Is Wayne County next for emergency management?

At least one Wayne County commissioner wants state intervention

By Rod Meloni - Reporter, CFP ®

DETROIT - Wayne County Commissioner Laura Cox is no longer holding back. She's seen enough.

"I'm just gonna say it right now. I hope an emergency manager comes out here. I'm asking the governor to have an emergency manager come to Wayne County," she said.

Inviting emergency management is highly unusual coming from an elected official but there is much more irony to her remark. It came after the Wayne County Commission voted 11-4 to approve the 2014 budget holding its collective nose at the same time. Everyone in the room knew the budget is balanced ONLY ON PAPER. They merely touched the bases to meet state law requiring a balanced budget every year.

View: Wayne County press release on 2014 budget

The newly minted and largely bogus budget officially belongs to Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano's. But it was cobbled together in committee by Laura Cox herself as the chairman of Commission Ways and Means. She would have loved to have voted against it, and other Ways and Means members hated it too. But they can't vote against their own budget no matter how much odor rises from the garbage scow hauling this mess.

Cox continued: "Who can break cba's [collective bargaining agreements] but an EM? I mean we are in dire straits. We are approving a budget we know has some serious flaws and we can't just keep going on and doing business as we do without some serious shake ups."

The shake-up she wants is Bob Ficano out of office.

"Absolutely there needs to be a change in leadership. I've been saying that for years and it's just finally people are coming around and I don't even know how much they are coming around. It's very frustrating," she said.

Here is the reality: The Wayne County budget is based on a number of incorrect assumptions. For instance; on paper Wayne County will only set aside enough money for just under 1,800 jail inmates. The reason they use that is it's the number the court overseeing the consent agreement with the state of Michigan regarding the jail uses as the minimum number of inmates the jail MUST hold. The fact that 400 more inmates are sitting in Wayne County's three jails and another six hundred are out on the street in the electronic tether program [under house arrest] and cost the county money are ignored. It's as if they don't exist, when they really do. That problem put Sheriff Benny Napoleon's Budget $30 million over this year.

We in this blog have bludgeoned the Sheriff for poor spending habits, a bloated executive staff, unpaid bills and poor management in the department for the past six months or more. And while all accurate, stories are the money that could be saved in the Sheriff's budget in that area is perhaps $3 million or about 10 percent of the real problem.

Read: Sheriff Napoleon makes his case

Napoleon cannot do anything about the other $27 million. The Commission and Ficano know it. Trying to help they gave Napoleon just under $10 million more for 2014, but they did roughly the same thing last year and Napoleon's budget skyrocketed anyway. The same kind of jousting goes on with the Wayne County Prosecutor's office. Kym Worthy sued the county this year for deliberately underfunding her office. It got her nowhere. And yet, even though the commission could see the same problem for this year and gave her $4 million more in 2014 than this year she was $7 million over budget and will likely be at the same level this time next year. Why? Because very little if anything has changed.

Then there's the rather large elephant in the room. The Wayne County Structural Deficit is nearly $200 million. The 2014 budget does nothing to deal with that. So, it is more than likely it will swell in 2014. Everyone in the commission meeting knows all of this. Commissioner Tim Killeen does not want an emergency manager. He calls emergency management an "unguided missile" no one knows where it will hit.

But, he also said today of the 2014 budget "it does not balance and it is the longer term problems this budget ignores. We are going to be in deficit in this fiscal year. I don't see any way we're not. We've needed more leadership from the County Executive."

Bob Ficano defends his leadership saying he's dealing with more than $100 million in property tax cuts after the mortgage meltdown. He has cut two thousand employees in his time in office and says he is working with the State to bring more money to address the jail and prosecution issues. But in the end he believes it is going to take change in Lansing regarding municipal finance, the way revenue sharing dollars are distributed. He's looking to Lansing for help, the same way Detroit did. We now see how that worked out.

The question now is whether the state is listening. We know it is watching and we know the County is getting closer to hitting trip wires that could bring emergency management. The Treasurer's office refused comment on today's budget vote because it hasn't seen the budget yet. That will soon change and will only raise more eyebrows because while you are negotiating a deficit reduction plan and your budget reflects no effort to reduce the budget deficit, well that's what trip wires are for.

Now, we cannot discount the politics involved with such a decision so that could play into the timing of this decision. But if no one who can decide to do something about the deficits and the "budget fiction" as Commissioner Killeen called it today before the budget vote, emergency management appears as inevitable as it did in the City of Detroit.

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