show how grim the effects could be.
Cutting $600,000 from children's services would eliminate the county's only adolescent substance abuse program. Reducing the prosecutor's budget 5 percent would mean closing the sex crimes unit; cutting it 20 percent would mean prosecuting only felonies.
The public defender's office would have to cut ten attorneys to hit the 20 percent mark. "A speedy trial is federally guaranteed," remarks commissioner Barbara Bergman (D-Ann Arbor) dryly, "but the question is: what is a speedy trial?"
The finance department didn't turn in estimates, because, it said, its staff has already shrunk from thirty-one in 2000 to sixteen now. Any further cuts, it warned, would result in "grave consequences" to county government and the public.
The wild card is whether the county's employee unions will take pay cuts. "We are asking unions to make concessions, and those negotiations are absolutely critical," says commissioner Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor). "Seventy percent of our budget is employee compensation, and if they're willing to make concessions, it'll make it easier to balance the budget without having deep cuts."
Another unknown is the board's position. Some take the ascension of Sizemore, an Ypsilanti Township Democrat, as a sign the balance of power has shifted from Ann Arbor to the outlying townships. That could mean less support for the social programs Ann Arbor favors.
The commissioners will have till the end of the year to finalize the cuts. Commissioner Leah Gunn, an Ann Arbor Democrat, predicts "a lot of horse trading" before then.
[Originally published in June, 2009.]